Just before Holy Week, I had the great privilege of spending one morning at Aid To Women, a crisis pregnancy centre in Toronto, Canada. I interviewed the Executive Director for an article I’m writing for the print edition of Catholic Insight Magazine.
ATW in Toronto is one of a group of ATW centres in North America that offers compassionate counseling and support to women and couples in unplanned crisis pregnancies. Located at a busy downtown intersection, it is right next door to one of the city’s busy abortion clinics.
I had never been to a crisis pregnancy centre before and didn’t know what to expect. I was greeted warmly by the Executive Director who radiated genuine warmth. The centre itself is decorated in simple but inviting decor, complete with big comfy, leather couches. Over mugs of steamy green tea, we talked about the important work of Aid To Women.
Because of its unique and providential location next door to an abortion mill, one of the aspects of their work is on the sidewalk, trying to talk to the young women before they enter the abortion clinic. Day in, day out, good or inclement weather, there is at least one counselor trying to rescue moms and babies from the horror of abortion. The work can be exhausting and at times, discouraging.
Along with the counselors, there is always at least one prayer warrior holding up a pro-life sign while praying quietly. These volunteers stand behind the 60 feet injunction zone mandated by the city. ATW considers the prayer volunteers to be absolutely crucial to their life-saving work. It’s certainly not a glamorous position as the volunteers, like the counselors, are often subjected to insults, rude gestures or are completely ignored; but they are still a very visible presence – and that’s what counts.
“It’s not enough for people to pray in their homes,” explained the Executive Director. “Pregnant women considering abortion need to see a strong, personal, public declaration of belief [in the sanctity of life].”
Those are challenging words, to be sure. Prayer is excellent, but a witness presence is even more so. Visible prayer that gives testimony to the light of Christ in the midst of today’s abortive mentality is a powerful and counter-cultural thing.
I’ve heard many people say that they’re just not suited to and not built for standing on a sidewalk with a pro-life sign. They prefer to pray in the comfort of their homes and churches. I think that’s wonderful.
But I think you know where I’m going with this.
It’s the Year of Faith, a time to “open wide the doors to Christ” as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said. Pope Francis is taking that message to heart in his very visible love for the marginalized, the vulnerable and the poor.
How about us? Can we do more? Can we “open wide the doors” in a more corporeal way? Can we step outside of ourselves and do something radical and different; something that we wouldn’t normally do?
Any time I and/or my family has participated in a pro-life prayer vigil we have encountered jeers, rudeness, anger. Whenever that happens, I think of Christ’s passion and the insults and abuse He bore for us. I also think of the little babies who will never be born. I can’t always shield my youngest children from unkind remarks and gestures but with continuous dialogue about the purpose and importance of what we’re doing, they’ve learned to deal with the jeers – with silence and continuous prayer.
I’m confident that in most towns and cities, there is at least one pro-life organization that would welcome a prayer warrior’s presence for an hour, a day, whatever you can give. The Executive Director at Toronto’s ATW said that a one-time commitment or a more regular commitment are both appreciated.
“Jesus teaches us another way. Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit.” (Pope Francis)
We’re all busy, I know. But I also know that with a little bit of planning and a whole lot of self-sacrifice, there is a stretch of sidewalk and a pro-life sign somewhere not too far away waiting just for us.