Dan Zeidler has worked in the pro-life movement since well before Roe v. Wade, with a special emphasis on ministry to post-abortive mothers and fathers. So when he came across an image online four years ago of a striking sculpture depicting a mother kneeling before the love and forgiveness of her aborted child, he was deeply affected.
“I was so impressed by it and so touched,” said Zeidler. “I said, ‘This is something that needs to go worldwide.’”
Zeidler contacted the Slovakian artist, Martin Hudacek, and received permission to use images of the statue – titled “Memorial for Unborn Children” – in the work of the Family Life Council, the international pro-life and pro-family organization Zeidler founded 28 years ago.
Earlier this month, Zeidler and Hudacek met in Rome to present a replica of the piece to Pope Francis himself, who pronounced it “muy hermosa” (very beautiful).
The meeting and presentation helped bring even more attention to the Memorial for Unborn Children, which has been widely shared on the Internet and through social media since its creation five years ago. The statue – which depicts a woman kneeling in grief, her hands covering her face, her head bowed, with a transparent young child gently caressing her head – has struck a chord with many women who suffer trauma and regret following their choice to have an abortion.
Hudacek, a Catholic, said the praise he receives for this piece is misdirected.
“Martin was often saying when introducing the sculpture, ‘I am just sculptor – the main Master is (the) Holy Spirit,” wrote Hudacek’s brother, Marek, who assists his brother with public relations, in an email to the Catholic Herald. “When he is working, it is always a long process of deep prayers and meditation before and while making it. That is how the sculpture is born.”
A message of mercy
Hudacek, 31, a husband and father, created the sculpture in 2010 while completing his bachelor’s degree. He said he was inspired by an elderly friend from his hometown in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia.
“His idea to make something as memorial to unborn children persisted in me,” said Martin in an email. “The message is … mercy. God forgives to us when we regret our sins and want change ourselves.”
He chose to cast the child in transparent polyester material to represent Divine Mercy “that comes to mother through touch – sign of relief, of her aborted child. Through God’s mercy the help to these women is possible. That’s the message,” he wrote.
When Zeidler was in Rome during the world Synod of Bishops, he had the idea of bringing the attention of the Holy Father to Hudacek’s sculpture, which has become a symbol of evangelization to Catholics for whom it represents the sentiments of the upcoming Year of Mercy.
Zeidler had traveled to Rome to meet with several Latin American bishops with whom the Family Life Council works closely.
“I was discussing with some of these bishops and cardinals the post-abortion healing and the need for that, especially in the Year of Mercy. Shortly after I got there, it occurred to me – I wonder if we could get a sculpture, a replica, and give it to the pope. This was completely a dream thing,” he said.
He made the suggestion to Hudacek, who completed a replica within two weeks and, accompanied by his family and a priest friend, drove with it to Rome. Just a day and a half later, Zeidler’s connections in the papal household had managed to secure a meeting with Pope Francis following his weekly general audience. Zeidler and Hudacek crowded into the front row of a throng of papal visitors and presented him with the replica.
“It worked out beautifully,” said Zeidler. “It meant so much to Martin; you can tell that in some of the photos, how pleased he was to meet the Holy Father. It was just such a blessing for him.”
Zeidler acted as a translator, speaking to Pope Francis in Spanish.
“I said it was a gift from Martin and Proyecto Esperanza, an organization approved by Latin American bishops for post-abortion healing ministry…. The pope said, ‘Ah, muy hermosa’ – a couple times – (meaning) how beautiful it is.”
Hudacek, for his part, described the meeting as “astonishing.”
Herald ad pro-life advocacy
Poetically, it was also a visual image of the effects of abortion that first inspired Zeidler’s work in the pro-life movement several decades ago.
It was 1969, and Zeidler was 21 years old, soon to graduate from Marquette University. He saw an ad in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald – then known as the Catholic Herald Citizen.
“It was about an eighth-of-a-page ad, and it was a picture of a nurse, and she had her face in her hands, as if she were crying.
Underneath it, there was a title that said she was trained to save lives; today she was asked to kill,” he said. “That really impressed me. I didn’t know anything about abortion…. I said, well, the least I can do is send these people five bucks; they sent me back a thank-you and it included a petition to get people to sign against abortion, and a few brochures. And I said, well, the least I can do is try to get a few signatures. Little by little, the least I could do became more and more.”
Zeidler went on to coordinate the Milwaukee youth organization Save Our Unwanted Life (S.O.U.L.), where he met his wife, Liz. They attend Sacred Heart Croatian Parish and are the grandparents of 15 children.
Zeidler was the executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life from 1974 until 1987. For the last 28 years he has been the president of the Family Life Council and has done extensive work internationally, especially in Latin America, helping to organize Proyecto Esperanza.
He describes the Family Life Council as “a bridge” between international organizations that share a common goal.
“What we try to do by being a bridge is exactly that – bring people together,” he said. “I am not an expert on much of anything, but I know the people who are. And I try to help them take their program and reach further, or put them in touch with certain experts, and together, they’re all stronger.”
Artwork promotes healing, forgiveness
Zeidler is happy he could be a “bridge” between Hudacek’s Memorial for Unborn Children and the pro-life community of Wisconsin – and the Holy Father.
By the power of this piece of art and the grace and mercy it personifies, Zeidler hopes to promote healing and forgiveness for post-abortive women worldwide.
“My dream is that this mini-poster would be in the back of every single church in the world,” he said of the image Family Life Council is currently circulating, which depicts Hudacek’s statue above information for Project Rachel and Proyecto Espereanza.
“You’re freeing up so many people who are suffering,” he said, speaking of women who benefit from post-abortive ministry. “Many of these people, the ones who are Catholic, may go to confession at some point and God forgives them, but they don’t always forgive themselves, and they need help. That’s why these groups, like Project Rachel and Proyecto Esperanza, exist. They do very important work not only for women but for men…(the fathers) suffer, too.
“The work is incredibly important. It’s such a blessing, to see people before, kind of walking with their head down, and then they feel the forgiveness of God. It’s so precious, so wonderful.”
Hudacek has created a second version of Memorial for Unborn Children that includes a post-abortive father kneeling with the mother of his child, his arms around her, receiving the child’s forgiveness.
Zeidler composed an article about the sculpture documenting the opinion of experts in post-abortive therapy, as well as the reactions of post-abortive mothers. One Latin American woman, Michelle, who was assisted in post-abortion healing by Proyecto Esperanza, called the sculpture “marvelous” and “precious.”
“I got emotional … I felt many things … the woman with all her pain being concentrated in her face held in her hands,” she said. “And the daughter who blesses her, reaching up to touch her, to me indicates the height of forgiveness, the height of that child’s forgiveness, through the love of God. The transparency of the child means she comes from a pure place. It talks to me of the forgiveness we feel after we have worked through the grief.”