|Yesterday evening's 40 Days for Life vigil in Bedford Square, London|
(c) Diocese of Westminster - published under a creative commons
licence. (Source: Catholic Westminster on Flickr)
Last night's act of prayer and witness formed only one small segment in a forty day vigil organised by 40 Days for Life. It began over a month ago and will come to an end in the next couple of days. From 7.00pm - 8.30pm last night, Bishop Alan Hopes, an auxiliary bishop of Westminster, was present at to lead part of the Rosary and some other prayers and acts of reparation. By the time I arrived, those who had gathered to pray were half way through the Sorrowful Mysteries - I am rarely on time for anything!
From what I saw, those gentle men, women and children who had gathered to pray for life, remained extremely well behaved, quiet and charitable throughout the event. They seemed, above all else, to be motivated by genuine love and a real sense of justice for women and the unborn.
As I mentioned the other day, those who actively support abortion had planned a demonstration against the vigil once they discovered that a successor of the Apostles would be leading some of last night's prayers. From comments posted openly online, many of them appeared furious and / or rattled that a bishop was going to be present at the prayer vigil. Without realising it, in responding with such fear and agitation and in organising a campaign against Bishop Hopes' presence, these apparent enemies of the Church were actually witnessing in a most profound way to the power of the episcopacy!
It would be true to say that many pro-abortionists seem to despise the Catholic Church, as well as the simple truth that a foetus is a human person or being. They have also been known in the past to resort to threatening behaviour and intimidation. For that reason, I was not looking forward to being on the receiving end of possible violence from some of the pro-abortion activists - mainly because I feared how I would react to it (I am not the calm person people believe me to be, and suffer from terrible temptations to anger and from a certain impulsiveness, when not at prayer). The possibility of being spat at or intimidated - with close-range filming, and so on - filled me with a certain sense of dread; would I be able to remain quiet in the face of such abuse? Would I betray the faith by my own weaknesses?
(This YouTube video demonstrates how engulfed in complete hatred some pro-abortionists can be, as well as how irrationally violent some of their tactics have been in other parts of the world.)
|Where two or there are gathered in my name, I am there|
All those who were there to pray acted in the most admirable way - as far as I could see, no one reacted to the extreme intimidation and hatred coming from the abortion supporters. On the other hand, as I was leaving, a policeman told me - after I'd asked him how to get out of the square - that they had found it difficult to contain the pro-abortionists and advised me to go down a side street to avoid them. It seemed as if the police were getting ready to move them on at that point.
In imitation of Our Lord, most, if not all, at the vigil were offering their prayers silently - and in tears - for those who have been victims of abortion, for those who work in the abortion industry, as well as for those who were mocking and abusing Jesus Christ, his mother and the Catholic faith. Auditory prayers were also constantly offered for women and the unborn, as well as for a greater appreciation of the dignity and sanctity of human life.
These words of Christ kept coming to mind when I looked over at the hate-filled demonstrators: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (cf Lk 23:32). This verse became my prayer for the night. In fact, it actually seemed to me that these poor souls genuinely lacked any comprehension of how evil abortion is - of how it is the deliberate destruction of human life, often aided and abetted by medics who appear to have abandoned the Hippocratic Oath. (Of course, this prayer, Christ's prayer, was also being offered for me, who am an acknowledged sinner in need of grace and prone to regrettable behaviour.)
These same demonstrators also seemed to be spurred on by an overwhelming fear - and a dark form of fear at that (one that they themselves probably didn't understand). They reminded me of those demon-possessed types often seen in horror films, screaming obscenities at the sight of anything holy or good. In that respect, especially when we consider how angry they were at the presence of a bishop, another line from Scripture came to mind: What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time? (cf Mt 8:29).
Some of the chants and shrieking noises that were emanating from the pandemonium behind the police barrier were so heinous and bizarre, as well as unjust and fanatical, that I don't wish to repeat them here. Throughout the evening, though, the pro-abortion demonstrators kept chanting things like: "Stop harassing women!" Some even looked as if they had breached the police cordon, or had simply come over to the section where the vigil was being held, to continue this refrain, in an intimidating way, right next to those who were praying.
