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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Pro-Life Prayer in Münster

Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a Gebetszug or prayer procession here in Münster called “1000 Crosses for Life”. Organized by Euro Pro Life (European Voice of the Unborn Children: “Protect our Life”), it was one in a series of prayer marches that have been held by the organization throughout Europe. Founded a year and half ago, the organizers travel from country to country, a large white van in tow that contains one thousand white crosses, each about a meter tall and made of 1x4’s, weighing about ten pounds each. Although I would estimate only about three hundred people showed up for yesterday’s march, each of us bore a cross in hand to form what the organizers called “a moving cemetery” of the innocents. Although the organization is international, it was founded in Germany, and the inspiration for the 1,000 crosses comes from the fact that, on average, 1,000 unborn children die in abortion clinics in Germany each day.

The mustering of the march began in front of the Aegidiikirche at around half past three, and by shortly before four o’clock, we were formed in three single-file columns, each with a cross on our shoulders and led by an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe (afterwards, the head of the march explained that, although the event was ecumenical, this icon was chosen because it represents the pregnant Mary praying to her Son—thus making her the ideal protectress of the unborn). We were instructed not to engage in conversation with passersby (though there were certain young people whose task it was to hand out explanatory leaflets), for this was primarily a time for prayer.

We set out singing the hymn “O komm herab, du Heiliger Geist” (“O come upon us, Thou Holy Ghost”), aided by the excellent male and female voices that were broadcast over a series of loudspeakers distributed throughout the train. After this hymn, we recited the “Way of the Blood of Christ”; this devotion involves seven stations (1: The Lord shed His Blood at His Circumcision; 2: The Lord shed His Blood in Prayer on the Mount of Olives; 3: The Lord shed His Blood at the Scourging at the Pillar; 4: The Lord shed His Blood at the Crowning of Thorns; 5: The Lord shed His Blood on the Way of the Cross; 6: The Lord shed His Blood at His Crucifixion; 7: The Lord shed His Blood and Water when His Side was Pierced), each of which begins with a passage from scripture and a meditation. The first six stations are followed by the recitation five times of the Lord’s Prayer, while the last station has four “Our Fathers”: the 34 total “Our Fathers” represent the thirty-three years of Christ’s life and the one year of His unborn life in Mary’s womb. Finally, each station was closed by the “Glory be”, sung in German to the tune of “Amazing Grace”. As we finished this devotion, we arrived in front of the Lambertikirche, where we halted (above photo). A meditation on the work of Blessed Clemens August Kardinal von Galen was read over the loudspeakers; Bl. Clemens August was the Bishop of Münster from 1933 until his death in 1946, and was beatified under Pope John Paul II. His motto, Nec laudibus nec timore (“Neither because of praises nor because of fear”), exemplified his stand against the oppression of the Nazis in his own time, and has become a watchword for the stand against the injustice of abortion today.

As we continued from the Lambertikirche, we sang two antiphons, Laudate omnes gentes, laudate Dominum (Psalm 117: “O praise the Lord, all ye nations”) and Misericordias Domini in aeterno cantabo (Psalm 89(88): “My song shall be always of the mercy of the Lord”); and we concluded with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and a reprise of “O komm herab, du Heiliger Geist”. The entire procession took about two hours, winding its way throughout Münster and stopping up traffic at very points along the way. Most bystanders watched in respectful silence; some even joined us in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. A few teenagers and twenty-somethings either laughed at us or yelled at us about individual rights (the latter charge came from a group of punked-out homeless kids who routinely solicit money along the city’s streets).

Perhaps the most moving part of the experience, for me at least, was the little old lady who walked beside me the whole way. Though she must be in her seventies, she carted that cross the entire two hours, shuffling along with the rest of us, and never yielding to the oft-repeated offers to lighten her load. If the stiffness and aches in my limbs that greeted me when I awoke this morning are any indication, she truly bore her cross for Christ and for the unborn children yesterday.

At the end of the procession, which returned to the Aegidiikirche, the head organizer gave a short speech describing the efforts the group have undertaken in the past year, and inviting us to join them in their upcoming prayer marches throughout Europe. In addition to the events in Germany and Poland—yesterday’s march was cosponsored by “Adler”, a German-Polish youth group; I would estimate that up to a third of the marchers were of mixed stock, enough, at least, that one of the decades of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was said in Polish—they have held marches in the Czech Republic and in Britain.

The lead organizer was especially keen to describe the march in London this past December 30, held to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the legalization of abortion in Great Britain. He traveled to London a few days before Christmas to make the final preparations, in which he was being aided by an English group called the Helpers of the Unborn Infants. They wanted to end the procession in front of Westminster Abbey; since they needed the cooperation of the Anglican Church for this, he needed to meet with the Dean of the Abbey. To the astonishment of all, within five minutes of arriving at the Abbey, he was in the Dean’s office being offered the complete cooperation of the Church of England. The Dean suggested that they finish the procession at the Memorial of the Innocents within the Abbey itself; when the chief organizer demurred, since this would require the hundreds of people to squeeze through the small side doors of the Abbey, the Dean had a ready solution. Thus, when the prayer march arrived at the Abbey on December 30, the uniformed guards of the Abbey solemnly opened its great front portal doors, the same doors through which Queen Elizabeth passed on the way to her coronation.

The power of this pro-life movement, however, far surpasses the abortion debate. After the march in London, an elderly English chap approached the German organizer (“he look a bit like Winston Churchill”) to express his thanks. “I’ve held a deep hatred against the Germans for a very long time,” the Englishman said. “They did some horrible things to me and to my family in the war. But today, during this march, that all changed. The hate melted away.” The Englishman then embraced the German, who was speechless and blurry-eyed.

If this movement, founded upon the Christ’s love for all humanity, including the unborn, can bring relief to the deep-seated prejudices of old, what power has it not? Dare we to hope that in this movement, the Orangemen and the Catholics in Northern Ireland might finally be able to come together in common to support the innocent lives of unborn children? Perhaps thus we can bring also the Serbs and Croats together?

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