‘Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that’: Coloradans march to celebrate life

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

After a cold, snowy morning, thousands of Catholics from the Archdiocese of Denver gathered Jan. 12 to participate in the Celebrate Life March at the foot of the Colorado State Capitol — the place that first allowed for the legalization of abortion in the United States over 50 years ago — seeking a renewed respect of the most fundamental right: the right to life.

Calling to mind that Colorado became the first state to legalize abortion, David Bereit, the event’s emcee, and co-founder and former C.E.O. of 40 Days for Life, motivated the faithful to continue fighting to undo the evil that had begun in the same building that oversaw their gathering.

“Even though lives continue to be lost to this very day, we have seen, through the prayers and efforts of faithful people here in Denver, throughout Colorado and around the nation, the tide is turning for life,” he said, assuring that from the 2,200 abortion clinics that were present in the country at the pinnacle of the abortion industry in 1992, fewer than 600 remain. 79 percent of abortion centers closed their doors and went out of business, in great part due to the action and prayers of pro-life advocates.

“The abortion rate continues to drop… Americans self-identify as pro-life by the largest majority since Roe v. Wade. More pro-life laws have been passed in the States over these last three years than the previous 30 years before that… We realize that the days of Roe v. Wade are numbered. Abortion is going to end! Our work is not yet done, and that’s why we gather here,” Bereit continued. “What began here in this place, must end here in this place.”

This year’s Celebrate Life March also comes at an important time in the political realm of the State of Colorado, as the November midterm elections saw the defeat of legislators who were in support of key areas of Catholic teaching regarding the dignity of life.

The Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila impelled the participants to stay faithful to the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person. (Photo by Brandon Young)

The Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila urged the participants to be a light in the darkness in the public sphere to defend the dignity of life from conception until death.

“In this past midterm election, some of those lawmakers who were in support of the Church’s teaching in these key areas, failed to win their seats, which makes our task today of remaining vigilant and engaged all the more important. And it is you, the laity, who need to make your voices heard,” he said.

The prelate also called for the repeal of the death penalty in Colorado, which he assured was unnecessary; and, quoting Pope Francis, spoke against the idea that the Catholic Church must accept the many of these laws under the banner of progressivism.

“‘The internal consistency of our message, the message of the Church and of Christ, about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position in this question. It is not progressive to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.’ Our legislators need to hear those words. The Catholics in our pews need to hear those words. The media today would never report on those words of Pope Francis,” Archbishop Aquila assured.

The rally also counted with the presence of Elizabeth Felix, a college student and leader of Students for Life, who insisted that being pro-life meant being pro-woman, pro-man and pro-child; the McGarity family, who spoke for the dignity of children with Down Syndrome; and Elías Moo, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Denver.

Many Catholics from the state of Colorado gathered to celebrate the gift of life by the Colorado State Capitol in downtown Denver, Sat., Jan 12. (Photo by Brandon Young)

In a bilingual speech in English and Spanish, Moo highlighted the importance of fighting for the right to life, especially for Christians.

“Our duty to our neighbors, even those who disagree with us, is to serve the common good of our society by defending the most vulnerable and fighting against the culture of death. For we’re fighting for the most fundamental right of all, the base of all other rights: the right to life,” he stated. “We love life because we love Christ.”

Marching with joy

For the second year in a row, women from ENDOW (Education on the Nature and Dignity of Women), a Catholic apostolate that helps women come together and learn about their faith and dignity, set the pace of the March. But this year, the representatives were five young Hispanic ladies wearing their colorful quinceañera dresses.

Members of the Catholic group ENDOW led the march wearing their quinceañera dresses to testify that the support for life and women go hand-in-hand. (Photo by Brandon Young)

“They are the champions of life. They are right in that age group where they can say, ‘This is what it means to be a woman, and this is how I can protect life starting now,’” said Marcela García López, Program Growth Coordinator for ENDOW. “Planned Parenthood and other organizations say that minorities need abortion because there is a lot of poverty or because of [the many] troubles that they go through. But actually, look at these girls. They can say yes, and they can challenge that.”

“A life is a life. It doesn’t matter if it was an unplanned pregnancy or not,” said Litzy Morán, one of the participating quinceañeras, who believes that many young women would choose life if they had someone they could talk to about their fears of an unplanned pregnancy.

Among the many participants waving flags and banners, a group of medical students and doctors wearing white lab coats also sought to bring the message of life to the public.

“We have been trying to bring the concept of life to the medical campus for the past six or seven years, which is basically taken over by the culture of death with abortion teaching… through lectures and seminars to students on life issues, including Natural Family Planning” said Dr. Francisco La Rosa, Associate Professor in Pathology and Faculty Sponsor for the student group Catholic Medical Association at Anschutz Medical Campus.

The march was accompanied by the performance of folkloric dancers and a mariachi band. (Photo by Brandon Young)

As the crowd joyfully marched on the downtown streets of Denver, and was met with varied reactions from those observing, Martin Luther Jing Jr.’s words, quoted by Archbishop Aquila in his speech, seemed to resound with greater clarity: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misspelled Dr. Francisco La Rosa’s name. We apologize for the error.

