About 100 people gathered in the sweltering fellowship hall of St. Paul the Apostle Church Sunday afternoon to kick off the city’s seventh 40 Days For Life prayer-a-thon.
“Someone ran off with the keys to the thermostat,” said the Rev. Peter Pagones in his introduction.
But no one seemed to mind. Actually, the heat was welcome considering where the local pro-lifers will be hanging out for the next 40 days.
Starting Wednesday — Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar — the crowd gathered at St. Paul the Apostle and about 100 more who couldn’t make it Sunday will be praying outside Schenectady’s Planned Parenthood Center on State Street from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for 40 straight days.
“It can get pretty cold,” said campaign organizer Vivian Strain.
While Strain said she agreed in principle with other organizations like Face the Truth that carry graphic pictures of aborted fetuses to places like Planned Parenthood, 40 Days For Life is a different sort of thing.
“We not only want to prevent abortions,” she said. “We want to help those who have had abortions to heal.”
Around the hall, her point was borne out on dozens of homemade signs. Laminated and ready for bad weather, squares of tagboard were festooned with positive images — pictures of happy, living babies and smiling parents with captions like “lots of laughs.”
“No offense to the media,” she said, “but we tend to be portrayed as a bunch of nut cases. We’re just here to love people.”
Sunday’s gathering was a combination planning meeting and inspirational rally. Local 40 Days treasurer Charlie King provided a history of abortion from the Roman Empire, when unwanted or deformed babies were discarded on street corners, to Roe v. Wade.
“Abortion may have been around since the Romans,” he said, “but we’re not going to back down now.”
The organization even called in the Rev. Denis Wilde, who has been preaching against abortion all across the country since before it was even legal.
He said prayer is the most effective weapon against abortion.
“It’s not just a bad policy. This cultural acceptance of abortion comes from the bowels of hell,” he said, arguing a supernatural evil can only be stopped by supernatural means.
The crowd nodded and clapped. Well, everyone clapped but Sarah Stodolka, who was out in the hallway calming her 1-year-old son, Simon.
The little chap grinned and cooed with sparkling blue eyes while his mother listened to Wilde’s door-muffled speech.
As a seven-time 40 Days veteran she’s put in her fair share of outdoor prayer. Starting Wednesday, little Simon will too. Since the beginning, Stodolka has made a concerted effort to bring her four kids to the twice-yearly 40 Days vigils.
It’s hard to see how Simon’s bright eyes could be controversial, but bringing her kids has touched some nerves over the years.
“Some people see them as life-affirming,” she said. “Some people think I’m using my kids as pawns to influence people.”
Simon gurgled and played with the large buttons of her sweater.
“Actually, I just want them to know about this issue,” she said.
Last year her oldest daughter, now 7, asked what they were praying about and why they were standing outside.
“I told her we were praying for doctors making bad choices.”
Officials at Schenectady’s Planned Parenthood could not be reached for comment Sunday.
For more information on the vigil, visit the international organization website at www.40daysforlife.com.