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Cartoonist with pro-life message entertains, informs for Visitation House

Posted By April 17, 2014 | 12:13 pm | Lead Story #3

By Tanya Connor

The radio program had a call – from a “stem cell phone.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is fantastic!” exclaimed the talk show host. “We have on the air a live unborn baby named Umbert. Umbert, do you realize how unbelievable this is?”
“What, that I’m on the air or that I’m alive?” queried the unborn baby.
Proclaiming that the unborn are alive – and want to stay that way – is the message of Umbert the Unborn, according to his creator, cartoonist Gary Cangemi.
Mr. Cangemi spoke and showed some of his Umbert comic strips on a large screen at Visitation House’s ninth annual benefit dinner April 10. The dinner drew nearly 400 people to Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Ann Parish’s gym, and raised about $32,000, according to Eve Lindquist, Visitation House executive director.
The house is a Christian home in Worcester for women in crisis pregnancies. The website says it is “grounded in the Gospel and in the culture of life of the Catholic Church” and welcomes women as Elizabeth welcomed her cousin, the Virgin Mary.
“The real heroes … are those mothers who choose life rather than death,” said John Howland, after receiving Visitation House’s Ruth V.K. Pakaluk Award at the dinner. Dr. Howland, a family practitioner in Southbridge, was a founding board member who helped Visitation House establish policies and programming.
Joseph Williams, president of the board, connected words from the dinner’s theme song – “What a Wonderful World” – with Visitation House’s experience of hearing babies cry. He said that’s a sound of new life and the hope that a loving mother will watch them grow, thus teaching Visitation House staff more than they thought they could ever know.
With the reality of abortion, it’s a challenge to recognize this as a wonderful world, Mr. Williams said. But he offered hope with a statistic that more Americans are pro-life than previously; 50 percent identify themselves that way.
“Our message is not one of revenge or hatred, but one of love,” he said. “Our victory … has already been won, by Christ.”
Keynoter Mr. Cangemi, a nationally self-syndicated cartoonist and graphic artist from Scranton, Penn., said he doesn’t consider Umbert, his original cartoon child, a success story yet; his own three children are his biggest success. He’s been syndicating the comic strip for 13 years, but “most of Umbert’s readers already embrace his message,” he said. That message is: “I’m a real person. I have a heart … a brain … a life … a future. All I ask is for the same chance your parents gave you.”
Mr. Cangemi said he figured that God gave the unborn personhood, and he could give recognition and form to that humanity in a way that would make people think about life in the womb in a new way.
He’s been told editors wouldn’t accept his cartoon and he’s been advised tone it down, keep it cute and avoid controversy, he said. But he responds that when the Holy Spirit inspires him to speak the truth, he doesn’t intend to hold back.
Before starting this comic strip, Mr. Cangemi said, he studied for the priesthood, but decided God had other plans for him. He worked in human services and in 1982 started an art studio. He became a political cartoonist who targeted politicians and sometimes addressed issues dear to him, including the right to life. But he said always attacking people is not good for the soul, and he wanted to do something different with his life.
Looking at a cartoon he’d done of an unborn baby, he decided to create Umbert. He’s added numerous characters since starting this strip in 2001, he said.
Vita the Viable, whose single mother is considering abortion, takes issue with the morning after pill: “Don’t they realize that for every morning after, someone loses a lifetime of tomorrows?”
Elwood the Expected, whose parents teach at MIT, is a contestant in the game show “Unborn Babies in Jeopardy.” To the answer, “Over one million babies suffer from this procedure every year,” he supplies the question: “What is an election?”
The technology in Umbert’s “wombiverse” has advanced with the outer world, Mr. Cangemi said. At one point, the baby imagines himself in outer space (umbilically attached to the “mothership,” of course), where he encounters the unborn aliens 2B and Not 2B from the Planet Parenthood.
When he asks why they don’t have a mother, they explain, “We were made the old-fashioned way – we were cloned.” They claim they have universal health care; when they get sick they go out in the universe in search of it.
A 7-year-old wrote to ask when Umbert is going to be born, Mr. Cangemi said. After all, he’s been in the womb a long time. The cartoonist said he wrote back saying Umbert is frozen in a moment of time (though his plight is not that of Fredo, the frozen embryo). When it’s safe for all children in this country to be born, when that right is recognized and protected by law, that will be Umbert’s birthday.
“It’s a promise I hope I live to keep,” he said.
Meanwhile, he’s found another way to get the message out. At the dinner he led listeners in singing some of “Umbert’s Pro-Life Songs” to popular tunes.
“Womb, womb on the range, where the zygotes and embryos play,” says one chorus. “Where never is heard a life-threatening word; and my right to be born is OK.”
Another goes like this: “When unborn eyes are smiling from your baby’s ultrasound, ’Tis a sign he’s safe and happy as he grows by leaps and bounds. When unborn eyes start shining in the womb where life is dear, you will know your baby loves you and will soon, in your arms, be here.”
“He’s really so pro-life; he’s a genius in those cartoons,” Ella McLaughlin, of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Worcester, said of Mr. Cangemi. “You have to laugh at it, but some of it … it makes you realize … abortion is the devil’s work.” She said this was the “most fun one” of the Visitation House dinners.