Michael and Barbara, participants of the Vigil 365 - Photo: Joanne of Arc
We hear a lot about the importance of creating good habits for a healthy and balanced life, such as taking a walk, eating well or going to bed at the same time. For most of us, we put a lot of effort into having a better quality of life. But how many people really care about life? I am referring to life at one of its most vulnerable stages: at the moment of conception.
Every morning of the year, a Vigil is held near the Berri-UQAM metro station. It was initiated in February 2020 by its organizer Brian Jenkins. People meet to pray for life and honor the unborn. In this case, it is not just a weekly good habit, but an important discipline in their spiritual lives.
In addition to praying together, the participants of the Vigil are often approached for a discussion. Sometimes, the people that are passing by are open-minded and want to understand what the participants are saying, at other times the discussions are rather difficult or even turn into personal accusations.
I had the opportunity to attend Vigil 365 and observe the interactions that took place during one morning this week. The participants also took a moment to chat with me and explain their motivations.
Michael attends the Vigil because he believes abortion is a grave injustice. He shared this with me: "There are many injustices that take place around the world, but most of them don't happen where I live. So this is something I can and should be involved in where I live. "
As to why the group chose this hectic location to pray, he tells me, "This corner we're on is kind of a contradiction in itself. There is an abortion clinic at the end of this street, around the other corner is UQAM University which is one of the most liberal universities in Montreal, and on the other side is the gay village which promotes promiscuity."
Ironically, there is also the beautiful Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes chapel in front of the UQAM University building, adorned with a golden statue of the Virgin Mary, which is in the center of all this activity.
Michael also tells me about Brian, the organizer of Vigil 365. It is because of him that Michael is more involved. "He is a man of great faith who is always on the phone coordinating things. He is a good communicator and can calm tempers. He also maintains warm relationships with everyone here. He knows the homeless people by their first names. He is the one who called me to participate. "
On this particular morning that I observed, Michael was wearing a sign around his neck. The sign read "pray for an end to abortion" in English. A man stopped and pointed at him. He asked him how old he was and if he had children. Michael said no, he didn't have any. The man replied that he had two daughters and asked, "Are you telling me that if one of my daughters was raped, you would still be praying for an end to abortion?!" Michael didn't have time to answer him, the man in question had already left. Unfortunately, this is an example of a person who simply wanted to accuse, but was not open to dialogue.
The accusation against Michael at Vigil 365 - Photo: Joanne of Arc
One of the participants of the Vigil confirmed to me in an interview the day before what had just happened: "People are usually touched by the signs we carry. They can read this message on one of the signs: "Two hearts. Two souls. Two lives." People are drawn to these kinds of messages because they don't usually think that way. They don't think about how the woman's life will be affected by this event, or the life of the unborn child."
Vigil 365 can be an intimidating activity for its participants, but prayer keeps them serene. Participants pray a rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Barbara, an active Vigil participant, shares her motivation with me: "I love what Brian is doing here. Part of what we do is obviously prayer oriented, but another important part is to give advice to the women who come through here, and that is a crucial job. On the other hand, I want to make it clear that we do not approach anyone. It's the people who come and talk to us."
Another participant, Mary, who comes once a week, adds, "My motivation is to pray that God will touch the hearts of the people and of this city so that they will turn to life, and recognize that life is a gift. Then, that people who are in difficult situations would receive the graces to find a way to choose the life of a child."
"One of the purposes of this initiative is to pray for God's mercy on this city for the atrocities that we have been doing for years, because there are four abortion clinics in this area, so it's a charged place."
I ask Mary if it is a good habit for her to show up at the Vigil, "Oh no, not at all. It's more of a conscious decision to be here. It was hard for me to get up this morning, but it's a form of penance that I offer to the Lord for the reparation of sins. It's not just a habit."
She adds, "It is atrocious that these little lives are being slaughtered and people don't even know about it. Canada has no laws to prevent abortion [which is performed] at any stage of pregnancy. People are surprised to learn that at 40 weeks of pregnancy, you can have an abortion and kill a child that is fully developed and could be born any day now in full health, a child that others have been waiting years to adopt. It's just atrocious that so many children are being killed and there's no protection for them."
Mary and Teresa at Vigil 365 in Montreal - Photo: Joanne of Arc
Finally, I speak with Teresa. It was a friend who invited her to participate in the Vigil. She has participated in the Vigil at least once a week since 2020 because she believes that we are all responsible to pray for the unborn and because people are not sufficiently informed about this subject.
When I ask her about her motivation, Teresa says, "For me, prayer is so important and it goes beyond what we can understand. What I mean by that is that there are conversions taking place. Many doctors and nurses have been converted through the prayers of people who pray during the Vigil, even though no one is going to talk to them directly, as you might think.
Also, people need to know that abortion is a crime. There is a lot of ignorance in this world, people don't know how abortions are done. It is only through divine intervention that people begin to understand in their souls that abortion is not a good thing, and through God's will people can begin to change their way of thinking."
I ask Teresa if she talks about this event with her friends, "For my part, I always invite my friends to find out about this event, because I think it is a beautiful experience to have. I think it's a great experience to go through and not only does it help others, but it also helps us personally on a spiritual level. Every day is different during Vigil 365. We also receive graces from the Lord through our participation in the Vigil."
Then she reveals a little story: "For example, I will never forget the day I met a woman who wanted to open her heart to me. She was a woman in her thirties who had a young son. We moved away from the group that was praying to have more privacy and I offered her a rosary that I had with me. She shared many personal things with me, including that she was searching for God. She was about to cry and she shared with me that this interaction that took place between us was as if she had been guided to this corner to meet me. It was a memorable experience."The group of participants praying on a street corner - Photo: Joanne D'Arc
For most people, prayer is a private practice that takes place either at home or in church. In this case, the participants are praying in public on the street. I think most people are not used to this idea. I ask Teresa why it is important to pray in this way.
This is what she said: "Today, I think the Catholic Church is in decline. We no longer see signs of our religion in public. And even people who used to call themselves practicing, with the speed of life today, they have completely forgotten about praying the rosary. There was a woman who shared with me that when she saw me with the rosary, she was going to start praying the rosary again. When we pray the rosary in public, people see the rosary and sometimes they will even kneel down. I think it is important to share the love of our faith in the world. Why do we allow ourselves to present all the bad things and hide what is good?"
In conclusion, Vigil 365 is more than just a good habit for its participants. It is a voluntary and conscious decision that they make, to come out, at least once a week, early in the morning, to pray for the unborn. It is also a physical presence and a real manifestation of their faith in a city that no longer values life at its most vulnerable stage or Catholic values. It is a sometimes surprising image to see people praying on such a busy street corner as the station where there are homeless people, students, many police officers, a university and a chapel. However, this is probably one of the places that needs love and compassion the most. With that in mind, it is certainly the best place for the Vigil to take place.