Early on Saturday morning, Aug. 14, I drove into Brooklyn for a story. That’s not a normal occurrence because Brooklyn and Queens form the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn, which is outside Catholic New York’s primary coverage area in the Archdiocese of New York.
Sometimes, however, you have to go where the story is. In recent weeks, several people in the pro-life community had spoken to me about a monthly Witness for Life Rosary procession that had faced loud and obstructive counter-protests by supporters of abortion. So I decided to go take a look for myself.
For readers who are not aware, the Witness for Life is a peaceful, prayerful outreach that takes place across the boroughs of New York City at sites where abortions are performed. The format is similar at each, beginning with Mass at a Catholic church, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a Rosary procession to a nearby abortion clinic where the prayers continue. Later, Benediction is offered at the church and sometimes a short talk or social is held.
The morning Mass at St. Paul’s Church on Congress Street was attended by approximately 50 people, several of whom I knew, including Sister Virginia Joy, S.V., and Sister Charity Brown, S.V., of the archdiocesan Respect Life office.
After the liturgy, Father Fidelis Moscinski, C.F.R., offered instructions to those participating in the procession as well as those who chose to remain behind in church praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
“Our only task this morning,” the friar said, “is to pray to Jesus and Mary.”
He counseled those present to “offer up to the Lord any inconvenience or challenge” they would face.
He also said that the value of their prayers “doesn’t depend on us,” but rather on the sacrifice of Jesus at the altar at Mass.
As Father Moscinski walked among those gathered as the procession was to begin, he offered a few bits of additional counsel to guide their efforts.
When the procession started from the church at Court Street, it initially followed a different route than the month before. Within a block, however, the Witness for Life encountered a formation of abortion supporters blocking the sidewalk at Warren Street and preventing the pro-life group from passing. They held all manner of disturbing signs, with the language of some unfit for this newspaper. “Deletus the Fetus. Send It Back to Jesus” was one. Sacrilegious chants such as “Praise God for abortion” filled the air.
After some time, the NYPD cleared passage. On the next block, Congress Street, the Rosary procession was again stalled. This time, the police made an announcement officially asking the abortion supporters to stop blocking a public sidewalk. I observed at least one person who refused the order being detained by police. (The group, NYC for Abortion Rights, said two of their members had been arrested at the counter-protest.)
From there, the procession was able to move to the Planned Parenthood clinic on Court Street. As they proceeded, counter-protesters interrupted many praying the Rosary by asking questions and casting aspersions on their efforts.
Speaking personally, as one standing toward the back of the marchers and joining their prayers, it was difficult to remain silent in the face of such taunting.
Outside the clinic, the police guided the pro-life group to an assigned spot, and then the abortion supporters formed a line closer to the clinic. They were organized and loud. The only time I heard a pro-life supporter raise her voice was to ask the prayer leaders to amplify their voices so the Rosary prayers could be heard.
When I spoke with Sister Virginia Joy, S.V., director of the archdiocesan Respect Life office, about her participation at the Brooklyn procession, she said she had gone “to support them.”
Citing the vulgarity with which those participating in the Witness for Life were met, Sister Virginia Joy said, “There was a distinct difference in the spirits among the groups.”