The quiet celebration was marked with a July 20 victory rally held in front of what was Family Planning Medical Clinic, attended by prayer group participants — many from St. Joseph and St. Louis of France Churches in La Puente and St. Martha Church in Valinda — and two executive members of Texas-based 40 Days for Life, national director David Bereit and campaign director Shawn Carney. Prior to the rally, members of the group had the unique opportunity to walk through the former abortion facility and see up-close the rooms and tables where countless abortions had taken place. This experience was only made possible because the property owner was sympathetic to the prayer group and had been unaware, that when he leased the offices years ago, that abortions would be performed in them.“It was very surreal and the sense of sadness and despair was so tangible, so thick in the air,” said Ana Maria Rivas, a St. Joseph parishioner who walked through the hallways and rooms. “When I saw the table where they performed the abortion, I dropped to my knees.” Many cried.Father Matthew Cumberland, St. Joseph pastor, led an emotional and powerful memorial service at the facility. Afterward participants shared with each other how they felt via email.“I felt a strong sense of loss in that building,” wrote one person. “It was beautiful to hear and participate in the prayer that was happening and I prayed privately for God's mercy on all those who had walked through the door…”“Going to the clinic after it closed was a ‘bittersweet’ occasion,” commented another. “It is great to know that through hard work of all these who went there to pray they had finally closed it down. However, it was also sad to know that many lives were taken in that very place. It was difficult and a little scary to be in that same building where it all happened, but also encouraging knowing how many lives are being saved with its closing.”“It’s just a miracle that it closed,” stated Yvonne Viramontes, St. Joseph parishioner who first heard of 40 Days for Life several years ago from a group operating out of Mission Hills, which proved too far of a commute. So Viramontes — with guidance and encouragement from friends — introduced the program in the San Gabriel Valley, creating a La Puente chapter in 2009. Founded in 2007, the 40 Days for Life program encourages communities to orchestrate two yearly campaigns to shine attention on local abortion clinics via prayer and fasting, a constant vigil for 40 days and community outreach. The organization has chapters in 337 cities in the U.S. and more than 400,000 people have participated in various campaigns in Canada, Australia, England, Ireland and Denmark. According to its website, 40 Days for Life groups have been instrumental in the closing of 14 abortion clinics.The La Puente chapter held five campaigns at the local abortion clinic over the past 30 months. Nearly 850 group members — describing themselves more as a peaceful presence rather than confrontational protesters — took turns keeping a 7 a.m.-7 p.m. vigil outside the facility inconspicuously grouped within a medical complex along busy North Hacienda Boulevard. Since they began their vigils in 2009, prayer participants noted a gradual reduction in the number of people going into the facility, fewer doctors arriving and shorter hours of operation. Finally, the property owner finally approached the group last month telling them they “won’t be needed here anymore”; the abortion clinic was moving out.In fact, in a surprising twist of events, this former abortion facility may well become a pregnancy resource center, with the help of a local pregnancy help organization that offered to lease the space. “We’re in negotiations with the owner right now and we have a good feeling about it,” said Viramontes. “We can hardly believe it.”Viramontes, who called the program “my passion,” said that 40 Days for Life meshed with her ideas of peaceful protests. No aggressive tactics were displayed, and shift leaders were trained in sidewalk counseling, how to handle unruly crowds and what to say to police officers. “We always follow the rule of staying on the sidewalk and being peaceful, no matter what,” said Viramontes.“It’s a good approach for me,” said St. Joseph parishioner Judy Romero who has been involved with the group since its inception. “At first it felt a little awkward for me to be out there praying, but then after a while, it all sinks in and you get into the idea of prayer and being there as a presence.”With their commitment and sacrifice, participants say they have learned about their community, made friendships and have seen lives changed by their simple act of showing up and offering themselves in prayer for others.Through the various campaigns, group members say they’ve talked with countless couples who were weighing the options of abortion as well as numerous women who wanted to talk to someone about the abortion they had years ago. They’ve also thrown baby showers for women who opted against abortion and have held “saved” babies in their arms.“Sure, you sign up to pray for the babies,” said Viramontes, “but when you are out there, you learn that abortion affects more than just the baby and mother. It also affects the father, the family, the co-workers — all these lives and more.”For Romero, the connections between her work and her faith crossed paths in a most unusual way. Her co-worker, who was pregnant, would often frequent a MacDonald’s which was right next door to the abortion facility. At that time, the co-worker didn’t tell anyone she was considering an abortion because the baby was a result of an affair.“She told me that she saw the signs we carried, ‘Women Regret Their Abortions,’ and all the people in prayer and that made her change her mind,” said Romero. “She said, ‘Your people were there and your group got me to stop and think.’ Wow. That’s powerful stuff. That’s the Holy Spirit at work.”Then there was the Azusa mom, driving her 19-year-old daughter for an abortion appointment — “the longest drive I have ever took in my life,” said the mother. “It was horrible.”Once at the La Puente clinic, they saw people praying and calmly marching with signs. “My daughter was so mad they were there,” the mother recalled. “But then, she said, ‘Hold on.’ And we waited. And that car has never been so silent.”Suddenly, it seemed as if the car was full of the sounds of prayer. Hail Marys, Our Fathers. “It was so loud and right with us, even though the people praying were standing far away.” Finally, the 19-yeard-old told her mother, “Let’s go home,” and the appointment was cancelled.As they were driving away, a woman came to their car, handed them literature and said, “You’re in God’s hands.”The baby was born eight months ago, and is being watched by her grandmother as the baby’s young mom works and prepares to enroll in school — and, says her mom, “is being very responsible. She tells me, ‘Mom, I love her, I love her so much.’ I knew in my heart [an abortion] wasn’t right for her, but if it wasn’t for the 40 Days for Life people, she probably would have made that appointment that day.” Now, with this abortion facility closed, the La Puente chapter will turn their attention to other abortion clinics in the area and to helping out nearby chapters with their campaigns. But since they were such a mainstay at the former abortion site, Viramontes says that she intends to keep inviting group members to gather there to be a resource and ears for anyone who wants to talk about abortion in their lives.“I was so in awe of how many post abortive people came out for healing, some holding in their feelings for 30 years,” she says. “I had no idea that these tragedies of the past are still very much present to so many people. We owe it to them to be there for them.”For more information about 40 Days for Life, visit {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0805/clinic/{/gallery}