Friday, January 13, 2006
New York City, New Years Pro-Life Adventure
Wednesday, December 28.
I called up my friend David to see how he was doing.
“Elizabeth! What are you doing right now!?”
“Um, sitting on the couch.”
“You should come to Brooklyn for New Years!”
“I’ll meet you there Friday.”
I called my dad.
“Hey, I’m going to Brooklyn on Friday. Should I take a train or a bus?”
“Hmm…Brooklyn, huh? I’ll look online at the prices.”
Thursday, December 29.
I called David to see if he needed anything.
“Corn starch! We made our own recipe for spray chalk and we have a stencil of a fetus and some pro-life sayings. We’re going to cover New York City!”
“Okay, sure I’ll buy some corn starch.”
Once at Stop and Shop I finally admitted to myself that I don’t really know what corn starch is. I called my mother.
“What aisle do you think corn starch would be in?”
“Look near the flour. Are you baking, Elizabeth?”
“No, no. Making spray chalk.”
“Wait, are you doing your save babies routine this weekend in New York? Not just visiting?”
“Yep. So we need make chalk.”
After getting off the phone with my mother I called my friend Lacy.
“Lacy, can you look up the numbers to the Franciscan Friars in New York City for me? I believe some Friars pray outside abortion clinics on Saturdays. I forgot to look the numbers and I’m out of my apartment.”
“Sure…here I found three different places where they live in New York City, I’ll give you all the numbers.”
I gave them a call, each time leaving a message on the answering machines.
Later that evening, Fr. Thomas left a message on my phone explaining that this was the week the Friars were visiting with people away from New York. Oh well.
Friday, December 30.
My father kept his eyes on the road as he warned, “Elizabeth, do not get arrested.”
“Dad, if I haven’t been arres…”
“You are not to get arrested.”
“Okay, okay. Don’t worry about it.”
The bus station connected to the subway system. I clutched my 3x5 card with the directions. Blue A, C or E “Downtown” leads to Orange D leads to John’s house, where we were all staying. I was to call John when I got to the last subway stop so he could walk me the two blocks to his house.
“Hey John…this is Elizabeth. I’m here.”
“Do you want me to meet you on the street?”
I looked out at the shadows moving in the darkened neighborhood.
Later that night my friends burst through the door. The familiar faces of David, Jessica, and Patrick, mixed with the less familiar faces of Teresa, Chrissy, Danielle, TJ, Joel, Chris, and Stephanie.
They collectively gushed, “Elizabeth, you missed it! We had dinner with Monsignor Reilly! He’s a legend! He told us so many amazing stories!”
“I’m supposed to know who Monsignor Reilly is, right? Tell me more, I can’t place him.”
Jessica turned to me and said, “He’s this wicked cool priest that started the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. He’s out praying and counseling in front of the mills1 five days a week all day.”
TJ added, “Tonight at dinner he told story after story. One of them was about a day there were all these girls going in for abortions and the counselors really had their hands full. So Monsignor Reilly called all the counselors over and told them that from that moment on all they were to do was pray. The counselors became uneasy as they watched girl after girl enter the abortion mill. Monsignor wouldn’t let anyone intervene and instructed everyone to keep praying. All of a sudden, one by one the girls came running out of the abortion mill. Apparently they had all been sitting in one waiting room when one of the girls felt her baby kick inside of her. She let out a gasp and screamed, “I just felt by baby kick!” That afternoon all of the girls kept their babies.”
After hearing more stories, my friends and I piled into the living room. Breviaries were cracked open and evening prayer commenced. As if on cue my friends pulled out their brown scapulars and kissed them at the completion of praying the Divine Office. I thought, “These people are great!”
Saturday, December 31, 2005
On Saturday morning we were up and out by 8am. We stopped at David’s van to grab the signs and put the spray chalk concoction together. Unfortunately, the spray chalk mixture wasn’t quite right and kept clogging in the spray contraption.
