COLUMBUS, GA. - Retired United States Army Senior Analyst and professor Jose Manuel Marrero, a veteran of 31 years and countless tours of duty both foreign and domestic, prowled the small patch of grass he was standing on while addressing the 20 people assembled on the northbound side of Veterans Parkway in Columbus. Marrero was the featured speaker of that afternoon’s Respect Life Sunday Life Chain. Though he was in the company of like-minded souls, he felt it was necessary to passionately describe why he and they were standing on the street corner Sunday, October 4. “I see this as a historic moment,” said Marrero. The beeping horns and sometimes cuss words from the passersby would not distract him from making his point. “This is the moment, feel the passion, feel the sense of urgency. If not now, then when? If not you, then who?” he asked rhetorically. “Tell me.”
Marrero was speaking of the efforts being made all around the country and world in support of the Right to Life movement. The signs being carried by the Life Chain participants most were parents and grandparents. “Engage, you can do a lot by talking to people,” added Marrero. “All you have to do is show the big C’s: conviction, commitment, and compassion.”
If there was something the people assembled in the shade of the trees lining Veterans Parkway had it was the big C’s. Life Chains were being conducted all over the Diocese of Savannah Sunday, including in Savannah at Daffin Park, in Augusta, Bainbridge, Hazlehurst, Macon, and in Tifton, to name just a few. The numbers coming back from those Life Chains events have been on the positive side with 142 people attending the event in Savannah according to organizers, 33 in Springfield, 50 in Macon, 25 in Vidalia and 85, an all-time high, in Warner Robins.
“We want to thank everyone who came out to one of the many Life Chains we had throughout the Diocese,” said diocesan Director of Marriage, Family and Respect Life Jayne MJ Stefanic. “We had record numbers at all locations, silently praying, giving witness to the sacredness of all human life. With the current political sphere and the many loud voices in our society, the silent and prayerful majority have shown that God’s love and mercy will prevail in defending and promoting all life from the moment of creation to death.”
The Catholic Church celebrates the beauty and gift of life all year round, but during the month of October, there is also the celebration of Respect Life Month. Churches and like-minded organizations. The Chattahoochee Valley United for Life (CVUL), a local chapter of Georgia Right to Life based in Harris, Muscogee, and Chattahoochie Counties, responsible for organizing this particular Life Chain, use this month to further publicize the pro-life message. Regina Liaporto, a local journalist and CVUL volunteer, recorded the event for her Facebook page. She and her son Jeffrey, 29, who has special needs, waved tiny American flags as the cars passed by. She told the story of getting some not-so-good news from the doctor midway through her pregnancy. The fetus had lost weight due to the transposition of the great vessels, which is a rare heart defect in which the two main arteries of the heart are reversed or transposed. There were to be open-heart surgeries in Jeffrey’s future upon birth. Regina and her husband, who remains active duty in the Army and is stationed at Fort Benning, had tough decisions. They never wavered on whether Jeffrey was going to be born though. “That was nerve-wracking, and I tried my best to keep that news private,” said Liparoto, a thin woman with enough energy to have conducted the entire Life Chain herself if she needed to.. “Jeffrey has made it through two open-heart surgeries and is turning 30 on November 1.” she pointed out. Jeffrey Victor was born on All Saints Day, 1990.
Jeffrey, friendly and talkative, waved his tiny flag and engaged anyone willing to listen about his football card collection and about his upcoming birthday. His off-white-colored cap read “Grumpy” in burgundy letters and had a cartoon of the Snow White and the Twelve Dwarfs character on the front. “He loves Grumpy,” said Liaporto, who has two older children, a son and a daughter, neither of whom have special needs.
Minutes after a pickup truck drove by and a young lady first stuck her upper body out of the passenger side window, then extended her middle finger towards the Life Chain participants, 77-year old Jow Kuppe shook his head and continued to wave a Gadsden Flag while holding a sign that read “Pray to end abortion” in all caps. This was not his first rodeo. “I’ve been involved in the Right to Life movement since 1977,” said Kuppe, who was living in Maryland then. He has been a volunteer in Columbus and in Atlanta for the past 30 years. “When we were doing these [Life Chains] in the 1980s in Atlanta, they would wind all the way down Peachtree Road. We would stand in silence and pray. That’s how we got our message out.”
The message is still getting out decades later.
Helen and Ralph Green, who are parents and grandparents, stood 10 feet from Kuppe. They too, waved signs and American flags at the hundreds of cars p[assing by during the hour-long Life Chain. Asked why they were there, Helen, a maternity nurse, said, “The babies are innocent, there are other options.” She was referring to adoption. “If you can’t be allowed to live, you can’t have any other rights,” said Helen in rebuttal to the rights of the unborn children compared to those of adults.
“We have been consciously pro-life since our first son was born,” said Ralph.
John House and his wife Marilyn also stood sentry along Veterans Parkway. The couple has four daughters and three grandchildren. Former Columbus policeman and Army Special Operations veteran Mark LaJoyce and his wife Martah stood nearby. “I think this is important because COVID-19 has kind of stopped everything and a lot of people have questioned their faith and the government,” he said when asked why getting together for a Life Chain in the age of coronavirus was necessary. “We want to show people that physical engagement is more important than ever now. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only answer.”
A handsome young couple, Sam and Sarah Beman, have five children in their blended family and felt similar to LaJoyce when asked why they and their three-year-old daughter Gloria were there. Sam, an actor and comedian, and pro-life, admitted that he didn’t usually come to these events but wanted to support Sarah. “I’m 41 years old, and I’ve never lived in an America without Roe v. Wade,” said Sarah, also a local actress. “I wanted to come out here today and speak out peacefully. It’s not much to ask for one day for an hour.”
Alexandria Hicks, 21, sang “Let Freedom Ring” moments before the assembled group moved their chairs and signs from the side of the road onto the sidewalk. A group prayer took place before Marrero gave his speech.
Jeffrey’s third decade on Earth will be in less than a month. “I never regret one moment of his life,” said Lipaorto with a smile.