Cemetery Shrines Bear Witness to the Humanity of the Unborn

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The marble sculpture of Madonna and child, standing nearly six feet high on a black base, is one of eight shrines scattered about the San Fernando Mission Cemetery--but the only one relevant to an ongoing religious and social controversy.

The Shrine to the Unborn, dedicated on Memorial Day, is one of about 500 monuments lamenting legalized abortion that have been placed in Catholic cemeteries across the country since the idea was suggested to the Knights of Columbus by New York Cardinal John O’Connor four years ago.

“The impetus for the shrines is to memorialize the victims of abortion,” said Carl Anderson of Washington, D.C., vice president for public policy of the Catholic fraternal and charitable organization.


“It is a witness to the humanity of the unborn child, recognizing that it is a person who has died,” said Anderson, reflecting the view of the Catholic Church and like-minded religious groups that the fetus has a right to life that supersedes the rights of the mother.

So far, 13 of the 14 California dioceses have marble memorial benches, on which cemetery strollers can rest, provided by a statewide Knights campaign coordinated by Doug Tomlin of San Diego. The benches are sculpted with an image of a flame at one end as a memorial to the unborn. The memorial bench for the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese is at All Souls Cemetery in Long Beach.

But Knights of Columbus councils in other regions of the Los Angeles archdiocese wanted shrines as well. They sought sculptures through the Catholic Cemeteries office of the archdiocese, which ordered identical statues from a marble company in Carrara, Italy, for cemeteries in Culver City, Rowland Heights, Mission Hills and Simi Valley.

The last one will be dedicated at 2 p.m. today at Assumption Cemetery in Simi Valley by Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry.

The campaign to raise $7,000 for the San Fernando Valley sculpture was headed by Robert Odom of Canoga Park, who said the Knights were asked to do so in 1994 by the area’s auxiliary bishop at the time, Armando X. Ochoa, who has since been transferred to El Paso.

For the past two years, Ochoa led a rosary and procession through the San Fernando Mission Cemetery on Dec. 28, the feast Day of the Innocents, when the Catholic Church now mourns the deaths of the aborted. “His idea was to build a special shrine dedicated to the unborn where we could conclude our procession,” Odom said.


Last December, worshipers in the procession placed 32 red roses at one of the cemetery’s shrines to Mary--one red rose for each 1 million abortions since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing abortion rights.

“One pink rose was placed there also for all the stillborn babies,” said Odom.

The Shrines to the Unborn, though prompted by abortions, could be meaningful for those who want to remember stillborn babies and even miscarriages, acknowledged Anderson, the national Knights of Columbus official.

“But another purpose was to give women and families a place to express their grief,” said Anderson, referring especially to women who have had an abortion and later regretted the decision.