A March for Life in Iowa City: Priest urges Catholics to “work together, not against one another’

Lindsay Steele
Father Jeff Belger holds a pro-life banner during a march from St. Wenceslaus Parish to Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City on Jan. 29.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Pro-life advocates marched through the chilly, snowplowed streets of Iowa City the morning of Jan. 29 to make a statement. Donning winter coats, gloves and face coverings, some of the marchers carried signs with life-affirming messages. Others carried rosaries. All carried hope that their peaceful presence and continued prayers could change hearts on the issue of abortion.

“Today was supposed to be the March for Life in Washington, D.C.,” said Deacon Chris Kabat. Usually he takes a group to the national march by way of the Iowans for Life bus, but the in-person events were cancelled this year due to COVID-19 concerns. “So, we decided to do our own. We couldn’t let this day go by without saying something, without trying to undo the harm of Roe v. Wade.”

The day started with Mass at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church. Pastor Father Gary Beckman presided and Father Jeff Belger, priest director of Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, concelebrated. Deacon Kabat served as deacon and diocesan seminarian Isaac Doucette, an Iowa City native, read Scripture.


In his homily, Father Belger said that while advocating for pro-life legislation is important, “getting into the mess” by having conversations with family, friends and abortion-minded individuals is just as important.

He spoke of the need for Catholics to support and pray for each other in their efforts to uphold the dignity of the human person. In the current political climate, Catholics tend to argue about which pro-life issues are most important. For example, some Catholics may accuse other Catholics who work diligently for an end to abortion of reducing pro-life advocacy to a single issue.

“God bless everyone who has any part in any life issue,” Father Belger said. “We tend to fight amongst ourselves, but the body of Christ is large and diverse, thanks be to God. I don’t have to invest myself wholly in every injustice in the world to try to create change, but I am convinced that sometimes we get in the way of others who are doing so. Praise those who are working on the issue of racism. Praise those and pray for those working on the issue of immigration. … Let’s not get in the way of any good act. Let’s work together, not against one another.”

After the Mass, Catholics headed out to the parking lot to prepare for a half-mile walk to Emma Goldman Clinic, which provides abortions. Volunteers distributed hand warmers to take the chill out of the journey.

Deacon Kabat warned participants that they might experience harassment from passersby, and they did, in the form of honking drivers and passersby shouting expletives. A clinic worker tried to tell the group that they couldn’t assemble in front of the clinic, “but, of course, we know we can,” Sheryl Schwager, director of Johnson County Right to Life, told The Catholic Messenger. She and other pro-life advocates in the area have participated in peaceful prayer vigils there for years. Organizers told the group to smile at naysayers and to engage only in calm conversation. Deacon Kabat encouraged participants to direct any debates on theology and morality to himself, Father Belger or Father Beckman.

“We have to stay strong and hopeful,” said Iowans for Life Executive Director Maggie DeWitte, who drove from Des Moines to Iowa City to participate in the rally. While it wasn’t her usual 15-hour trip to Washington, D.C., “I’m so glad I have somewhere to march.”

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