Planned Parenthood surrounded in prayer for over an hour

More than 1,800 faithful participate in March 5 procession

Aaron Lambert

It was a powerful, solemn scene at Planned Parenthood in Stapleton on Saturday morning as Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila led some 1,800 Catholics in a Eucharistic procession seven times around the abortion clinic, essentially surrounding the facility with silent prayer for over an hour.

“It was truly a moment of grace, a moment of blessing, a moment of praying to our Lord that hearts may be changed,” Archbishop Aquila said. “It was wonderful to see how many turned out today.”

The archbishop announced his intention to lead the procession in mid-February, and the response to the event was overwhelmingly positive, said Karna Swanson, the communications director for the archdiocese.



Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila led a Eucharistic Procession around the Planned Parenthood in Stapleton on March 5. It was a solemn moment of silent prayer that drew 1,800 faithful. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

“We set up a simple website with a no-nonsense invitation for people to come and pray with the archbishop, and immediately we were hearing from people just thanking the archbishop for doing this,” Swanson said.

“No shouting or arguing,” the Archdiocese of Denver website stated in describing the event. “Only prayerful witness to the love and mercy of God.”


Fitting 1,800 people onto the sidewalk of a city block was a logistical challenge for the organizers of the March 5 Eucharistic procession around the Planned Parenthood in Stapleton. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic).

To ensure the sacred nature of the Eucharistic procession, the archdiocesan liturgy office set the tone for the event and organized the logistics of the transferring the Eucharist to the site, in addition to providing prayer books for those in attendance.

Before the procession began, Father Scott Bailey addressed the crowd and emphasized the importance of silence. “Silence is an essential part of the procession as we unite our voices with those who have been silenced by abortion,” he said.



A police officer watches over 1,800 faithful participate in the March 5 Eucharistic procession around the Planned Parenthood in Stapleton. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic).

Seminarians from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary led the people in the hymns and prayers each time the procession passed around the building. They also assisted with crowd management.

“We were honestly expecting 500-800 people,” Swanson noted. “Three times that number showed up. This provided a bit of a challenge for us logistically, as 1,800 people don’t exactly fit on the sidewalk of a city block.

“We wanted to make sure everyone who wanted to participate could, but we also didn’t want to give any reason for the police department to shut the event down.”


Many of the 1,800 faithful at the March 5 Eucharistic procession around the Planned Parenthood in Stapleton were seen praying the rosary as they walked. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

Though the procession spilled out into the street, local off-duty police officers were on-hand to ensure that it didn’t impede traffic or cause an inability for cars to enter or leave the facility.

“There was wonderful teamwork on the ground, between the seminarians, the AMDG Cycling group, the police officers, and the participants,” said Swanson. “It was obvious to all that we were just there to pray. And pray we did, nearly everyone in the crowd was holding a rosary in their hands, and small groups throughout the crowd were praying the rosary together. We definitely stormed heaven with our prayers.”


The AMDG Cycling club volunteered at the March 5 Eucharistic procession to help keep the overflowing crowds from impeding traffic. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

Families with young children were well-represented in the crowd, as well as religious sisters. The Nashville Dominicans, the Sisters of Life and the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo were all present. Dozens of seminarians were on hand from both of the seminaries of Denver, as well as many members of the clergy.


The Nashville Dominicans were one of several orders of religious orders that attended the March 5 Eucharistic procession. Others included the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, the Sisters of Life and the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

The Martinez family from St. Augustine Parish in Brighton was one of many families in attendance. Jaime Martinez, along with his wife, children and parents-in-law, came to the procession to pray as a family for the end of abortion.

“We came here to speak for the unborn children who are getting aborted every single day here, and to pray for those mothers who are thinking about aborting their children so they can think about walking a different path and choosing a different option,” Martinez said.

He added, “It was very touching to see a lot of people join forces to promote the pro-life movement. Hopefully we can see more of this in future.”


The Martinez family from St. Augustine Parish in Brighton was one of many families in attendance. Jaime Martinez, along with his wife, children and parents-in-law, came to the procession to pray as a family for the end of abortion. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

Sam and Amber Bittner came with their two children, Matthew and Evelyn, as well as coordinating “Respect” and “Life” shirts. For the growing family—Amber is expecting their third child—they were there to “bring some joy.”

