p.3bishopmichaelMichael Aleman, 17, poses with retired Bishop John Yanta of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, Sept. 20, during their visit to Milwaukee where Bishop Yanta was presented with the Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) 22nd “Annual Rev. Msgr. Alphonse S. Popek Award.” During the Sunday, Sept. 19 award presentation at Blessed Sacrament Church, Milwaukee, they shared their story of how the bishop’s dedication to pro-life work saved Aleman’s life 18 years ago. (Catholic Herald photo by Tracy Rusch)MILWAUKEE — In just three and a half more hours, he could have been dead. His little voice wouldn’t have pierced a hospital room with a scream. His tiny fingers wouldn’t have felt his mother’s touch. He wouldn’t have grown into an active 17-year-old. If it weren’t for a “macho, man-to-man” challenge that was accepted by a priest in San Antonio, Texas, 18 years ago, Michael Aleman could have been aborted.

Retired Bishop John Yanta of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, who was then-Fr. Yanta, pastor of St. James Parish in San Antonio, had just begun his involvement with the pro-life group that prayed the rosary at 9 a.m. Saturdays in front of the New Women’s Clinic Inc. in San Antonio.

The bishop’s nephew, who had been with the group since membership increased from 15 to 40, presented a challenge that the bishop couldn’t turn down.

“He challenged me and said, ‘Hey, Fr. John, why don’t you get here like I do before 6 o’clock in the morning and before the first employee comes and before the first girl comes for her abortion, because it’s too late by the time the 9 o’clock rosary’s going. All the girls are finished, most of them, with their abortions and they’re walking out with a little white bag of antiseptics,’” Bishop Yanta recalled in an interview with your Catholic Herald during a visit to Milwaukee to receive the 22nd “Annual Rev. Msgr. Alphonse S. Popek Award” on Sunday, Sept. 19, from Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) for his dedication to pro-life work. “So, I said, ‘You’re on.’”

Bishop Yanta stood outside the clinic at 5:30 that Saturday morning – his first and last time arriving that early – praying for an end to abortion with the other early risers. That same day Veronica Aleman, Michael’s mother, arrived for a rescheduled appointment for an abortion – the first time she cancelled when her friend couldn’t come because of additional weekend work, and then she couldn’t find the money she was to use for the procedure.

“Then, she also mentioned that she didn’t like the idea of all those protestors out there, the people that are gathered there on the sidewalk,” Bishop Yanta explained, “‘Oh,’ (the clinic told her), ‘That’s no problem, we’ll put you on early – you’ll be one of the first ones,’ and that was the Saturday that I came….”

Veronica almost drove into the clinic parking lot, he recalled, until she spotted Bishop Yanta, the pastor of her parish, St. James.

“She took this as a sign from God and she did not drive in and went down, I guess, a block or two and found a empty spot in the parking lot or convenience store and just talked to the Lord,” he said. “Well, I didn’t know any of this until after the baby was born – then she told me and she came to the rectory to thank me for saving her baby.”

Bishop Yanta calls meeting babies like Michael who were slated for abortion “the greatest grace.” He explained it has happened to him several times.

“I didn’t know that my father, who really loves me now, wanted to get an abortion with me, and it’s funny because I was just living a normal life until this came along.”

                   -Michael Aleman

“People come up to me and say, ‘Hey, Father, do you remember when we came to you and we wanted to abort our child, and you talked us out of it? Well, here’s Mary Kay and here’s John Paul,’ or whatever, you know? ‘And they’re now 5 years old, 7 years old, 9 years old – that’s a great, great affirmation of your determination that we need to make this world pro-life to destroy the culture of death,’” he said.

For the bishop, meeting Michael was also, “one of the greatest feelings of God’s presence.”

“…I was just praising God, you know, wow, because sometimes we pray and we think that God is not listening to us, but he’s very much aware of us,” said Bishop Yanta, who baptized Michael and was the main celebrant at his confirmation in 2009. Bishop Yanta served the diocese as the seventh bishop of Amarillo from 1997 to 2008.

“Prayer (is) the greatest power on earth, and it’s the greatest weapon in the pro-life movement,” he said.

Michael, now 6’1”, 250 pounds and still growing, said he was shocked at age 13 when his mother told him the story of his almost-abortion.

“I didn’t know that my father, who really loves me now, wanted to get an abortion with me, and it’s funny because I was just living a normal life until this came along,” Michael said in an interview with your Catholic Herald when he traveled to Milwaukee with the bishop to share his story with CUF members.

Michael said he’s close to his four half-brothers and sisters from his dad’s first marriage.

“…it’s funny because I’m pretty much one of the ones that takes care of my dad,” Michael said, explaining that his father gets injured frequently as a carpenter, “… if (my mom) would have got an abortion, I wouldn’t be there to take care of him.”

Michael doesn’t have time to pity himself as his days are full at Brackenridge High School in San Antonio, Texas, where he plays left guard on the varsity football team, runs on the track team, debates on the Decathlon team, participates in the National Hispanic Institute, and at church where he helps as a co-teacher and is involved in ACTS – Adoration, Community, Theology and Service, a spirituality program for youth.

“I know this happened a long time ago, but it doesn’t mean that I have to stop and feel sorry for myself, but I just live my life as God wanted me to,” he said.

When Michael was just about 18 months old, the bishop asked Veronica to bring him to a talk he was giving at an archdiocesan youth convention, and to give her testimony.

“All the girls fell in love with this little boy,” Bishop Yanta said, speaking of the workshop he gave on the church teaching about life and the contradiction of abortion to about 250 young people, “and so her testimony and that little boy’s presence – that was the best homily or the best talk that I could possibly give on pro-life.”

That boy, who met Bishop Yanta a second time last year, has also been a great strength for his mother.

“She calls me her superhero, because I saved her life,” Michael said of his mother who teaches special education at his school and third grade religious education classes at their parish, “because if she would have gotten an abortion, then she said that she would probably commit suicide realizing that, what she had done, so she thanks me for being born, but it’s actually her decision, so I thank her a lot and I guess we meet – we’re like 50-50, you know (saying) ‘Thank you.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘You’re welcome.’ ‘You’re welcome.’”

Michael, who would like to work in advertising someday – particularly something to do with making commercials and coming up with the music for them because he’s “really good at that” – had a message for anyone considering abortion: Don’t do it.

“You could be killing our next president,” he said. “You could be killing the next Einstein. You could be killing a hero, so I would just say reconsider, don’t do it – think about the life you’ll be saving.”