The first stop of the day was Margaret Sanger Center. Sanger is infamous for being the founder of Planned Parenthood, which is the largest provider of abortion in the country. Her primary purpose of sterilizing people she viewed as unworthy is reflected in her journal The Birth Control Review, which was initially published in 1917. In the book Architects of the Culture of Death, by Donald DeMarco and Benjamin Wiker, it is stated, “One of her favorite slogans adorning the masthead was “Birth Control: To Create a Race of Thoroughbreads”(discontinued in 1929 and replaced with the more salable “Babies by Choice, Not Chance”), p. 298.
Further, “There is but one practical and feasible program in handling the great problem of the feeble-minded and that is to prevent the birth of those who would transmit imbecility to their descendants.” (DeMarco, 298; orig. in The Birth Control Review, 1917-1938). Overall, Sanger’s goal was to create a “perfect race” and in order to do that she sought to eliminate minorities and the poor by preventing them from having children.
We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the Margaret Sanger Center was closed for the New Year Holiday. We doused the building with Holy Water and half of the group prayed outside. The other half of the group went to a busy street corner near by with some signs.
At one point, I began videotaping the sign-holders from across the street. I then noticed my friends waving me over. Thinking that they just wanted to get going to a new spot, I casually made my way across the street. Once there, I realized they were trying to shout over the traffic, “We need you to speak Spanish!”
I closed the video camera quickly and approached the two men.
“Hola, como estas?” I inquired.
My mind raced. Though I hadn’t attempted a full conversation in Spanish in over a year, I had lately been watching El Telemundo, reading some old Spanish textbooks, and listening to speed Spanish cd’s in my car.
I noticed they held a brochure of pictures of fetal development so I pointed to the pictures and noted, “Estos son photos de bebes antes de…(birth! What is the word for birth???)…nacer.
They smiled and nodded in understanding and then asked, “Nececitamos ser Catholico? (Do we need to be Catholic?)
I blurted out, “No.” Then thought, “What am I saying? Yes, you need to be
Catholic for the fullness of truth!”
“Actualmente, si! Necesitas ser Catholico! La Inglesia Catholico tiene el todo de la verdad!” (This translates directly: “The Catholic Church has the whole truth.”)
“Por que?” (Why be Catholic?)
La Eucharista! (“The Eucharist” never appeared on any quizzes in high school
Spanish, but I figured that’d be close enough. Maybe God was planting vocab in my brain!)
I went on to explain, “La Eucharista es el pan y dio juntos!” (“The Eucharist and
bread and God together” was about the extent I could come up with on the spot.)
The men nodded and smiled.
As we parted ways it occurred to me that perhaps I should start looking into
Spanish speaking patron saints for an added boost in these situations.
After Mass we ate some authentic New York City pizza before heading to the
middle of downtown Manhattan. Once there, the 11 of us split us on different street corners with signs and information. Chris related to me afterward an interesting conversation.
“I was standing there when the guy from the hot-dog stand came over and asked, “What do you mean, condoms are wrong?” I explained that there is a false promise given to people that condoms safeguard against disease. He was incredulous and exclaimed, “Don’t they stop AIDS?” I told him how the AIDS virus has been found to be smaller than the natural holes in condoms, allowing the virus to pass through the condom. He was really shocked to hear this. I started to tell him that there are a lot of other reasons that condoms aren’t in everyone’s best interest but he really wanted to get back to his hot-dog stand so I handed him a pamphlet on condoms.
Chris added that although he’ll never know whether the hot dog stand guy will ever read the pamphlet, he’s hopeful that by even planting the notion that condoms are questionable that perhaps he will look into it further on his own. “In a society where so many blindly accept the word of condom distributors sometimes all we can do is get people to question them. Plus, you never know, maybe he’ll put the pamphlet down on his kitchen table and a son or daughter will pick it up and read it.”
By 4pm, throngs of police began staking out Manhattan. Temporary police
stations appeared on street corners and it grew evident that we were in the middle of what hours later would be a street party broadcast into millions of homes.
David and I were standing on a corner handing out information about the
deception of contraception when about 50 (no exaggeration) cops appeared by my side. Now at 5’3” I hold my own, so I was a little surprised to have to crane my next so much to look up at the cop right next to me.
“Would you like some Rosary Beads, officer?”
He lifted his hand up in coat pocket and smiled down at me as he responded, “I’ve got mine right here.”
“Officer, how many cops will be in Manhattan tonight? A thousand?”
