SAN DIEGO — The 40 Days for Life campaign’s website proudly states that 22,829 lives have been saved, 132 abortion facilities have closed, and 247 abortion facility workers have quit their jobs as a direct result of the campaign.
But for those on the campaign’s front lines, those who participate in the continuous prayer vigils held for a period of 40 days twice a year, just one life saved, one mind changed, or one heart touched can be enough of a reward.
The spring campaign began on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, and will run until Palm Sunday, April 2. People around the world are taking part in prayer vigils in front of neighborhood abortion facilities, including at eight locations in San Diego and Imperial counties. (For the nearest location or to sign up for hours, visit 40daysforlife.com.)
Vicki Whitmire, campaign coordinator for the El Cajon location, has been involved with 40 Days for Life for more than 12 years, after first hearing about it in a pulpit announcement at her parish.
Reflecting on the experiences she has had as part of the campaign, she recalled an encounter with a young woman, who was crying as she left the Planned Parenthood facility. The woman told her that she was pregnant but didn’t think she would keep the baby. Whitmire gave her a smile and a hug and said, “You are a mom!”
“Through her tears, she smiled and laughed,” Whitmire said.
After a brief conversation, Whitmire convinced the woman to come with her to a nearby crisis pregnancy center, where she was able to hear her baby’s heartbeat and speak with a nurse about getting the help she needed.
Whitmire recounted another memorable experience: As she was praying outside the clinic, a large pick-up truck “aggressively” veered off the road; the driver jumped out and approached her. She braced herself for something terrible, but then the unexpected happened.
The man knelt down near her pro-life sign and prayed aloud, “God, I am a sinner. I have done many bad things in my life like this. I ask you to hear the prayer of this woman and save the babies.” Whitmire began to cry; the man, crying as well, got to his feet and gave her a hug.
“Without saying anything else, he left just as soon as he came,” she said. “It was an amazing affirmation.”
Stella Seebold has been a “prayer warrior” in front of the El Cajon Planned Parenthood since 2018, when a few older parishioners asked her for a ride to the abortion facility to pray.
Seebold felt inspired by the dedication she saw among 40 Days for Life participants.
“I was touched by their passion for defending and witnessing of their faith,” she said. “Some ladies had mobility issues, but they still came.”
Over the years, Seebold has found the 40 Days for Life community to be “a close-knit pro-life family … that cares (for) and loves the mother and her baby.”
She recalled an incident about two years ago, while she was praying outside Planned Parenthood. A woman approached her, saying that her daughter was on her way to get an abortion.
“(I) just really prayed hard that the pregnant daughter would change her mind,” said Seebold. “I continued to pray for her and wondered how she is doing. A few weeks later, the same woman came to talk to me and said her daughter is keeping her baby. During the next (40 Days for Life) campaign, the woman stopped by and was joyfully talking to one of the prayer warriors about her grandbaby.”
Eduardo and Alma Reyes are the coordinators of the Escondido-based 40 Days for Life campaign. They have served in that role since the fall of 2021.
Their connection with 40 Days for Life began about two years earlier through Alma’s volunteer work with Lamb of God Maternity Home in Escondido. She and her husband would attend 40 Days for Life prayer vigils, ready to share the maternity home’s open-adoption resources with any women who might be persuaded not to choose abortion.
After doing this for a while, Alma Reyes said she and her husband felt God “knocking” at their hearts to start a 40 Days for Life campaign in Escondido.
One of the beautiful things she has experienced at 40 Days for Life is that it’s not only Catholics participating, but members of Protestant denominations as well.
“It’s just been wonderful to see the Body of Christ come together,” she said.
Alma Reyes said that pregnant women have changed their minds about having an abortion after seeing people praying outside, perceiving that as “their sign from God telling them to choose life.”
“Sometimes we’re standing out there, it seems like we’re not making a difference,” she said, “but when we get a comment like that, it’s like, wow! We don’t know whose life we’re touching, but what we know is there’s been an impact when we get that kind of feedback.”
Reyes has this message for those who might be considering joining 40 Days for Life: “We’re all tools in God’s toolbox, and it’s on us to let Him use us to save a life. … Come out and pray on the sidewalk, because you never know when God is going to use you.”
Recalling St. Teresa of Avila’s famous quote that Christ has no hands or feet on earth now but ours, Whitmire said, “God really does need us on that sidewalk to be His witness of love, showing the world that the lives of babies and moms matter so much that we are willing to take time out of our busy day to stand here – in the hot, cold, rain – for whatever it takes to save just one life and change just one heart.”