40 days: what did you do?

Here is a round-up of coverage from the 40daysforlife vigil in Bedford Square on Friday night. There seems to be some disparity about numbers. I blogged the numbers who attended, using the figures tweeted by Madeleine Teahan from the Catholic Herald, who live-tweeted from the event with the dispassionate eye one would expect from a professional journalist. Joseph Shaw has an entirely different perspective. Joanna Bogle wrote the most poignant and moving account of the vigil that I have read, professing her overwhelming sadness with regards to what she witnessed. She encapsulated what most of us feel.

What struck me from all the coverage that I have read, is the contrast between the two sides, not only in terms of overall attitude, for the most part it seems that those attending the vigil were attempting to peacefully pray in silence as opposed to those determined to make as much noise as possible with the aim of disrupting the vigil, but also the ┬ácontrasting diversity in terms of participants on both sides. From what I can gather, there was a wide spread of people attending the 40daysforlife vigil, from the very young, even the unborn in the mother’s womb, to the old, people of difference race, gender and class. The pro-abort demonstration seemed to consist of predominantly middle class angry white young women and men.

The twitter feed of those on the pro-abortion protest seemed to indicate that the majority of protestors were men, but that reality certainly doesn’t seem born out by the photographs. This beautiful woman doesn’t look much like a “creepy old man” to me. I note, despite being very prominent at the front of the vigil and indeed prostrating herself in prayer, by all accounts for much of it, the pro-choice demonstrators didn’t see fit to make fun of her, unlike with the “horrid old men praying”. I wonder why that would be:

Creepy old man?
Provocative?

We should all be glad that the vigil went off peacefully, it would be disingenuous to state that all of the participants on the 40daysforlife vigil were faultless, there were two reported incidents where people were not threatening but were perhaps reckless, perhaps understandably in the face of such raucous, confrontation and provocative behaviour, one planting a placard containing a photo of the unborn child in the crowd of pro-abortionists, the other apparently using his rosary in a provocative fashion. Frankly the mind boggles, it sounds like something out of Monty Python, only not as dangerous as the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and rather telling that people might be frightened of a rosary, but whatever happened it wasn’t the most sensible, given the explicit instructions that were given by the organisers of the vigil not to engage with the protestors in any way at all.

It’s obviously very difficult for the organisers of the vigil to physically remove somebody who isn’t abiding by the rules, the most that can be done is to ask them to desist and/or leave, keeping the peace is largely a matter for the police, who are not going to arrest someone for over-enthusiastic jangling of a rosary. That’s not to say that there is room for complacency, though 40daysforlife deserve our congratulations and thanks for their brave witness, as do the participants, it seems fair to comment that once Holy Week is over, there needs to be some sort of official debrief of the campaign if one has not been planned already. It would be helpful to review events, strategy, organisation in order to see what worked, what could be improved upon and to ensure that participants do stick to the rules in order that they are not left open to allegations of harassment. Having witnessed the vigil in Brighton on a couple of occasions now, without actually participating (it’s very difficult for me to arrange childcare for 3 children during the Easter holidays and my younger 2 are simply not up to sitting still in a buggy for an hour on a busy road) having sat in a car with the DVD player on and watched and prayed a rosary from a discreet distance, or played with the children in the park opposite, I have to say that it is my observation that no women are hassled or harangued whatsoever. At most 4 people stand under a banner with a sign saying, we are here to help. I have a copy of the newspaper that they offer out – it is devoid of graphic imagery and there is no incorrect or misleading scientific information. Passers-by are asked if they would like a copy of a newspaper – that is all. It seems to be members of the general public that approach those on the vigil rather than vice-versa. There’s been no cameras or videos that I have witnessed. The other day there was simply a solitary man stood there in the pouring rain, getting very wet as he prayed. I know several of the regular attendees of the Bedford Square vigil who are not in the business of hassling women. One man, who we all know very well, featured in several articles in the Daily Telegraph and Guardian. This man is so very frightening that on the occasion I attended the Michael Voris talk in London, he was thoughtful enough to realise that I would be bringing my young baby who I was breast-feeding, rang me on the train and asked if he could meet me to help with the buggy etc as he was worried I might be struggling. A young single man in his twenties, who spent much of the time cuddling my baby or little Miss Pidge as he called her. Not the vicious, intimidating thug insinuated by the glut of photographs, which made me giggle and indignant at the same time. Other friends of mine who attend are again, not the bullying type and would refuse to be associated with an event that included the haranguing of women. All of them categorically deny ever having witnessed any members of the vigils filming. Frankly I know who I am minded to believe.