He laughed, “You’re a little off. There’s going to be about a thousand just on this
street corner!” (I later learned there were ten thousand cops in Manhattan that night.)
A strange thing started at about 4pm on Saturday. Little by little, people would approach David and myself and ask if they could get their picture with us. Some were forthright and would boldly ask, “Can we get a picture with you!?” Others would sheepishly stammer around before working up the guts to ask. (Some didn’t ask at all!) One woman even pretended to be taking a picture of a building behind us before lowering her camera and snapping. This happened probably 20 times in about a two hour time frame.
I didn’t pick up on this at first, by after awhile it occurred to me that most of the people wanting a picture were mocking us. I wish I could turn back time and say “No, you can’t take a picture with us, we’re not a show. This is serious stuff we’re giving out information about.”
Toward 6pm, Manhattan was nearly filled with people. I’ve never been in a city where for blocks and blocks you were literally shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers around you. On top of the mounting chaos, it had begun to snow. As the crowd closed in, my friends and I formed a single line and headed out of the city toward the bus station, Port Authority, in order to pick up a twelfth friend, Vicky.
Back at John’s house, we ate, drank, and then entered into the most competitive game of Taboo known to man. One minute before midnight we turned on the TV to catch the countdown. A glass of champagne appeared in my hand and at midnight we cheered, hugged, and toasted to the beginning of a new year.
Sunday, January 1, 2004
The first destination Sunday morning was the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was packed! I’m pretty sure there were people from every country in the world. It’s so amazing that people from so many different places can come together and celebrate one Mass.
I’m pretty sure it was Teresa who had her heart set on going to Central Park with signs that read “Free Advice.” Who can argue with a day of people asking you what you think about random things? After Mass, we grabbed some food and then headed over to the park. For the next four or five hours we separated into two groups, each with a bright orange cardboard sign. One group sat on the same street as the horse drawn carriages arrive and depart, another group sat at a busy intersection.
One college age guy looked at me and asked, “Where can I find single women?” Without thinking I blurted out, “The Catholic Church!”
A woman about 60 years old asked if she should divorce her husband. The woman explained that things that they’d been married for forty years and might need a break. Stephanie exclaimed, “Don’t get a divorce! Just spice things up a bit!”
Next up was a young couple. The man declared that they’d been engaged for over a year but that his fiancé was getting cold-feet. The fiancé asked, “Should we get married?”
Teresa counseled them. “Do you love each other?”
“Then you should just pray about it and ask God what to do!”
The woman’s face lit up and as they walked away she agreed she’d pray for guidance.
For some reason people thought “Free Advice” meant we were full of information about New York City. People wanted directions of all sorts, and information about what was best in the city. One man asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
We all just stood there pondering whether we should just point to a random direction and send him on his way. A moment later he grinned and shouted, “Practice, practice, practice!”
One guy, no doubt trying to be tricky, made the mistake of asking Teresa how to find inner peace. Without missing a beat she looked at him square in the eye and declared, “In a search for truth that will ultimately lead you to God!”
At one point, a few college age students approached Joel and myself. We chatted for about ten minutes, giving general advice to their random questions. The one girl with them sat down next to me and posed for a picture. Then she asked, “So give me some more advice.”
“Well…do you have a question about something specific?”
She looked around uneasily. “Not really…so…how about you just give me a random fact!”
“An unborn baby’s heart starting beating between 18 and 21 days.”
I’ve never seen someone turn white as a sheet as fast as this girl’s did. Her hand flew to her stomach. She glanced at her guy friends and faked a smile before looking at Joel and myself and asking, “So I shouldn’t get an abortion, huh?”
“No..no.” We both stuttered.
Before Joel and I could talk to her more, her guy friends had quickly ushered her away. Joel and I looked at each other like, “What the heck just happened?” I don’t know about the others, but it still strikes me as somewhat ironic that the day we were not aiming to talk to people about abortion was also the day that either a girl was put in our path or we were put in her path in order to have just a half-second exchange of information.
