"We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us" (1 Jn 1:3). With these words, John spells out the basis on which the Gospel was announced to the world: personal testimony. Peter proclaimed, "We are witnesses of everything he did ...God raised him from the dead ...and caused him to be seen ... by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed ..." (Acts 10:39-42).
God takes personal testimony seriously. It's the way he has spread his word from the beginning. He intervenes in the lives of his people, and then he commands that those who have experienced his intervention tell others about it. The Old Testament Patriarchs encountered God in a variety of surprising ways, and the advancement of salvation history depended upon their sharing that witness, starting with Abraham's sharing of the encounter by which God told him to relocate his family and trust in a promise of fruitfulness that seemed impossible. The prophets likewise, through words and symbolic actions, told the people what God spoke to them. And the central event of the Old Testament, the Exodus, comes to us through generations of personal testimony to the mighty intervention of God.
Jesus Christ himself is the testimony of the Father. "I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence", Jesus explained (Jn 8:38). "For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth" (Jn 18:37). Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus is one of the most famous testimonies in Christianity. And it does not stop with the Bible. Whether it's through the Confessions of Augustine, or the writings of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, or Ignatius of Loyola, this much is clear: personal testimony is an essential tool of evangelization.
It's not surprising, therefore, that when writing directly to womenwho have had abortions, Pope John Paul II told them, "The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace .... With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life" (Evangelium Vitae, n. 99).
In the 16 years since the publication of that great encyclical, it has borne much fruit in the pastoral experience of the Church in many ways, not the least of which has been the way in which those women and men who have lost children to abortion have heeded the call to repentance and witness. One of today's most powerful pro-life developments is the movement by which such individuals are speaking out about their pain and healing. The Silent No More Awareness Campaign, a project of the worldwide ministries of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life, gives these individuals opportunities to witness in churches, in the media, in legislative assemblies, and in public rallies around the world. They reveal the hidden horror of abortion, and they proclaim that for those alienated by sin — whether abortion or not — there is a Savior.
Hundreds of gatherings have been held around the world, and thousands of men and women have given testimony, since the Campaign began in 2003. Numerous people, including those in political office, have experienced conversion to a pro-life position, or at least a greater openness to it, as a result of hearing these testimonies. Even the United States Supreme Court, in its 2007 ruling Gonzalez vs. Carhart, took note of the fact that many women regret their abortion, and that this justifies greater efforts to inform them of the true nature of their "choice".
The Church's work of evangelization, and of building the culture of life, will continue to grow in no small part due to the courageous testimonies of such men and women, and to the courage of the people of God in spreading those testimonies far and wide.
*Priest of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas; National Director of Priests for Life