One angry woman (on a bicycle) even went up to several women, screaming in their faces: "Stop harassing me! Stop harassing women!" Knowing that it's pointless to reason with people in that state and through some grace of the Holy Spirit, no one - even if they had wanted to - responded to her. The prayers continued. At one point though, this same woman was stopped by a policeman - possibly because she herself was actually harassing those several women who had come there to pray. (Some pro-life women were obviously upset at being badgered like this, and one or two even appeared to leave in tears because of the tactics used by "pro-choice" protesters.)
At one point, a man even came up to those who were praying to mock them by implying that he wanted to have sex with some of the women (and men?). He said something like: "If you believe in love, why don't you join me in love-making?" (In fact, I believe his words were far cruder than that.) This man's seeming lack of respect made me realise that, for all their bluster, many pro-abortionists seem to have very little concern for women (or their rights)!
There seemed to be no sense of rationality or calmness about those who were there to protest against Bishop Alan Hopes and the 40 Days for Life vigil. The placards spoke volumes about them: "Keep your Eucharist off my uterus" and "Keep your Rosaries off our ovaries" were common slogans. These nonsensical phrases, though, demonstrated to me that these poor souls really were so consumed by fear or anger that they couldn't even pretend to be rational or reasonable. They feared holy things that made no sense to them. They also seemed to arrogantly believe that their arguments were beyond any rational criticism, whereas in reality some of their catchphrases were simply just beyond parody.
Two specific events will stay in my mind from yesterday evening's vigil.
The first was the extreme hatred shown by some pro-abortionists towards one particular woman, namely Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seemed that whenever Our Lady was mentioned, many of the abortion supporters would make weird noises, bang drums or jeer and mock; though, at other times they seemed subdued and completely quiet at the mention of the Virgin Mary. This behaviour really did strike me as being quite odd, the kind of thing one would expect to find in a book by Father Gabriele Amorth!
The second thing that struck me during the events of last night happened during the Stations of the Cross. When the 12th Station was announced - "Jesus dies on the Cross" - a most bizarre shrieking noise, a terrible mocking shrill, rose up amongst the protesters. It was spine-chillingly horrific - blasphemy in its truest and most heinous sense. It was at that point that I began to weep, not for myself or the others with me, but for those poor souls behind the police barrier - those men and women so consumed by hate, so lost ... so unaware. Duped, tricked, resentful and restless - Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
For various reasons, I often find it difficult to leave my house after dark. Going to Bedford Square, then, was quite a Calvary for me. Yet, I wanted to be there to pray with a successor of the Apostles for an end to abortion as well as for the salvation of all men and women, whoever they may be. Going along was well worth it, as the event was one of the most prayerful and profound experiences of my life - despite the cries and shrieks of hate. In fact, without realising it, those who had come to protest against God and the vigil were a great aid to prayer. I felt compassion for them. I wanted to offer my life for them. For a few minutes last night, the Beatitudes - which were read out at one point - became for me a living, present and overwhelming reality.
It was also good to meet some friends at yesterday's vigil, including some who had helped organise the 40 Days for Life event, some young people from Juventutem (London and Bristol), The Bones, Joseph Shaw (LMS Chairman), John Smeaton, and many others. I also know that Bara Brith was there, as well as Blondpidge, and Auntie Joanna. (Many of these bloggers have already written far better reports on the event than this one.)
It was particularly good to see so many joyful young people at the vigil, as well as many priests and seminarians - a sure sign of hope for the future. As for numbers present, I'd say there were about 300 pro-lifers and probably the same amount - if not slightly less - in the pro-abortion camp.
One phrase will stay with me from last night, though. It is quite an apt one for this holy time of year: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. In that sense, praying the Stations of the Cross last night, which happened to be Friday in Passion Week, really did help me to walk a few steps with Our Lord along the Via Dolorosa.