As the New Year began, I chose to act on a resolution I had been thinking about for some time now - sidewalk counseling.
In reading Shaun McDonnell's first hand account of his experience with this form of ministry, I could easily identify with what he wrote. From being "soft spoken" in my Christian beliefs; wishing to follow the Lord to wherever He led; the feeling the inertia when going to the clinic; "scared, nervous, and part of me was looking for ways to get out this commitment."
My experiences from this past January, you will say, were good reasons for some of these feelings.
On the one hand, there were the agressive acts from the personnel within the abortion facility. First, a middle-aged woman came out onto the second floor balcony, shouting at me to leave for I had no right to be there. Then, a younger woman, the receptionist (?), stormed out not once but twice, shouting at me to stay away. Finally, a third woman, identifying herself as the facility manager, rushed out and standing no more than six feet away threatened me with calling the police.
With the latter, I had a brief conversation. I explained that the local precinct had given guidelines to follow - not obstruct the sidewalk, not obstruct the entrance, and to give only material with a religious message. My message seemed incomprehensible for she ignored what I had to said, repeating her threat.
Not once but twice members of the SPMV - the local municipal police force, came by. The first time, the patrol officers interrupted my vigiling to question me and the second time they parked across the street, observing, questioning me only as I was leaving the site.
In both instances, I was surprised by their pro-choice bias. Without citing any violation to municipal rules, they tried to convince me of the emotional harm my presence was doing to the patrons of the facility, not to mention the staff. Also, one officer went so far as to suggest that abortion saved lives! I gathered from this that the fate of the unborn did not add up in his calculus nor the after-effects of abortion on the health of the woman was equally omitted from their considerations.
In discussion with these officers, I recalled what my mentor in the Bronx had frequently said: when in the field, one always heeds the officers' call. Mary is one of Msgr. Reilly Helpers of God's Precious Infants, a ministry that fosters peaceful, loving prayer vigils outside abortion facilities. She had always insisted that we comply with the instructions of the beat cop even if he was misinformed. Yet, afterwards she would arrange a meeting the precinct captain to clarify our aim and methods. As a result, the patrol officers would leave us alone.
Here in Montreal I'll follow this course of action.
Grace is at Work
Also, as in the McDonnell article, grace was evident in a couple of instances. Once, I was able to share with a young woman leaving the clinic about the love Mary, the mother of God, had with her child Jesus.
Second, I listened and comforted another woman who had left the clinic. In her early twenties, she came out the front door and walked down its steps and stopped, standing no more than six feet away. I turned to her and asked if she knew anyone who was pregnant. In an air of discouragement, she told that she was. We spoke briefly; I suggest a phone number she could call for support. She then headed off down the street.
Many women need support. They do not wish to carry through with their abortion, yet do not know where to find the support they need. Being at these clinics permit us to extend a helping hand to them and to loving members of Christ's body.