A friend, Amanda Lewin, who has been organising a monthly, peaceful pro-life witness outside the road leading up to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for nearly seven years, emails that recently her group encountered determined and unpleasant opposition. She relates, “As we went to take up our positions… there approached seven volatile, jeering, almost demonic pro-death people. They had made homemade banners and came and stood in front of us… They stood jostling with pro-lifers so that they were standing in front of us and hiding our posters… We were most definitely hounded today, but one could hear the beauty of the Rosary, especially when all those able-bodied knelt for the Crucifixion mystery – which they especially loathed – ringing out and reaching the ears of God.”
Amanda describes how they had to call the police, who were supportive and who gave them advice for the next witness that would help them to remain protected and safe.
At the same time Fr Tim Finigan relates on his blog that he was moved by a video of young men protecting the cathedral of San Juan in Argentina: “Pro-abortionists provoke them with various insults and physical assaults… There is no response except the recitation of the Rosary,” he comments, adding that “The abuse and intimidation that these good men put up with is diabolical. This is perhaps a good place to start in the discussion of what constitutes evangelisation and what can be dismissed as inward-looking concern. The culture war is real and we do need to stand up for the truth, taking the meekness of Christ as our model. It seems to me that these men are doing a good and courageous thing. They can help us find the boundary line between witness to the love of Christ and that self-absorbed neopelagian narcissistic elitism which, of course, we need to avoid.”
I note that these accounts use the words “demonic” and “diabolical” in describing the fury of those opposing the peaceful pro-life witnesses (The video that Fr Finigan alluded to is actually terrifying to watch; it looks like a pagan bacchanalia and helps you to glimpse the irresistible attraction of Christianity in ancient Rome). In our own monthly pro-life prayer vigils outside Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury we have never encountered anything like this, though we have experienced many angry and contemptuous glances from those passing by in their cars (we stand on the pavement by a slip road, so cars have to slow down.) Yet, given that we are bearing witness to an obvious biological fact, the reality of unborn babies at their most vulnerable and when their need for protection is greatest, the anger that this engenders does have a diabolical aspect to it.
Fr Finigan also quotes the now famous phrase of Pope Francis in his recent Exhortation: “self-absorbed neopelagian narcissistic elitism”. I’m not going to deconstruct its meaning or guess the groups in the Church which the Pope might have had in mind when he coined it, as many other people have done this already. It’s quite simple really. The great earthly battle is between love of self and love of God; this is played out in every human heart and the wounds are apparent in every human structure, including ecclesiastical ones. As Fr Finigan suggests, one way to bear witness to the love of Christ lies in the pro-life movement. It is unglamorous, subject to taunts and hostility, not obviously rewarding and the end is nowhere in sight: all the more reason, to take up the placards and join a regular prayer-vigil. And as this country is not in South America, we are unlikely to experience what those young men endured on the video clip.