With it being my last couple of weeks as a college student in New York City, I figured it would be fitting to take the opportunity to participate in and experience a Witness for Life. The event starts off at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral for Mass of the Unborn and is sponsored by Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. Any doubts I had early on about being inside this church were immediately chased away when a young couple walked in a few minutes late, with their young ten-and-a-half-month-old son, and sat in the pew right in front of me. Since the whole event was centered on protecting the unborn, the homily had to do with the pro-life movement and the efforts of these “Helpers.” But even just taken as a homily, the words of this priest certainly spoke to me.
He spoke of the Planned Parenthood we were going to, on Bleecker Street, which is actually called their Margaret Sanger Center. The center is in beautiful downtown Manhattan, and as people walk by on a Saturday morning, the scene may be seemingly ordinary. But, as we were reminded, the scene is not so ordinary. Rather, it is like going on the road to Calvary. For this center is a place of death, where the blood of unborn children is shed. And each time the blood of the unborn is shed, it is like the blood of Jesus is being shed again. As Jesus spoke in Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” I had never regarded abortion in this way before hearing the homily, but it was one way in which it all made sense and put in perspective how we were going to go pray outside a place of death.
For Christians who hear this homily as they go to pray for the unborn, this is exactly the kind of encouragement which is needed.
From the church, our group processed to the Planned Parenthood, praying the rosary from the moment we left the church, as we walked the two blocks, and continuing after we stood across the street from the center. With the large group of pro-lifers, prayers were communicated through walkie-talkies. Also adding to the experience was a violinist, alternating among playing “Ave Maria,” “Jesus Remember Me,” and “Alleluia.”
There was much going on around us as we prayed. Just a few minutes after we got there, a pregnant woman and a man drove by the center, but drove past once they saw us. Still, many more people went into the center which served as an abortion clinic. Most had sad expressions on their faces and certainly did not look as if they wanted to be there. These sad people were in stark contrast to the Planned Parenthood escorts, who wore cheerful expressions on their faces.
While those with sad expressions on their faces tried to look past us, the escorts certainly did notice our presence. They pointed, counted us, and laughed as they took pictures. I also noticed them joking around and shaking their heads as they explained to passerby that we were there to protest their center and their work.
It was not only the escorts who pointed, laughed, or shook their heads. Most confusing and heartbreaking of all was a family of a mother and father and their three young children who glared at us while personally thanking and shaking hands with the three escorts.
The praying of the rosary lasted a little over an hour and continued even in the rain. I remember most ardently praying, even on my knees, when I saw the sidewalk counselors talking to two men on separate occasions. As it turned out, the sidewalk counselors there were Michael and Thomas of Pro Bikers for Life. I did not know the exact situation of the two men I was praying for as I got down on my knees – only that there were few instances in which I have prayed harder.
After the praying of the rosary was over, we all knelt in prayer for a minute of silence, followed by praying for any unborn children who had been killed there that day, the mothers, and all who worked at the center.
Once we had grouped back together for fellowship in the basement of a school across the street from the church, it was time to hear about what was going on while we were praying. There was certainly some sharing of personal stories and happy news – for instance, about a new home opening for the Sisters of Life.
We also would hear about the two men I had prayed so hard for. Unfortunately, it was not good news. Both of these men had talked to Michael. Each of them had a wife inside having an abortion. Each of them felt he had too many children in his family already and could not afford another one. Michael could not get them to run back in to change the minds of their wives, but he did give them information that they would certainly need about post-abortion healing. As is often the case, neither of these men nor their wives actually wanted to get an abortion; they just couldn’t see another way out of their financial struggles.
It was difficult and discouraging to hear this, and about both men. I couldn’t help feeling as if my praying had been for nothing. Yet as Michael asked us to continue praying for these two men, Cornell and Teddy, I still do; I pray that God may help them and their wives find healing and forgiveness.
If there’s one thing that I have learned from participating in the Witness for Life, it’s that being an active part of the pro-life movement through prayer and outreach is not always easy; in fact, it rarely is. As is the case with the families of Cornell and Teddy, it’s oftentimes discouraging and heartbreaking. It is also rewarding work, though, to be part of such a movement. There are stories of hope and healing, as one other person gathered there told us of a sidewalk counselor he knew who has been sidewalk-counseling for twenty-two years and who routinely is visited by young people claiming to be alive today because of how he had reached out to their mothers. Perhaps most surprising and interesting of all, though, was how Thomas pointed out that as one clinic escort was leaving her shift, she reached out to him and asked for a rosary, which she said she greatly appreciated.
We may not know about what is going through the mind of that clinic escort, or any of the others who work at a place that deals so directly and routinely with death. We may not always know about the lives we manage to save or those we unfortunately do not. That does not mean, though, that our prayer and outreach through God do not have unforeseen consequences. Our work is certainly done in amazing and mysterious ways. For those who heed the calling of peaceful prayer against abortion, the Witness for Life is truly a touching and emotional event with its impact on the unborn, their mothers, and all who witness our actions.