“We need to bring some joy into the situation, and show that we care, and that we love,” Sam told the Denver Catholic. “And it’s not just ‘you’re wrong.’”

“We came as a witness to our kids,” added Amber. “We wanted to show them that it’s really important to be involved to pray for those who are making the decisions, and also for the babies.”


Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

COMING UP: St. José de Jesús Sánchez del Río: The boy who died for love of Christ the King

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José de Jesús Sánchez del Río went to visit the tomb of a Cristero martyr in 1927, and asked God to let him also die in defense of the Catholic faith. Not even a year would go by before his wish was fulfilled. In February of 1928, he was assassinated for the cause of Christ. At his death, Joselito, as his family affectionately called him, was just over a month shy of his 15th birthday.

Pope Francis canonized the 14-year-old martyr on Oct. 16 in Rome, alongside six others.

Striking contrasts

The history of St. José Sanchez has some sad coincidences. For one, the church of St. James the Apostle in Sahuayo, where Joselito was baptized, became his prison.

Another sad parallel: His godfather for his First Communion (in Mexico, it is tradition to choose a godfather or sponsor for First Communion), Rafael Picazo Sanchez, was the one who ordered his assassination.

Witnesses in the cause for Jose’s canonization testified that he was a “normal, healthy kid with a joyful character,” as the postulator, Comboni Missionary Father Fidel González, told El Pueblo Católico.

“He went to his Catechism classes and was notable for his commitment to difficult parish activities (…) Though it put his life at risk since public worship was prohibited, he received the sacraments when he could. He prayed the holy rosary each day with his family. Despite being very young, José understood very well what Mexico was going through with the persecution,” Father González said.

Fight for the faith

Despite being just a boy, José joined the Cristeros, a movement trying to defend religious liberty in the country. He carried out simple tasks, such as helping with the logistics for those who were fighting the battle for the faith.

During one clash between the Cristero troops and the federal forces, José saved one of the leaders of his army, the Cristero leader Guizar Morfín. Morfin’s horse was killed and he was in danger of being captured. José, seeing his predicament, quickly got off his horse and handed him to his general: “My general,” he said, “take my horse and save yourself. You are more needed by this cause than I am.”

General Guizar Morfín managed to escape, but the federal troops captured José, taking him to the town of Cotija, beating and rebuking him along the way. “We’re going to see how much of a man you really are,” they told him.

During his imprisonment, he wrote a letter to his mother: “Do not be worried about my death, as this would make me suffer … Be courageous and send me your blessing, together with the blessing of my father.”


Saint Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio depicted in a painting by Rene Martinez Valdez. The 14-year old martyr was canonized Oct. 16.

Picazo, his godfather, didn’t want to kill the boy and offered him various proposals so as to save his life. He offered to register him in a prestigious military school or send him to the United States, but the boy refused these temptations since in order to get them, he would have to deny his faith.

They also asked his family for a ransom of 5,000 pesos, but José also rejected this offer, saying that his faith was “not for sale.”

On Feb. 10, 1928, they transferred José to a building close to where he was being held and told his family that he would be shot. One of his aunts managed to bring him Communion.

“I am sentenced to death. At 8:30 p.m., the moment that I have desired so, so much will arrive. I thank you for all the kindnesses you’ve shown me, you and Magdalena,” he wrote to his aunt.

The soldiers tortured him by cutting the bottoms of his feet with a knife and forcing him to walk barefoot to his last resting place, the cemetery of Sahuayo.

“I didn’t hear laments; I only heard the resigned voice of José. I saw the footprints of blood from the soles of his feet at the gate called Arregui that is on the street that leads to the cemetery; at the inn they also tortured him. … They brought him to the cemetery where first he was stabbed and then they gave him the final blow in the head,” a witness of the martyrdom testified.

Once at the cemetery, José was stabbed by the soldiers. With each strike, he shouted, “Long live Christ the King! Long live Holy Mary of Guadalupe!” Then a military leader shot him twice in the head, put his lifeless body in a small grave and covered him with dirt. It was 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 10, 1928.

“Blessed José Sánchez del Río should inspire us all, especially you young people,” Cardinal José Saraiva Martins said during the homily of his beatification in 2005 in Guadalajara, “to be capable of giving witness to Christ in our daily lives.”