2:26PM – January 28, 2013
On an airplane from CLI to DFW
(Ok, so I didn’t really type sentences on the plane…I just made a bulleted list of what I did on Day 4)
(which brings me to…)
8:17PM – February 25, 2013
Today was our last day of major events for our Washington, DC pilgrimage. Us group of guys who stayed at our particular host family home were quite blessed to wake up to homemade muffins of varying flavors.
So, we started out our pilgrimage getting to know each other, then we did a little bit of sightseeing of Catholic locations as well as attending the Vigil Mass for the March for Life. All of this was to help gel our group together and prepare us to experience the Arlington National Cemetery, participate in the March for Life, and visit various memorials. Through deepening our spirituality and appreciation for the Catholic faith the past few days of the pilgrimage, we were better able to appreciate life and death through a Catholic lens. How precious a gift life is and how dignified death can be!
What then, is our response? How do we take what we’ve gained from these experiences and put them into action?
Today we prayed in front of an abortion clinic and visited a museum.
First thing on our schedule was to go pray in front of Planned Parenthood in DC. I heard from one of our group leaders that this particular location usually ranks in the Top 5 for number abortions performed in the United States. Wow. That’s…crazy to think about… since I’m used to a Planned Parenthood that isn’t as busy.
Now, praying in front of abortion clinics is not a strange thing for me. Before I further recount my experiences here at this Planned Parenthood, I must preface this by saying that while it is arguably cool that Planned Parenthood does provide other women’s health services, they are not ashamed of promoting abortion. And because some (not all) Planned Parenthood clinics do provide abortion services, that attracts folks who stand in front of clinics, praying for all involved: the women, the men, the volunteers, the clinic workers, the doctors, the unborn babies, etc. According to the 2011-2012 Annual Report, Planned Parenthood performed 333,964 (surgical) abortions. I can honestly say that I personally participated in two ‘saves’ in the past year by the simple presence of me and the group I was with…praying in front of abortion clinics: here and here. Also, not every woman that walks into Planned Parenthood is seeking an abortion. But, still…we pray for her health and if we’re able to offer her alternatives, then we will.
Also, I must further mention that I strive to maintain an environment of peace while on the sidewalk. 40 Days For Life, a prayer campaign for life started by Fightin’ Texas Aggies, made it a point that there are things that we should and shouldn’t do when maintaining peaceful presence at an abortion clinic, and I definitely try to keep those in mind. However, in my firsthand experience at the sidewalk, I find it unfortunate that some pro-life groups do not adopt such peaceful practices and exemplify the “anti-abortion protesters” stereotypes that pro-choicers love to criticize. I assure you, dear reader of this blog post, that I do not yell Bible verses at clients or hold angry/graphic signs. I am not yet properly equipped to provide clients with material help, so the best I can offer for now is spiritual help through prayer.
With all that said, our band of cold pilgrims approached Planned Parenthood. However, we decided to stand across the street rather than join the groups of other people already praying directly in front of the clinic’s entrance. But one of our own went to join the group in front of the clinic. Accompanying us on our pilgrimage was a fellow class of 2009 Fightin’ Texas Aggie who works for the Coalition for Life. I met her when she joined up with us on Day 2. She’s a trained and seasoned sidewalk counselor, so while we were off praying across the street, she was engaging clients as they walk in and out of Planned Parenthood. Oh, and of course she talked to the volunteer escorts and other people present in front as well.
When we settled in to our spot across the street from Planned Parenthood, I couldn’t help but notice this group of Dominican friars standing in front:
But, a part of me just really wanted nuns to be standing in front. Oh well.
We were across the street praying for a good long while. Starting out, we prayed all 20 Mysteries of the Rosary, and we finished with a Divine Mercy Chaplet. I didn’t really keep track of time, but I’m sure it was about 1.5-2 hours
In that time, lots of stuff happened.
Something I found to be intriguing were the reactions of people driving or walking by. Mind you, this was a busy street. Many double-takes. Some were confused at the sight of seeing people on either side of the street in front of Planned Parenthood. But, the reactions that weren’t so nice were the ones that stick out to me, even now. One particular gentleman wasn’t particularly gentle in calling us morons, yelling out through his rolled down window. I also remember the woman who flicked us off while she was waiting for the light to turn green. Ooh, and then there was the guy who yelled four-letter words at us. Of course, I understood why they were angry at us. Perhaps, in their mind, we didn’t belong there and that somehow our presence made it unsettling for them. Whatever the case, I was not shocked by their expressions of anger. I wasn’t really bothered by it. My group just kept praying with little or no reaction to their angry words and gestures. Someone in my group made the comment later how sometimes we in the pro-life movement are thought of as the intolerant ones. Sure, some might be. But in these angry moments, maybe not so much.