COMING UP: Lessons on proper elder care after my mother’s death

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We buried my Mom last month. 

In the summer of last year, I first drove her to her new memory care facility. My heart was breaking. She was so scared and vulnerable but was trying so hard to be brave. My brother said it was like taking your kid to pre-school for the first time. And never going back to pick her up. 

But we had to do it. She was far too confused for our 97-year-old Dad to take care of her. She didn’t recognize him. She would lock herself in her room, afraid of the “strange man” in their apartment. She wasn’t eating well, and with COVID restrictions we couldn’t get into her independent living facility to monitor her diet or her health. Worst of all, she would wander. Unable to recognize “home” and unable to convince anybody to come get her, she would set off by herself. Dad would realize she was missing and frantically try to find her. Fortunately for us, she always attempted her escapes when the night security guard was at his desk. But we were terrified that some evening she would get out while he was away, and she would roam out into the winter night. 

We knew that, without round the clock support, we couldn’t keep her safe in any of our homes either. So, we concluded that she needed to be placed in a secure memory care facility. I think it was one of the hardest decisions my family has ever faced. We researched. We consulted experts. We hired a placement agency. We came close to placing her in one home, then chickened out because we felt like the owner was pressuring us.  

Finally, we landed on what looked like the best facility for our needs. They specialized in memory care, and we were assured that the staff had been trained to care for people with dementia. They took notes about her diet, health, likes and dislikes. Most important, it was a secured facility. They knew that Mom wandered, and their secured doors and round the clock caregiver oversight seemed like the best way to keep her safe. It was the most expensive facility we had seen. But we figured her safety and well-being were worth it. 

On Jan. 12, Mom was found in that facility’s back yard. Frozen to death.  

She had let herself out through an unsecured exterior door, unnoticed and unimpeded, on a cold winter evening. No one realized she was missing until the next morning.  A health department investigator told me that she had been out there at least 12 hours. Which means caregivers over three shifts failed to recognize her absence. I’m told she was wearing thin pants, a short-sleeved shirt and socks. The overnight low was 20 degrees. 

We are devastated. Beyond devastated. Frankly, I don’t know that it has completely sunk in yet. I think the brain only lets in a little horror at a time. I re-read what I just wrote, and think “Wow, that would be a really horrible thing to happen to a loved one.” 

I debated what my first column after Mom’s death would look like. I have felt compelled, in social media, to celebrate the person my Mom was and the way she lived. To keep the memory alive of the truly amazing person she was. But I think I did it mostly to distract my mind from the horror of how she died. 

But I am feeling more compelled, in this moment, to tell the story of how she died. Because I think it needs to be told. Because others are struggling with the agonizing decision to place a parent in memory care. Because when we were doing our research, we would have wanted to know that these kind of things happen. 

I am not naming the facility here. It will be public knowledge when the Colorado Department of Health and Environment report is completed. From what I am told, they are horrified at what happened and are working very hard to make sure it never happens again.

My point here is much bigger. I am discovering the enormous problems we face in senior care, particularly in the era of COVID. I was told by someone in the industry that, since the facilities are locked down and families can’t get in to check on their loved ones, standards are slipping in many places. With no oversight, caregivers and managers are getting lazy. I was in regular communication with Mom’s house manager, and I raised flags every time I suspected a problem. But you can only ascertain so much in phone conversations with a dementia patient. 

Now, since her death, we have discovered that her nightly 2 a.m. bed check — a state mandated protocol — had only been done once in the ten days before her death. She could have disappeared on any of those nights, and no one would have realized it. 

I have wracked my brain, to figure out what we could have done differently. The facility had no previous infractions. Their reputation was stellar. Their people seemed very caring. Their web site would make you want to move in yourself. 

Knowing what I know now, I would have asked some very specific questions. How are the doors secured? Are they alarmed? Is the back yard accessible at night? Are bed checks actually done every night? Who checks the logs to confirm? 

I would check for infractions at the CDPHE web site. Then I would find out who owns the facility, and do some online stalking. Is this a person with a history of caring for the elderly, or just someone who has jumped into the very trendy, very profitable business of elder care? I am very concerned that, for many, this “business model” is built on maximizing profits by minimizing compensation for front line workers — the people actually caring for our loved ones. 

Dad is living with me now. We are not inclined to trust any facilities with his care. Watching him grieve has been heartbreaking. If you talk to him, do me a favor and don’t mention how she died. It’s hard enough to say good-bye to his wife of nearly 60 years, without having to grapple with this, too. 

I am, frankly, still in disbelief. I don’t know exactly where I am going from here. But I do know one thing. I want my Mom’s death to spur a closer look at the way we care for our vulnerable elderly. 

Because I don’t want what happened to my Mom to happen to another vulnerable elderly person again. Ever.