As it began to grow dark, we made our way to St. Vincent’s for some much needed time in prayer. I never knew a group of people who search out every Catholic Church in a given area, but am grateful to be exposed to this type of fun. When I hang out with these friends I learn how cool it is to be Catholic. Who knew there were so many gorgeous Catholic Churches in the middle of New York City?
I opened my eyes from prayer in time to see Patrick approach a priest who was fussing around the altar and make an inquiry. I signaled Jessica and whispered, “Is Patrick asking if we can go to confession?”
She whispered back, “He’s asking the priest if we can see the finger.”
Moments later, the priest emerged from the left side of the altar holding up the reliquary containing a hunk of the bone of St. Vincent’s finger. (Catholics hold the tradition that any part of a confirmed saints body remains particularly holy post-mortem. The term for even a spec of a saint’s body is ‘relic’. As well, there are degrees of relics. Part of a saints body is a first-degree relic, part of his or her clothing is a second-degree relic, and anything that has touched a saint is considered a third degree relic.)
I quickly grabbed the video camera and began filming as my friends processed up the church aisle to where the priest held the reliquary containing the finger. One by one they bent to kiss the glass covered spot where St. Vincent’s finger was encased. Not wanting to miss out on the graces that may come from this, I handed off the video camera to Teresa and hopped in line.
In Patrick’s own words, “On Sunday night, we were blessed to be able to head to St. Vincent’s Parish in Manhattan. The church was absolutely beautiful, escaping the ‘wreckovation’ that occurred in the ‘70’s of America’s Catholic churches. As we were praying, a Dominican friar came by to prepare for the upcoming Mass. I approached him and stated that we were a group of college kids doing pro-life work in NYC for the weekend and we were wondering if we could venerate the relic of St. Vincent’s finger.
See, this parish is one of three in the world where there is a piece of his pointing finger. While he was alive, he would preach the homilies, and while he was doing that, he would point at random people in the congregation, and having the gift of reading souls, would specifically chastise a mortal sin that they had recently committed. His gifts led to the sanctification of souls of all those who heard him. It only seemed to be an appropriate addition to our weekend. We went out trying to help people understand just how beautiful they are in the eyes of God. And since they are so beautiful, then they should treat themselves and others that way too. We shouldn’t sell out to the popular culture, but rather we should work to have a perfect understanding of the great gift that it means to be human.”
After St. Vincent’s we proceeded to go check out Ground Zero. This tragic spot is eerily quiet, despite the crowd gathered around the fence outlining the parameter of where the World Trade Centers once stood. Amidst the rubble stands a metal cross. It is so clearly the dimensions one associates with the Christian cross, I assumed it was erected en memorandum. TJ informed me though that rescue crews discovered this cross as they combed through the buildings ruins. TJ noted, “It must have really been something for people to all of a sudden see this big cross!” Even in tragedy, God shows so clearly that He is with us.
As we made our way past Ground Zero, a boy about 13 years old stopped us. David turned to him and asked what he was giving out.
“Menorahs! It’s the last night of Hanukah. Here, you can have this Menorah, you light it from left to right and say these prayers.”
“It is alright if I give this to my mother?” David asked.
“Yes, yes. That is fine.”
The boy was all smiles as we gathered around him asking questions about the Jewish traditions.
Patrick, unofficial navigator of NYC, next led us to where we could see the Statue of Liberty. From there we had a difficult time finding a subway that was running on the weekend. After wandering around, we came to a district marked off by cement barriers. Guards stood at various points. Chris and I approached two of the guards.
“We’re looking for an open subway that can take us downtown.”
As one of the guards went over directions with Chris, I asked the other guard what was going on.
“I know this is an ignorant question, but why is everything blocked off?”
“Security reasons ma’am.”
“Right, so, why?”
“This is Wall Street.”
I thought back to my latest reading venture. My father thought it was really neat to buy me financial books for Christmas (Smart Women Finish Rich, David Bach). Little did I know as I read about stocks and bonds that days later I’d be standing where the money thing happens, guarded 24 hours, should a terrorist see it opportune to devastate the tenuous financial balance of the world by messing with Wall Street.
Anyway, we finally found the subway we needed. During our subterranean commute back, I noticed Jessica chatting it up with two guys. Later I asked what the conversation was all about.