There have been criticisms of the man who was apparently filming, but 40daysforlife have disassociated themselves from this and the person was asked to refrain from repeating his actions. 40daysforlife have come in for repeated criticism with regards to this incident and how they handled it. Whilst it is almost impossible to physically stop people from filming and leave a public area, if they are not breaking the law, perhaps the PR could have been handled more professionally.

What has utterly dismayed me however, is that some pro-lifers seem to be revelling in criticism of 40daysforlife and keen to denounce their every move. What has shocked and dismayed many, is the criticism levelled at 40daysforlife by people who simply were not there, either during the campaign itself or at Friday night’s vigil. Any of us can be a keyboard warrior and opine on the internet, but it takes guts, courage, determination and commitment to set up and run a campaign like 40daysforlife. What Robert Colquhoun has done deserves the utmost respect, admiration and praise. As I said previously, he is not a professional, he is not paid to run 40daysforlife, he has a day job and other commitments, but he does it because he committed to the concept of prayer and fasting to end abortion.

I don’t actually want to criticise Robert because I think he’s done an absolutely marvellous job. He is a saint who puts most of us to shame. We can all opine about 40daysforlife, who should run it, how it should be run, if it should exist at all but to me the man is a hero, because he got off his backside and actually did something. He has mobilised many many Catholics in this country to actually come together and pray for an end to abortion as well as unite various groups in order to offer support for women who may change their mind at the presence of those praying on the vigils. Catholics have been crying out for years in frustration and impotence in terms of actually being able to “do” anything to help save the unborn – 40daysforlife have harnessed and mobilised that desire.

There may be questions about whether this should be a diocesan controlled event, who should be in charge, how it should be run, strategy, whether or not it is a manifestation of deep fissures in the pro-life effort that need to be resolved, but at least it’s a start. There may be many problems and issues, but why not use 40daysforlife as a starting point – keep what’s good, tighten up on procedures, have the campaign more tightly organised and stewarded, but it’s been an excellent foundation, it’s raised awareness and certainly got the pro-aborts concerned. Babies have been saved and women have been helped, maybe not in the vast numbers that critics would like to see in order to keep them statistically satisfied, but there is no doubt that women and babies have been helped. Better some than none. There is one not very far from me, who had it not been for the presence of 40daysforlife would have aborted, feeling that she had no other choice and by her own admission, probably would have ended up committing suicide as a result. She desperately wants to keep her baby and people are doing their best to ensure that she is supported in that.

40daysforlife has always been a lay initiative. If it needs to be improved, consolidated and have slick professional full-time PR or employees such as groups like Abortion Rights, then that needs both time and money that are in short supply. Perhaps ways can be found to help them? But rather than publicly carp about perceived faults, why not celebrate and applaud in a spirit of charity all that 40daysforlife have managed to achieve? Why not try to work with Robert and his team, instead of public critique and handing out ammunition which has been eagerly seized upon by the pro-abort campaign? It was heartening to see so many foot-soldiers turn up on Friday, rather than wannabe generals.

Instead of criticising, carping, using this as an excuse to air deeply held grievances against “enemies” (and really no Catholic should be in the business of making enemies of anyone, let alone other Catholics) why not offer this expertise and knowledge to help improve the campaign and make it better? 40days sprang up to fill a definite void in pro-life action, it gives people an opportunity to be pro-active and “do” something. We can all disseminate and bemoan the reasons why the void existed in the first place, but how does that really help us going forward? What does that achieve other than negativity? Perhaps the CBCEW should get involved, or donate resources, but actually what we should all be doing is congratulating 40daysforlife for what they achieved to date, not with complacency, but with a genuine, honest eyes of charity and love and getting involved in whatever way we can, if we feel as passionate about pro-life as we claim.

When I look at Robert Colquhoun and what he has done and when I look at what I have done, I feel nothing but awe and a sense of shame that I’ve only really, thus far, been able to opine on the sidelines, although I have contributed in other ways. I have providentially been inspired, to find ways of helping out locally with those who were on the 40daysforlife vigil in Brighton. It is an exciting time for us locally. We have big plans afoot that don’t involve the perceived harassment of women but constructive, positive, practical support and help. The abundant graces that flow once one has made a decision to chose life are innumerable.

It is Holy Week, a time of reflection and preparation, how did Lent go for you, if you were pro-life what did you do? Join the vigils, or if you could not, did you pray at home, fast, give alms for an end to abortion? Did you get off your backside and actually do something positive and make an effort? Or did you just sit on the fence or alternatively carp, criticise and opine at one end of a keyboard?