Ever since the day he responded to an emergency at the Four Women Clinic in Attleboro, Mass., firefighter Stephen Marcotte has looked at lifesaving in a new way. The crisis was abortion-related.
“I asked the patient’s name like I do on all medical runs, but nobody knew,” he recalls. “Here they had just aborted this 19-year-old girl’s baby, and I saw them scrambling to find out who she was. To them, she was just a procedure, a paycheck. That really bothered me.”
An eight-year veteran Attleboro firefighter and emergency medical technician, Marcotte found himself contemplating Pope John Paul II’s call to build a culture of life.
“It just didn’t sit right with me that I was just sitting by with this in my back yard,” he says. Marcotte, 34, prayed about the situation at Eucharistic adoration.
The result: He’s now helping coordinate a 40 Days for Life vigil outside that same clinic. The vigil is one of 174 planned across the United States and Canada in the lead-up to Election Day, Nov. 4.
The 40 Days for Life campaign seeks God’s power to end abortion. It consists of 40 days of prayer and fasting, community outreach and peaceful public witness outside abortion facilities. The effort is modeled on biblical 40-day periods when God worked miracles through Noah, Moses, Elijah, Jesus and the disciples.
In Worcester, Mass., firefighter Paul Fullen will head up another of the five Bay State vigils. Fullen and his wife, Crystal, both 37, will coordinate efforts outside Planned Parenthood there.
“We could have other firefighters involved that I just don’t know of,” says David Bereit, founder and national director of 40 Days for Life. “I get to know people around this shared mission rather than by their occupations, but it’s certainly a natural fit. Firefighters have already demonstrated they’re willing to sacrifice and risk their lives. Now they’re willing to sacrifice and risk embarrassment and persecution.
“There’s just as much heroism involved in trying to save a life in the womb as in fighting fires in burning buildings,” adds Bereit.
Fullen, a 10-year veteran of the fire department, sees the connection between his occupation and his pro-life prayer work with new clarity. “Our job,” he says, “is to protect life and property.”
“This is stepping out into the trenches,” says Marcotte. “Prayer is so important, but it’s combining prayer with getting out of my comfort zone that drew me. I just bought into the whole campaign. The Holy Spirit put it on my heart to trust that the Lord is in charge — and I’m excited about how he continues to bless this campaign.”
Bishop George Coleman of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., is among more than 20 Catholic bishops nationwide actively supporting this pro-life mobilization.
Bereit, says he, too, is energized by the campaign’s momentum. Since it began in Texas in 2004, two Planned Parenthood centers have stopped doing abortions and a third clinic has closed. At least 500 babies are known to have been saved.
“This comes at a crucial time now that abortion is in the forefront of the political debate,” Bereit points out.
Ironically for these pro-life foot soldiers, the International Association of Fire Fighters has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, who has the backing of the entire abortion lobby.
“That’s the way it is with unions,” another firefighter says philosophically. “I vote for who I want. I think most guys do.”
Marcotte admits he was wary of going public with his convictions. “I knew I’d get razzing from some of the guys, and I was a little nervous,” he says. “Then I thought: Whoa — if I like being out of my comfort zone by praying outside the clinic, then I shouldn’t worry about my comfort zone when it affects other parts of my life. I’ve got to be consistent.”
Fullen concurs. “My wife is expecting our seventh child,” he says with a smile, “so the other guys think I’m crazy anyway.”
“Many firefighters I know are not afraid of standing up for what they believe in,” says Father Michael McNamara, a Boston archdiocesan priest who has headed numerous pro-life prayer vigils. “Maybe it’s because when they understand their role in the protection of life as a vocation from the Lord, they seek God’s guidance in their everyday lives.
“It’s so in their character to view a situation with a clear mind and logical thinking,” adds Father McNamara. “They’re used to reflection and then action as normal responses on the job.”
Volunteers in their 30s like Marcotte and the Fullens are typical nationwide, Bereit notes.
“You know, until I started with 40 Days for Life, I was just like many people are now,” says Fullen. “I was uninformed. Hopefully, this will get people to realize how the life issue is right up there in the forefront for the upcoming elections.”
Although 40 Days is ecumenical, Bereit says, it’s now almost 75% Catholic, thanks to early support from pro-life leaders like Father Frank Pavone and Father Thomas Euteneuer, along with coverage in the Register and other Catholic media.
“Evangelicals are being inspired by their Catholic brothers and sisters,” Bereit says. “It’s beautiful to watch people who don’t see eye-to-eye theologically stand arm-in-arm to speak up for life.”
Especially when they put their actions where their words are, extinguishing the fires of the culture of death — one vigil at a time.
Gail Besse is based in Boston.