On a frigid Thursday morning during the first week of the 40 Days for Life (40 Days) vigil outside Planned Parenthood in Sheboygan, a passerby stopped when she saw a Lutheran pastor in his clerical collar praying on the sidewalk alongside several other men.

She beckoned to the pastor who dutifully approached her car, and she confided that the men’s presence there that morning gave her courage to tell a story.

Many months earlier, the woman and her pregnant daughter had visited the Sheboygan clinic seeking an abortion referral. They noticed a group of quiet, unassuming men gathered for a sidewalk vigil.

The two women were so moved by the men’s prayerful, peaceful presence, the daughter was unable to act on her plans to abort her baby.

A closing celebration of the 40 Days for Life campaign will be held Saturday, March 23 at 10 a.m. at the Sheboygan K of C Hall, 833 Center Ave., Shawn Carney, co-author of the book "40 Days for Life: Discover What God Has Done… Imagine What He Can Do," will be the guest speaker. 

For more information about the campaign visit www.40daysforlife.com

Nine months later, on that frosty morning, recognizing the same group of men, the woman was inspired to stop a second time. She needed to tell them of the life-changing difference their presence had made.

But on this second visit, she was anxious to share a more pressing message: her grandchild was due that week.

This story is one of numerous reports of the 40 Days nationwide campaign affecting the lives of mothers and babies, according to Sarah Weyker, campaign director and full-time director of religious education at the tri-parish cluster on the south side of Sheboygan – Immaculate Conception, St. Peter Claver, and Ss. Cyril and Methodius.

In more than U.S. 200 cities, from Feb. 13 through March 24, vigils in front of abortion sites and facilities that provide abortion referrals are being held. In Wisconsin seven cities, including Milwaukee, participate.

Pro-life members of the Sheboygan community and surrounding areas are taking on the initiative for the first time.  

Forty Days is a highly focused campaign that strives to mobilize God’s power to abolish abortion, with an emphasis on peacefulness and prayerfulness, according to Weyker.

“We don’t hold graphic signs. We don’t yell. We aren’t angry. Instead, we give a joyful, peaceful witness to life, asking people to pray to end abortion,” Weyker said.

The 40 Day effort springs from biblical history where God used 40-day periods to bring about world-changing transformation. Among the examples are Noah and the flood, Moses on the mountain and Jesus’ fast in the wilderness.

The community-based ecumenical campaign aims to raise awareness, save lives and bring healing to those affected by abortion through three components: prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil and community outreach, according to Weyker.

Prayer and fasting at its core

At the core of the campaign are prayer and fasting.

“We invite anyone in the community to pray and fast” to be part of the effort, Weyker said.

Daily prayers can offered at any time – at church, work, in the car or at home with families. People are also asked to fast for the cause, from food, television or anything that separates them from God.

A laminated prayer book, created by a local Presbyterian minister involved in the campaign, is used during vigils outside the Sheboygan Planned Parenthood clinic. Included are non-denominational devotions and prayers specific to certain faiths.

When Catholics find they are in like company, they sing traditional Catholic hymns and recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet or the rosary.

Bundled head to toe to shield herself from lake effect winds on the eve of a snowstorm, Kohler resident and member of the St. Stanislaus Oratory, Milwaukee, Regina Luke, 15, stood holding a “pray to end abortion” sign. Regina’s youthful presence and strong pro-life convictions stood out at the vigil as she prayed alongside older advocates.

“If the unborn could speak, I am sure they would choose life. Since they can’t speak, I must do it for them,” Regina said. “I’m willing to stand out in the freezing cold and be a witness because I want to change the world.”  

She hopes her prayers are being heard, and seen.

“There are people driving by every day,” Regina said. Her witness, along with the other supporters’ presence, “has to make some kind of impression on them,” she said.

Participants take hourly shifts

The sidewalk effort is “the most visible part of the campaign. It’s what the community is going to notice,” Weyker said. Congregants representing Christian churches in the Sheboygan area and beyond gather to hold pro-life signs and pray.

Participants are asked to sign up for hourly shifts. Scheduled 12-hour time periods are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day of the 40-day stretch. With the emphasis on “peaceful,” members are required to sign a “statement of peace” prior to their involvement, and must remain on the public right-of-way in front of the facility.

Similarly cloaked in winter gear, Joann Luke, 48, stood quietly next to her daughter, Regina. The mother trusts their humble yet determined support will resonate in ways unseen.

“Even if we don’t stop girls from going in, we can be here for our fellow Catholics and Christians to help them find their courage,” Joann said.

She has an especially compelling reason for the taking part in the 40 Days vigil, one that encourages adoption over abortion.

“My doctor told me my child would die shortly after birth. So I carried him full term, held him for an hour and looked into his beautiful eyes. My husband, Tom, baptized him,” she said.
“And then we gave him to God.”

Pausing for the briefest of moments, she continued with an earnest message for mothers with unplanned pregnancies.

“Whether your child lives for an hour, or 93 years, whether you raise him or give him to an adoptive family, his life is precious and beautiful,” she said.

Just as Joann was finishing her story, a semi-trailer rumbled past and sounded its low bellowing horn. She looked up and said, “God bless the truckers. A lot of truckers honk.”

Community invited to participate

To get word of the campaign to the Sheboygan community and beyond, a kick-off rally was held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Sheboygan on Feb. 11.

Featured speakers were Dan Miller, a full-time sidewalk counselor outside a Milwaukee abortion facility and coordinator for the Milwaukee 40 Days for Life campaign, and Mareza Landeros, who chose life for her unborn baby as a result of Miller’s message of courage and hope.

A midpoint rally on March 4 gave members a chance to gather once again at the K of C Hall, share stories and support one another.

Keynote speaker was Delia McCoy, regional coordinator for Silent No More, a worldwide campaign that strives to bring awareness to the devastation abortion brings. She shared her story of healing and forgiveness after undergoing three abortions. Teens for Life in Sheboygan also gave short testimonies.

The 40 Days endeavor earned the attention of Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki who participated in the opening day of the campaign in Milwaukee, and even sent a letter of support.

“The faithful are encouraged to offer their Lenten prayers and sacrifices in a spirit of repentance, seeking God’s favor to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life, with the hope of bringing about an end to abortion in America,” Archbishop Listecki wrote. “Those who are able are invited to gather in prayer and peaceful witness.”

One day at Planned Parenthood in Sheboygan, a rusty red car pulled into a driveway adjacent to the sidewalk vigil. After taking a closer look at the campaign signs to verify they were pro-life and not pro-abortion, the gentleman behind the wheel handed Weyker a cash donation as he told her about his six children.

Donations like that will help bring the campaign leaders’ plan of expanding their outreach efforts to fruition, she said.

“Our goal is to get prayer guides out to adoration chapels, hospitals, and other key places in the community,” Weyker said. Additionally, they hope to produce yard signs and supply resources to churches.

Shannon Wiese, 25, vigil coordinator and full-time youth minister at the south Sheboygan tri-parishes, is pleased to see the turnout at the rallies and vigils.

“I don’t think we ever envisioned it would ever get this big,” Wiese said. “God really works.”