Sign on I-95 in Richmond one of 24 across the South
The Diocese of Biloxi Pro-Life, Mississippi, is hoping to touch the hearts of thousands of people with its pro-life billboard erected in Richmond earlier this month. Karen Rhodes, ministry president, said, based upon information provided Lamar Advertising , it is expected that it will receive 327,000 impressions (views) as people drive by the sign depicting Mary cradling the infant Jesus in her arms. On it is written “Chose Life Pray Pray Pray.”
Standing on I-95 South at the Second St. exit, the billboard is one of 24 signs scattered across southern United States. Others are along highways in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.
“We put up a very loving billboard. It doesn’t condemn anyone. It doesn’t show awful pictures,” Rhodes said.
“I think when people see it, it really touches them because it is a very simple billboard, but it’s very, very powerful. People just fall in love with it,” Rhodes continued. “When they see it at night when it is illuminated, it really touches people’s hearts.”
The billboards are placed in strategic locations on busy highways near abortion clinics, Rhodes said. The collective weekly views are 8.2 million.
Rhodes said a goal of the ministry is to put one billboard in each state and is next considering posting billboards in Tennessee and near the Missouri/Illinois border near Planned Parenthood mega-clinics. The pro-life initiative also has a banner with the image on a Gulfport, Mississippi city bus and placed one on a New Orleans bus during Mardi Gras in 2020. Youth from St. James Parish, Gulfport and St. Patrick Parish, Biloxi carried a banner and posters with the image at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. in January 2020.
In material submitted to The Catholic Virginian, Rhodes said “the most critical issue in the world today is protecting the life of the unborn.”
According to National Right to Life, since Roe v. Wade, the landmark case legalizing abortion in 1973, there have been an estimated 62,502,904 abortions in the United States. It estimates that this year there will be 862,320 abortions.
In January 2019, a group of 11 parishioners at St. James, Gulfport, , decided to create a pro-life billboard initiative. Penny Sullivan, who came up with the idea, designed the sign based on a popular statue sold in her Gulfport gift shop. Originally the ministry was a parish one called St. James Pro-Life Billboard Initiative, but Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III brought the ministry under the umbrella of the Diocese of Biloxi about three months ago because of the project’s widespread efforts and effectiveness, Rhodes said.
She hopes the billboards will convince women on their way to abortion clinics to change their minds and that the signs will inspire people to pray for the end of abortion.
“We have to be a voice for the unborn,” Rhodes said.
Like the other billboards, the Richmond sign will stay up for a limited time unless enough money is raised at the local level to extend the timeframe. For Richmond, that means raising $6,000 to $9,000.
The ministry relies heavily on local media, especially Catholic newspapers, to raise awareness of the signs and generate donations. There are smaller efforts such as special collections at Masses or baby bottle campaigns in Catholic schools wherein students fill bottles with money.
Pre-COVID, ministry members gave a short presentation at the end of Masses in localities with the billboards, and they were available for questions and discussion in the commons afterwards. At one visit, a woman approached them after Mass to say that a pregnant woman on the way to get an abortion saw the sign and instead went to the adoption agency the woman manages.
“We felt like that was a message for us, that what we’re doing was working and to keep doing it. That’s why we’ve kept going forward,” Rhodes said. “This mission is our Blessed Mother’s. We go forward, and she opens the doors.”
Donations may be made by using the Venmo app: @dioceseofbiloxiprolife or by check sent to Diocese of Biloxi Pro-Life, 1790 Popps Ferry Rd., Biloxi, Ms. 39532, Attn: Karen Rhodes. Write “pro- life” on the memo line. You may contact Rhodes at 228-297- 7704 or Michele Pisciotta, MD, Biloxi Diocese’s director of Pro-Life Ministries at 228-697-1367.