The threat of violence couldn't stop us from celebrating life and bearing witness

“Our witness is a witness of life and joy!” The MC’s words rang out over the screams of the pro-choice protesters as the annual March for Life got underway in Victoria Square, Birmingham.

The weather was worse than usual, with frequent heavy showers, but the turnout was up, with thousands packing into the LifeFest compound to visit the stalls, enjoy crepes and burgers, buy the t-shirt, admire Life charity’s tiny new TukTuk van, soon to be the star of their new Loving Life roadshow – and of course to pray and praise God. And the rain wasn’t the only dramatic thing, with the march itself only completed thanks to the police calling in backup.

All began as normal, with a line-up of speakers, including representatives of all four home nations, defying both rain and noisy pro-choice to deliver words of inspiration. “Not quite the glamorous opening we’d hoped for,” quipped Rhoslyn Thomas of SPUC, looking out over a sea of umbrellas as she took the mike. Thomas told the story of one of the very scary Cardiff protestors who, after terrorising the pro-lifers for a long time… converted, and went off on mission to Kenya!

Aisling Hubert, best known for her legal battle over sex-selective abortion, spoke for England. “What am I supposed to say,” she asked, “about 50 years of bloodshed?” She held up the example of St George vanquishing the dragon to which people were sacrificing their children. “The weakness of the abortion industry is that it needs lies to survive. We need ‘Georges’ to expose the lies!”

Sr Roseanne Reddy, speaking for Scotland, reminded us: “The victory is ours: life always triumphs over death!”, while Rebecca Roughneen for Ireland said: “Every time the pro-life movement gathers together we are a step closer to ending abortion.” Bernadette Smyth, from Northern Ireland, thanked those who stand outside abortion clinics as the last point of help for Northern Irish women who travel here for abortions.

Much-anticipated keynote speaker Lila Rose then described how, at the age of nine, she saw a photograph of an aborted ten-week-old foetus – “I was cut to the heart,” she said – and how it led her start ‘Live Action’ when she was just thirteen years old, going undercover to expose the lies of the abortion industry. And then it was time to march.

Everyone shuffled patiently out of the square, placards raised high. Ciara, from Watford, remarked to me: “It’s been such a blessing for the pro-choice protestors to have the chance to hear the testimonies of people who’ve changed their mind about abortion.” Deacon Peter, who’d come up from St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, said how happy he was to “celebrate life and bear witness on the streets of Birmingham.”

Author Michelle Quigley had come all the way from Northern Ireland to “join in the joy of promoting the pro-life message.” She wasn’t the only one who’d travelled a long way. Margaret, from Edinburgh, had come to “speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves and to join in unity with all the other countries around Britain.” Unity was a theme that came up again and again. “The pro-life issue is a worldwide issue and we need to stick together,” said Mary from Cincinnati, USA.

But pro-choice protesters blocked the road, and the route of the march had to be changed – to no avail. Outside St Philip’s, the Anglican cathedral, the way was obstructed again, and the police didn’t dare allow us to pass the noisy demonstration in case we were attacked.

Anne from Cheltenham said: “The protest was so nasty, and it lasted so long, the only thing we could do was kneel and pray, and many of us knelt on the grass and said the rosary.” Eventually, after a long wait in continuous heavy rain, police reinforcements arrived, a cordon was put in place, at least one pro-choice protestor was marched off to a police van, and the soggy march continued.

Back in the square, the rain stopped, as our second keynote speaker, former abortion clinic worker Catherine Adair, gave a moving talk. “None of my problems were solved by the murder of my child,” she told us. “People who work in abortion clinics are good people, but they are deceived. Pray for them.”

In a poignant contrast to the aggression of the pro-choice protesters, several thousand damp pro-lifers knelt down on the wet paving stones as Bishop Patrick McKinney led a minute’s silence. Moments later, the voice of internationally renowned tenor Martin Aelred filled the square with beauty – after which March for Life 2017 was finally over.

Br Toby, OP, summed up the day best: “Wet but joyful!”