7:05AM – February 26, 2013
Another thing I noticed was how more and more people arrived to pray in front of Planned Parenthood. Like, 3 or 4 charter buses full of teenagers. However, they didn’t all arrive at once. It seemed like a new charter bus arrived every 30 minutes. The temptation is to think that this really cool and to an extent, it is really cool to see that this many people want to pray. I do have issue with how these charter buses of teens decided to plant themselves directly in front of Planned Parenthood while still maintaining allowable passage to the front door. Rather, their adult leaders didn’t really spread their groups out along the clinic side of the street. But one group did join us across the street.
I take issue with this crowding of the front of the clinic because perhaps I’ve had some sidewalk counseling training myself. Having such a big crowd like that makes it harder for the actual sidewalk counselors to do their job because a huge group adds to a more intimidating environment for women going in and out of the clinic. I discussed this with our sidewalk counselor later on, and she agreed. Well-intentioned with the desire to pray, I think we all need to be cognizant of the atmosphere and environment we wish to convey. It should be an environment of peace and joy with love. Cheesy-sounding, but true.
At the end of the day, our group had our share and reflection time. It was here that our sidewalk counselor shared some stories about her experiences at Planned Parenthood earlier in the day while we were praying. She mentioned how she overheard the Planned Parenthood volunteer escorts talking about my group. They noticed how respectful we were in our presence because we were across the street and solemn without any passionate emotional expressions directed towards anyone. Our sidewalk counselor also shared how she talked to the only man escort present while we were there. She said how he’s a really nice man with a genuine care for the women entering the clinic, but she also mentioned that he thinks he really cares for the women and that given time and prayer on his behalf, he’ll probably realize that his helpful work in helping Planned Parenthood isn’t necessarily helpful for women ultimately. In other words, his sincere heart is in the right place, but in time he’ll realize he’s not really helping women out. Pray for him!
Thinking back to seeing our sidewalk counselor in action earlier in the day, what stood out to me about her was how unafraid she was to talk to the women. She would follow alongside them in a joyful manner and smile on her face, trying to talk to them as they walked up to the front door or to their car. She never harassed them, and she never got in their way. From across the street, I’m not sure what she said, though I would imagine that it was some sort of invitation to stop and talk. And whenever there was a lull in women coming in or leaving Planned Parenthood, she would be talking to the escorts or other people praying. Again, I find it cool and admirable to see how courageous and unafraid she was in trying to talk to the women.
I’m not sure if my group had any perceivable effect in our prayer or through our sidewalk counselor at Planned Parenthood this day. I find that sometimes the most we can do is plant seeds and maybe later down the line, there will be a change of heart in the women, the workers, the volunteers, etc. Yes, oftentimes these efforts are not met with success, but it is totally worth it if it is, indeed, successful. How can I know unless I try?
After praying at Planned Parenthood, our group decided to go warm up at a Caribou Coffee shop close by. Not gonna lie, I got really cold standing out there for a long while. And I’m super grateful I decided to buy wool socks the night before. Wool. Socks. Yessssssss. Glorious! Also, I’m a convert to black coffee, but I decided to have a sense of adventure and get Caribou’s Campfire Mocha. It’s like S’mores. But in liquid/coffee form. Delicioso.
An hour later after warming up with our warm beverages, we grabbed lunch. We split into two groups: one group went to Potbelly’s and the other group to Quizno’s. I went with Potbelly’s because there isn’t one close by to me at home and I wanted to be reminded of my college days, which there was one close by.
When we entered Potbelly’s, we noticed another Catholic group there. How did we know?! Well, perhaps it was fairly obvious since they had a Catholic priest with them. One of the more outspoken and unafraid members of my group shamelessly asked the priest if he could hear her confession, and he agreed! But after lunch, lol. So we all ate our lunches, and I noticed that the priest pulled out his purple stole (which, simply put, signifies his role as a confessor) and decided to hear my group member’s confession just outside of Potbelly’s. After he finished hearing her confession, she came back and excitedly told us about what had happened during her confession. They were standing outside on the sidewalk between a side door of Potbelly’s and an entrance to another shop. As the priest was hearing her confession, some people were attempting to leave the shop next door, but couldn’t open the door. As soon as the priest gave her absolution, thus completing hearing her confession, the door swung open. And when she recounted this story, I couldn’t help but wonder if God really just wanted to ensure that the confession was private and free from distraction. Either way, pretty cool. The priest also heard the confessions of a few members of our group. How awesome is that! My group borrowed another group’s priest, and he was totally willing to hear confessions during lunch. Shout out to that priest and that group! (I forget where they were from).
We wrapped up lunch and confessions and headed out to meet up with the other half of our group. Then, together, we hopped on the Metro to go on to the next place.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
I was looking forward to visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, but I wasn’t sure if I was prepared to handle whatever it is I would see and hear. We didn’t have a lot of time to see and read everything in the museum, but I thought I covered what I needed to see and read about.
One of the surprising things for me to learn about was that Catholics were on Hitler’s bad list. Whenever I think of the Holocaust, I automatically think of the oppression and mass genocide of the Jewish people. However, Hitler targeted other groups of people as well and spared no mercy in killing those who were obstacles to his plan, and I didn’t really know that til my visit to the Museum. I’d be interested in learning more about how Pope Pius XII and Catholics at that time handled the Holocaust. And also learning more about how and why Hitler targeted Catholics. How similar were his reasons to President Calles during the Mexican Cristero War in the 1920’s?