“I was sitting with Joel when I overheard these two guys discussing…how should I say this?…they were talking about how to “treat a woman.” They were pretty descriptive and it was pretty obvious they needed, well, some advice! It just so happened that Joel had his orange “Free Advice” sign with him. So these guys start joking and I overheard, “I wonder if that guy could give us advice.” Well, Joel let me go over instead.
“So one guy kept insisting that there is more to relationships that just trying to be physical with a girl. The other guy was totally confused by that assertion and kept saying, “What are you talking about! What else are you supposed to do in a relationship!” The first guy would retort, “There has to be more than just “getting some!” The second guy insisted though that it seems like all guys just lust after women and therefore it can’t be that bad. The thing is, the way they were having this debate over it, you could tell that they knew on some level that objectifying women is wrong.”
Jessica says she talked to the guys about what women really want (respect), and how if dating is treated as a game, then you’ll never know true love. Jessica told me later, “In the end, they did take Rosary Beads and promised they would try to think of women in more respectful light. As I was leaving the train I got caught between the sliding doors, which caused the guys to laugh at me. I think it was a good conversation though.”
Monday, January 2, 2006
Monday morning was rough. Some of us had stayed up in the wee hours of the morning talking about sex, love, marriage, and the Catholic Church; in other words, good middle of the night conversation topics! At 7am we walked a few blocks down to Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe, and upon return began packing. Email addresses were written down and exchanged. We all promised each other we’d all keep in touch.
I landed in line for bus 83 fifteen minutes before it’s departure for Springfield. At hour 2 of the bus ride I wove between my fingers a string of pink plastic beads, crossed myself, closed by eyes and prayed. By hour 3 I found myself in casual conversation with the man from Egypt who had a turban around his head. He was a family physician, applying for a position at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, CT. When we arrived in Hartford, he leaned over and said in his thick Egyptian accent, “My interview is at 8am, can you pray for me?”
“What? Oh, Sure, yes. Of course.” I replied. Not confident I’d heard him correctly.
There is absolutely no cell phone reception in my parents house, so that night I headed out to my car to call Sean for the phone interview for the Movin’ With the Spirit radio show. My brother’s car blocked me from being able to pull out into the street. I knew cell reception would still be precarious in the driveway but my only other option was standing in the road. It had begun to snow and more than not wanting to freeze, I doubted my 2002 Nokia cell phone with tape holding it together was remotely waterproof.
I called Sean at 8pm and let him know I was at the ready. He gave me the number to call into the radio station and told me to call in fifteen minutes. I turned off the console light in my car and wondered if I was going to get carbon monoxide poisoning from sitting in my car with it running. I decided to spend the time praying for guidance in what to say during the interview.
Sean asked how the weekend went and as I told him about the first day of praying outside abortion mills, I recalled some stats I’d recently looked up online. Apparently New York City is known as the abortion capitol of the country. Aside from the historical significance (the abortion movement being initiated in NYC), this notoriety can be attributed to the fact that 10% of all abortions in the U.S. occur in New York State and of those, 70% occur in New York City. According to an article in Metro West, there are a total of 34 abortion mills in just New York City. What on earth does a city need 34 abortion mills for? Is the demand that high? Unfortunately, at the Margaret Sanger Center there are reportedly 11,000 abortions per year.
Since the interview I’ve continued to reflect on the total experience. It’s difficult to consider that what my peers and I thought of as activism, others viewed as a joke, a spectacle, a photo opportunity. You can almost hear the tourists, “This is a picture of the Statue of Liberty…and this picture…this is a picture I got with these crazies who hate sex. Hahaha.”
While college campuses are havens for activism, cities harbor the deadly mentality of neutrality. People walk past both abortion mills as well as signs that read “Birth Control Exploits Women” with hardly a care. My friends and I wondered, “Maybe people don’t understand the word “exploit.” Perhaps we should dumb our signs down next time?” But what if people did understand, and just didn’t care?
