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.

 

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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.”

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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.

 

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

COMING UP: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.