Going through the Museum, I was half-expecting to see things I didn’t want to see. And I saw things I didn’t want to see. In one of the exhibits, there is a raised wall surrounding video screens that only tall-enough people (like, adults…not kids) could peer over. On those video screens were scenes of the grotesque human experiments the Nazis would perform on the Jews. Ugh. I couldn’t maintain watching it for too long because those experiments were terrible.
Another exhibit featured a rather large diorama showcasing one of the crematoriums the Nazi used. It showed how large groups of Jews would be corralled into an underground chamber where they would be told to undress. After that, they would then all be shuffled into another chamber where the Nazis would use gas to kill everyone. Gathering the dead bodies, the Nazis would then mass cremate them. Terrible. 🙁
Seeing those two exhibits were the toughest part for me. The total lack of recognition for human dignity made me sick, and I can’t get over how this was acceptable and lawful for the Nazis. The only way I can convince myself that this is okay is if I have to convince myself that the groups of people the Nazis targeted, especially Jews, aren’t worthy of being human, even though they are…human.
St. Matthew’s Cathedral
We left the Museum so that we could make it in time for Mass. Unfortunately, going through the exhibits really made one of the members of my group upset. She was not okay, at all. We all were solemn and slightly disturbed after leaving the museum, but one of our own really couldn’t handle it. She remained upset, though consoled by others in my group, for the rest of the day.
Leaving the Museum, we walked really fast to get to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. When I walked in, I was captivated by how beautiful that church is! I thought the Basilica from the other day was really cool, but this Cathedral was really awesome in its own way.
We arrived early enough to have some down time before Mass started. They had confessions going on and some members of my group decided to go. I also noticed that our other hometown group, who we joined up with with Fr. Pavone the other night, was also here though we didn’t sit together. I lost track of some of our group members because they decided to explore the church. I later found out they met up with the celebrants of the Mass somewhere upstairs, and they shamelessly asked if they could serve as altar servers, haha. Those guys…=P About 20 minutes before Mass started, I prayed Vespers (Evening Prayer from Liturgy of the Hours) with some others in my group.
Mass was rather full, even for a Saturday evening, because there were still a lot of different groups around from the March for Life the day before. There were several concelebrants and deacons for the Mass, as well.
After Mass, we met up with our other hometown group to say hello and briefly catch up. I got to see, from afar, the kneeler that Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI knelt at his last visit to Washington, DC. And while here at the Cathedral, I learned that this was the church where JFK’s funeral was held at. Cool stuff.
We left St. Matthew’s to go grab dinner. Apparently, for those in our group who have been on this pilgrimage before, this was the most exciting part that they’ve been looking forward to since the beginning of our trip. We ate dinner at Nando’s Peri-Peri, a Portuguese-style chicken restaurant. And. It. Was. Delicious. It was really nice because for the most part of our pilgrimage, we didn’t eat big meals. Also, we had our own private room in the restaurant and that was pretty cool. I mean, there were about 30 of us…so…no big deal… This restaurant also had those newfangled drink machines with the touch screen and one spout to dispense your drink…and yet had a lot of options. Much fun and experimentation.
I learned during dinner that one of our group members bakes a German Chocolate cake that is worth $1500. That’s what her cake sold for in a cake auction in her hometown! Crazy! But I suppose them north Texans, who typically are of German heritage, love their German Chocolate cake. I just want a sample. 🙂
After dinner, we Metro’d back to gather up at a host family home to discuss today’s experiences and share with each other those moments. I recall it being a singing and dance party also, since it was the last night of our pilgrimage. I also mentioned earlier (above) that our sidewalk counselor shared her experiences during this time.
We hung out for a while, but then came the time for us to go back to our other host family’s houses to pack and get some sleep for an early day flying back to Texas.
Reflecting back on this day (according to my bullet points from the plane ride back home reflecting back on Day 4 (see above)), our visits to Planned Parenthood and the Holocaust Museum definitely have a connection. While it is unpopular to think about it in this way, we do have a modern-day holocaust in the United States–the direct killing of unborn babies is an acceptable and lawful practice. The Nazis somehow convinced themselves that Jewish lives aren’t worthy and made it lawful to end their lives. Do we do the same for unborn children? What makes the Holocaust hard to take in for me is that these men, women, and children had lives–lives that were actually lived out. They have faces, names, families, etc. Yet, we’re okay, as a country, with killing those most innocent because we have not seen them live a life outside of the womb, but they live a life in the womb. They don’t have names. More than likely, we have and never will see their faces. Yet, it is lawful to end their life. Am I okay with this? Absolutely not. Why is it more tragic that individual children die or small groups of children die… yet…when 333,964+ die through abortion (just at Planned Parenthood…so the number is actually higher), it is just a statistic?
Why can’t we love them both, women and children? What can I do to help women and their unborn children, personally?…How can I be more like this guy?