I do believe there is hope. It is seen in the type of guys I was blessed to hang out with this weekend. This journal entry wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention that my male friends carried the girl’s bags, open all doors, let us get our food first, and let us walk in front of them when the side-walk narrows. They didn’t tell crude jokes, they didn’t use God’s name in vain, and they kept their eyes on the girl’s faces. I fear the other girls and I didn’t thank them enough and they will wonder if we care. We do care and we think it’s wonderful. (I read and re-read this paragraph wondering if I should delete it. But after interacting with so many guys that have no clue that women appreciate a little chivalry, it’s probably best to keep thanking those who do have a clue.)
In two weeks, school begins. I am sure I’ll be asked if I did anything of interest over break. What will I say? Will I say I hung out with friends in New York City for New Years? Or will I be more specific and say that my friends and I stood in downtown Manhattan handing out information on why contraception hurts women?
I tell myself I’ll do only the latter, but know in the back of my mind that when certain friends and certain professors inquire, I stand a good chance of sliding into political correctness, avoiding any awkward silences that would not doubt ensue. Perhaps my New Year’s resolution ought to be along the lines of committing to being honest with everyone and everyone about how I spend vacations.
* * *
Presently, abortion is at the center of news stories as the merits of various Supreme Court judge nominees are debated. While the future of Roe v. Wade2, which legalized abortion for the first three months of life, is thought to be in “jeopardy,” there remains an absence of hard-line information regarding the bloodshed, depression, and lives lost forever due to the legalization of abortion.
According to National Right to Life, “Suction aspiration or “vacuum curettage,” is the abortion technique in most first trimester abortions. A powerful suction tube with a sharp cutting edge is inserted into the woman through the dilated cervix. The suction dismembers the body of the developing baby and tears the placenta from the wall of the uterus, sucking blood, amniotic fluid, placental tissue, and fetal parts into a collection bottle. Great care must be taken to prevent the uterus from being punctured during this procedure, which may cause hemorrhage and necessitate further surgery. Also, infection can easily develop if any fetal or placental tissue is left behind in the uterus. This is the most frequent post-abortion complication.”(From NRTL site, under “Issue Info,” Abortion.)
The media ignores the trail of physical gore of the babies that are scraped from their mother’s wombs. Is it crass to mention that fetus’ are literally sucked into collection bottles? Am I over-stepping an imaginary line in the sand between being a friendly pro-lifer and an obtuse pro-lifer by just coming out and stating the mechanics of abortion? One third of my generation has been killed because people talk about abortion, but never actually say what it is. What is inappropriate is not the people who insist on pointing out what’s legal, but rather the fact that the U.S. legal system turns a blind eye to the abortion of innocents and yet dares to claim that we are the home of the free and the brave.
As various politicians enter in and out of positions of power- be they the president, senate members, or judges, I hear discussion regarding whether the unborn will gain the right to live or not. We must be careful with our understanding of rights, as there is a profound difference between the rights that God grants, and the rights that our government recognizes and upholds.
The right to live is an inherent right- that is, a right that cannot be dictated by a government, since it comes from God. Mere membership in the human race begets the human right to live as granted by God. Thus, the right to live is God-given and then only upheld (or not) by the government.
The United States government maintains that those humans who have not experienced the event of birth do not have government protection of their God given right to live. This condition of birth makes the right to live a privilege to only those who qualify. It is essential that governing bodies recognize the inherent rights of all humans, separate from any stipulations (in this case, birth).
If abortion were illegal the unborn would not gain the right to live in terms of God’s law- since that right already exists. Rather, the unborn would gain the right to live by man’s law. Currently, we live in a society that blatantly ignores God’s law. The question is, for how long?
* * *
This New York City New Year’s Pro-Life Adventure was a project of The Crusade for the Church.
Information regarding Sean Forrest and the Movin’ With the Spirit Ministry can be found at www.mwts.org.
New York City Pro-Life Adventure, © 2006 Elizabeth Andrew. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who we are?
Conversion begins in our own hearts,which is why prayer is so important to our ministry. For this reason, everyday of our ten week walk begins with daily Mass. By receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we are given the grace to be the Love of Christ not only to those in our community but also to those we meet in the streets.
We walk throughout the day to be a witness of love. We are grounded in prayer-we pray with our lips, our hearts, and our bodies. In walking an average of twenty-five miles per day, we offer our fatigue as a gift of love to Christ and the people we meet. Our walking is both sacrifice and prayer.