See related photo at The Catholic Virginian
Those pro-life advocates on the front lines trying to deter women from having an abortion have not always had the same zeal and energy for the pro-life cause.
One of them is Leslie Blackwell, a member of St. Bridget Parish in Richmond, who shared her story of how she turned from actively supporting abortion for women to now being an advocate for people who she knows has been harmed by abortion and its effects.
She was one of four speakers at a Jubilee Year of Mercy seminar Oct. 1 at St. Bridget’s with the theme “Mercy and Healing in the Jubilee Year.”
“Less than 10 years ago I had no idea what the word ‘mercy’ meant,” Mrs. Davis said. “I had committed the unforgiveable sin of an abortion.
“I couldn’t forgive myself. How could I expect God to forgive me?” She has since experienced God’s mercy and healing.
She is now is an active member of Silent No More, a pro-life support group for women and men who have experienced the harmful effects of abortion.
“Too many women and men are suffering out there,” Mrs. Blackwell said.
A product of Catholic schools, including Holy Cross Academy in Kensington, Md., she moved to Richmond in 1983 to host “Good Morning Virginia” on WXEX-TV, the local ABC affiliate (now WRIC).
As a spokesperson for Silent No More, she followed the requirement that those fighting for the cause have to first go public with their family about their abortion.
As a result, they are “silent no more.”
“After the death of an unborn child, not only is the child damaged, but also are the mother, father and the families involved,” Mrs. Blackwell said.
She was the youngest of five girls in a loving Catholic family, living as part of what she called “the Catholic Mafia where everyone knew others by the name of their parish.”
“We played CYO basketball and went to dances,” she said. “Life was good.”
Then known as Leslie Davis, she attended a small Methodist college (High Point University) in North Carolina in 1976.
“I went the way of the world. I danced with the Devil and I got burned.”
She became pregnant in her senior year in 1980.
“I weighed my options,” Mrs. Blackwell said. “I felt I had to get rid of it and I had to do it fast.”
At the time she learned she was pregnant, she had a job offer to be host of a TV talk show and “I did not want to lose that job.”
She had an abortion and started hosting the TV show. She got pregnant again and had a second abortion.
“They (the abortions) enslaved me for 30 years,” Mrs. Blackwell said, adding that she was not successful in pretending they never happened.
“They gravely affected me and living a lie was killing me,” she asserts.
She turned her energy into being active in the pro-choice movement. She even described her self as “militant” with the belief that women had a right to say “It’s my body, it’s my choice.”
But her life, she now claims, was in disarray. She turned to alcohol and drugs.
Mrs. Blackwell recalls being under a tree in her backyard when God said to her “I am the Creator of Life. I am the seed.” “God grabbed me by the scruff of the neck,” she asserted. “I really was that lost sheep.”
She learned about the program Rachel’s Vineyard and attended the retreat for women and men who are seeking God’s mercy after an abortion. On that weekend she named her two aborted babies Mary Elizabeth and Timothy.”
It marked a turn-around which she calls “a 180.”
“I am in awe of how God transforms us,” Mrs. Blackwell said. “The truth does set us free as God promises. He never gives up on us with his love and mercy.
“That is why I am silent no more.”
Msgr. William Carr, pastor of St. Bridget’s, said Pope Francis is calling “more and more for mercy” and “wants the Church to be a field hospital rather than a battlefield.”
He explained that the concept of a jubilee year comes from the Old Testament which came every 50 years and “began on the Day of Atonement and a jubilee was a special time of liberty.”
“In that year there was no planting, no reaping so even the land was free for work,” he explained.
Debts were canceled and property taken by others for unpaid debts had to be returned.
Slaves and prisoners were set free. But some might make the case for a different kind of slavery today.
“We are all slaves to sin and in Jesus Christ we are set free,” Msgr. Carr said.
“His blood has atoned for our sins and as the land was given rest, we will rest in God, not because we are worthy, but because the Lamb of God is worthy,” he continued.
While most American Catholics cannot go to Rome to walk through the holy door at St. Peter’s Basilica during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Msgr. Carr said Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond have an opportunity to walk through the holy door at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond or the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk.
“The jubilee year is a special year celebrated by the church to receive blessing and pardon from God,” Msgr. Carr said. “Pope Francis thinks that the world is in such need that we cannot wait for 50 years and he calls this the extraordinary jubilee.
Pope Francis speaks of a Church which welcomes all and refuses no one, just like Jesus.
“He uses the holy door to remind us that he wants the Church doors open so those who are touched by God’s mercy can find their way in,” Msgr. Carr asserted.
He urged Catholics to see the sacrament of reconciliation as a holy door.
“It is a door to mercy where our loving Father waits with open arms,” Msgr. Carr said.
“Once we come to our senses and have the humility to say out loud that we are sinners, His divine mercy floods into our hearts and souls.”
He encouraged Christians to practice the corporal works of mercy by feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and visiting the sick.
“The jubilee year of mercy reminds us that just as the people and the land were released from debt, just as slaves were freed and debts forgiven, we too have been released from a fate worse than death,” he concluded.
“This is the merciful work of God in Jesus Christ.”
Kevin Burke, a social worker who is a co-founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, spoke of the effects of abortion on men and post-abortion healing.
Olivia Gans Turner, president of Virginia Society for Human Life, spoke on the work of anti-abortion activists.
Msgr. Carr recognized Geline Williams, a St. Bridget’s parishioner, for her many years of involvement with the Respect Life movement, including her service as chairman of National Right to Life.