Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Views from the Square

Views from the Square
Sightings, sounds and soulful musings from the Prayer Vigil in front of the BPAS Clinic (aka the Abortuary) in Bedford Square, Central London.

The fashionable philosopher
It’s a splendidly warm and sunny afternoon in the Square, and we are praying the Rosary in front of the Clinic. Siobhan, our “counsellor extraordinaire”, is actually kneeling in prayer on the pavement facing the Abortuary’s main entrance. 
It is then that I spot Atheist philosophe à la mode AC Grayling, with his trademark leonine grey mane and circular rimmed glasses. Looking urbane and dapper, he is leading a cortège of equally elegant acolytes in the manner of a cicerone leading a walking tour of an historical European city of Culture. They all walk past the kneeling Siobhan, in good spirits, feigning a studious indifference to the sight of prayerful people on their knees and our very visible banner proclaiming God’s knowledge of each of us even before we were formed in the womb. Half an hour later, again AC Grayling and his cohort walk past us, pretending not to notice us with that very English urbane indifference. 
AC Grayling belongs to that trinity of fashionable Atheist philosophers which includes Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (AC Grayling being the only professional philosopher amongst the three). Grayling advocates the removal of religion (especially Christianity) from the public square and its relegation to the harmless sphere of private opinion, along the lines of a Mid-Sussex Butterfly Collection Society. So I cannot resist the amusing thought that, whilst leading his disciples from the nearby National Secular Society’s HQ on a Socratic peripatetic walk around Bloomsbury, Professor Grayling is confidently proclaiming that London is a sophisticated secular world-city, having long shed belief in God and religion, these being the domain of the ignoramuses of backward countries, only to be confronted by Londoners fervently praying the Rosary and holding up images of the Divine Mercy Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe!

A Maltese Cross
It was Siobhan who pointed it out to me. The pavement kerb slab right in front of the BPAS Clinic’s entrance has a Cross of Malta carved into it. It was on that very Cross that Siobhan was kneeling when Establishment grandee AC Grayling walked past with his acolytes.
It is a mystery as to how that Cross happens to be there. It could be that one of the workers of the company in charge of the Council road-works, a devout Christian, lay it down there in the knowledge of what goes on behind that respectable Georgian façade. Or it could have been carved later into a pre-existing kerb slab, again by some caring Christian soul. Fact is, it is a powerful symbol of Christ’s closeness to the innumerable innocent unborn babies whose lives are sacrificed there daily, as they face their very own Calvary, like our Lord faced His. It can also be read, I guess, as Christ’s sorrow for the mothers and fathers who decide to abort their children, as well as for the abortion clinic staff themselves…”Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing”.

“You are just wasting your time, there is no God” shouts a passing cyclist with breath-taking and steely metaphysical certainty. “You hypocrites, what about the millions of starving children around the world?” cries another man (I am a bit at a loss by the non-sequitur of this latter reproach). “You are sick!”, calls out a third passer-by. Then an avuncular-looking bearded man, leaving the property next to the Abortuary with some friends, kindly warns us that we “are misguided” before adding –ominously- that “you are doing the work of the Devil”…to which we call out “we shall pray for you”. 
But the most entertaining must be a young man who approached us and, with an agitated, tense voice, called out “Why aren’t you praying for the 20,000 back-street abortions that take place in Pakistan?”. Whilst wondering if he has personally counted the number being shouted at us, I offer him one of our magazines, but he snarls: “I know all about your fabricated propaganda, I don’t need to read any more about it!”. As a last resort, we offer to pray for him….this really sends him ballistic. “I don’t NEED your prayers, thank you, I don’t believe in your evil GOD”….He walks away mumbling to himself, whilst a compere eggs him on, recalling how “evil and corrupt” the Catholic Church is…
Interestingly, I observe that, with the onset of the warm and sunny spring weather, the heckling completely dies out. It is as if the good weather symbolises Christ, the Light of the World, who sends the evil spirits “packing” from the souls of people!

The Curious and the Enquiring
The beautiful, enlarged photos of the early stages of a baby’s development in the womb attract a constant stream of onlookers, most of whom stop in wonder and meditative mood in front of the pictures. Alas, most of the time, we are right in the middle of a Rosary or other prayerful devotion, but the temptation is strong to engage with these people.
One young woman, short black hair, intellectual glasses, leggings and Doc Marten boots, does engage for a good while with one of the volunteers, espousing in a friendly but assertive way a pro-choice position. I cannot fully follow the train of the conversation as I’m leading a Rosary, but I do hear her repeat, again and again whilst pointing at the pictures, “this is not a baby, it is a foetus!”. Ah, the distorting power of semantics!
Many people ask us what the “protest” is about, no doubt confused by the unprepossessing, almost innocuous, entrance to BPAS. When told that we are holding a prayer vigil and that the blue door in front of us is an Abortuary, several people shake their head in disbelief, or nod gravely.
One amusing encounter is with an elegant, pretty and well-spoken woman in her mid-twenties, à la Kate Middleton (the sort of woman whom the English, with their unconscious Darwinian Eugenic philosophy, would call “well bred”). She approaches us and, with a straight face, tells us: “I walk past here often, and on several occasions I have noticed some of you smoking. Smoking kills as much as abortion! Do you realise that you project an inconsistent message to the wider public?”. I tell her that, as far as I know, I have never seen any of the volunteers smoke whilst praying, but assure her that I shall bring the matter to the attention of the 40 Days for Life leadership team…
A young man, who introduces himself as Matt, one day stops whilst Andrew, Vincent and I are right in the middle of the “Sacred Blood Way of the Cross”. Fresh-faced and wearing glasses, he tells us that prayer is a bit of a waste of time, and that we need instead to focus on economic incentives to stop the tragedy of abortion. He argues that the best way is to promote a State-sponsored “market outlet” for unwanted babies, such as well funded foster homes, adoption, export to other countries, etc. When I ask, he identifies himself as a Catholic. I also find out that he is in his 1st year of an Economics & History degree at UCL…Ah, the enthusiasm of the neophyte for his subject! Economics can solve EVERYTHING! I think to myself…Looking back to my own infatuation with the “science” of Economics and Political Sciences when I was young, I feel a pang of affection for “technocratic” Matt!
The most fruitful encounter however happens on a brisk and fresh morning, when I’m “holding the fort” alone. A young woman called Tracey approaches me, and identifies herself as a writer. She is friendly and interested in the background and goals of the “40 Days for Life” Campaign. She tells me that she is researching the pro-life movement as part of a book project that will see her analyse both the pro-choice and pro-life sides of the argument. She adds wisely that abortion has been “swept under the carpet” in Western society. Whilst not ostensibly pro-life, she is clearly very sympathetic to the pro-life position. She confesses that she was baptised a Catholic, but was brought up in a secular milieu. We spend a good 25 minutes talking, and I give her the magazine, get her contact details and promise to put her in touch with the “40 Days for Life” leadership. A very gratifying and worthwhile encounter!

H/T Graziano Freschi for some fantastic and compelling writing

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