Procession Around Planned Parenthood near Denver, March 5, 2016
By Charlie Johnston
It was prayerful, it was peaceful, it was profound.
On Saturday, March 5 at 10 a.m., almost 2,000 Catholics gathered at the Planned Parenthood facility in Stapleton, Colorado. We were to be led by Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila in a Eucharistic Procession that would march seven times around the facility in quiet – often silent – prayer. My prayers were for the babies, for the mothers who would walk out of the facility with a hole in their heart – a wound that does not heal except through Christ, for the deformed consciences of those who think executing infants a matter of moral indifference and a prime opportunity for commerce, and for the raging divisions that have visited and ravaged our society since the U.S. Supreme Court imposed abortion on our society in 1973.
The gathering was stunning. At the front, Archbishop Aquila carried the monstrance in which the Blessed Sacrament was displayed. Escorted by a contingent of the Knights of Columbus in full regalia; a whole array of Priests, Nuns, Seminarians and we, the Lay Faithful, followed him in silent witness to our faith and our hope in Christ.
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila (with sunglasses holding the Monstrance) leads the Procession
I was so proud to be publicly Catholic that morning. Archbishop Aquila had emphasized in his original announcement that there was to be no shouting, no arguing, no haranguing. Before the Procession began, Fr. Scott Bailey, assistant to the Archbishop, re-iterated those instructions. We were to walk together in prayer, knowing that the battle is in the Lord’s hands, and to give silent witness to His truth as we processed behind Our Lord’s True Presence, elevated in the Eucharist.
Seminarians readily worked with local police to keep traffic unimpeded – no small task with so many people. I have been to a few protests at abortion clinics where there was an abundance of shouting, haranguing and bitter recriminations. At times, the behavior of fellow pro-life activists has offended me. What a joy it was to be among nearly 2,000 people who were actively displaying the faith we proclaim. You cannot effectively proclaim the joy and peace that is in Christ while your face is contorted with rage. This gathering did not engage in the frothy waves of contention; rather it was the quiet, irresistible tide of authentic faith in action.
There was only one sour note. One man set up a position where he harangued us all at the top of his lungs, helpfully explaining to us that all Catholics are going to hell, that our Church is a “whore” and our Pope the anti-Christ. I was grateful even for this. He wore his anti-Catholic bigotry with such pride he made it clear to any who were watching that the sole soul present given to bitter hectoring was NOT Catholic. As we marched around, I was proud that not one Catholic I saw took the bait and returned his invective. I heard one man quietly invite him to a Bible study. But it also helped reveal to me that we, indeed, had some Protestants of very good will marching with us that morning. I met and spoke with several. One even took the opportunity to quietly apologize to me for the man’s ugly behavior. All but the one man knew that it was about the Lord and about the babies – and the souls in peril.
The Eucharistic Procession was designed to evoke Joshua’s march around the walls of Jericho.
The crowd gathers before the Jericho Procession
As described in the first six chapters of Joshua in the Bible, Joshua, the successor to Moses, and his men set out to besiege the intimidatingly fortified city of Jericho. At first thinking in strictly human terms, they contemplated conventional plans of battle. But the Lord had a different plan. He commanded them to walk around the city once each day for six days. On the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times, sounding the trumpets – and the Lord would deliver the city into their hands. This was not a plan that made a lot of sense to these battle-hardened warriors – and God did not explain to them the why, only the what. They obeyed, undoubtedly remembering the bad results from their days in the wilderness when they chose their own counsels over God’s often inexplicable commands. When they finished the march on the seventh day, the seemingly impregnable walls of Jericho collapsed and the city was delivered into their hands.
We are called to act, but to act in faith, understanding that God’s ways are not our ways – and sometimes He chooses to act in ways strange to us to demonstrate that it is by His power that good things are accomplished and restored. What is most necessary is people who will trust in Him as they act, relying on His power rather than their own strength.
For too long, many religious leaders have been timid in confronting the Culture of Death. And the Culture of Death has grown. Some who have confronted it have relied almost solely on purely political and temporal means. But the rot that threatens to overtake us is spiritual and cultural – and so we must confront it at the spiritual and cultural level.
I am proud that my Archbishop, Samuel Aquila, has boldly taken a lead on this – and that he has done it precisely on that spiritual and cultural basis. Oh, that you would have been there to see that crowd of Priests, Nuns, Knights, Seminarians, and a multitude of the Faithful and their Families! I could not help but think it a foreshadowing of the Song of Rescue…the people of the kingdom and the people of heaven joyfully rising together, that God might rule all our hearts.
Van Parked for the Procession
This is the rising tide that will lift all the faithful – and carry many who had lost hope to new hope in its wake. For the balance of Lent I am working on how to provide resources so that the prayerful Eucharistic and Marian Processions rise as a great tide across America and the world, joining all the faithful in grateful collaboration with our spiritual leaders, our Bishops and Priests, in the renewal of the Culture of Life.
It will be prayerful. It will be peaceful. It will be profound.