Planned Parenthood surrounded in prayer for over an hour

More than 1,800 faithful participate in March 5 procession

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: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.