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Catholics pray for all life during procession, Mass in LR

Father Connell details the Church's defense for all human life in his homily

Published: January 23, 2020         
Malea Hargett
Father John Connell leads Benediction before the Blessed Sacrament before the Mass for Life at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock Jan. 19. Assisting him were seminarians Quinn Thomas (left) and Sam Stengel. More than 800 people attended the Mass, including teens and chaperones who participated in the Weekend for Life.

As 5-month-old Isaac sat bundled up against his father Alex Aguilar, his mother Dee peeked under his blanket and orange knit cap to check on their miracle baby. The family of three from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Magnolia, where Alex and Dee are youth ministers, walked in the mile-and-a-half-long Eucharistic Procession for Life, ahead of the Mass for Life along with hundreds of the faithful despite the crisp 40-degree temperatures Jan. 19.

“It’s a very important thing, we need to tell people out there life is important,” Dee Aguilar said, saying they tried 14 years to conceive their son. “He’s a miracle baby. This is proof of how important life is and how good God is.”

The annual bilingual Mass for Life, hosted by the Diocese of Little Rock Respect Life Office, was celebrated by diocesan vicar general Father John Connell at the Statehouse Convention Center for 800 Catholics standing up for all life. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor was in Rome for his ad limina visit with Pope Francis (see story above). A bilingual choir from Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock provided the music.

In his homily, Father Connell proclaimed the Church’s message of a consistent ethic of life.

“The Church will always fight for the rights of all human beings, from conception to natural death. The Church wants a society, a world, where there are no more abortions, there is no such thing as cloning, where war is avoided at all costs, nuclear weapons don’t exist, immigrants are treated with respect, dignity and are welcomed. Where there is no death penalty, or such things as doctor-assisted suicide,” he said. “From the beginning to end, the Church is consistent in teaching this is the truth. This is not fake news or conservative or liberal. It is simply the teaching of Jesus Christ.”

Bob Conrad, a parishioner at St. Mary Church in Altus, said it’s his second year attending the Mass for Life. While he once marched for a woman’s right to an abortion, “I’ve come to find out I was wrong.” However, he said he was challenged in Father Connell’s homily regarding the death penalty.

“I wrestle with that,” Conrad said, but adding, “It gives me thought, something to pray over and consider,” when understanding a consistent ethic of life.

The Mass was preceded by the second annual Eucharistic procession, in which the Blessed Sacrament was carried in a reverent walk through Riverfront Park and down Markham Street.

“It was a beautiful expression of our faith, how we walk with the light of Christ in the world,” said Catherine Phillips, respect life director.

This year, the procession included a portion of Markham Street, with cars slowing to watch the crowd kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. “We liked the visibility,” Phillips adding, hoping to walk in more public areas of downtown Little Rock in the future.

There were several stations that the faithful stopped to pray at, most kneeling on the walkways.  Stations included Serra Club, religious brothers and sisters, the Igbo Mass community and Knights of Columbus Council #812.

“It was very cold, but it was worth it, knowing that you’re praying for the (unborn) kids in need and knowing that God is there to help them out,” said 16-year-old Isabel Perez from St. Jude Church in Jacksonville. 

Team Jesus, youth music group from Christ the King Church in Little Rock, played music at the station in front of the DoubleTree Hotel. Anne Lashbrook, 18, a senior at Mount St. Mary Academy, played the keyboard and sang.

“I think it’s just a cool way to be in the Eucharistic procession. Music is a powerful, emotional and commutative way to worship Christ in the Eucharist,” she said.

Catholics who could not walk 1.5-mile procession route could pray in the ballroom, which included the rosary, adoration and music. Sixth through eighth grade students from Immaculate Heart of Mary School in North Little Rock (Marche) and North Little Rock Catholic Academy led the Rosary for Life.

Following Mass, some Catholics joined the March for Life at the State Capitol, sponsored by Arkansas Right to Life.

The pro-life weekend was also marked by the youth Weekend for Life retreat, sponsored by the diocesan Youth Ministry Office.

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