Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
2 Mar 2012
The rain probably doesn't encourage many people to stand outside in the street praying but it certainly hasn't dampened the spirits of the supporters of the 40 Days for Life Lenten Prayer Vigil in Sydney.
Despite the continuing overcast sky and the continuing wet weather forecast, organisers believe the weekend will see more supporters join the Vigil.
Almost 500 took part in last week's Mass and candlelight procession from St Peter's Catholic Church, Surry Hills to the Preterm Abortion Clinic on the corner of Randall and Elizabeth Streets to mark the start of the city's annual 40 Days for Life Vigil.
The Most Rev Terry Brady, Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Sydney celebrated the Mass and then led the procession on Shrove Tuesday, the eve of Ash Wednesday and beginning of Lent which marked the beginning of the vigil opposite the Clinic.
"During the first week we have had the biggest turn out yet, not only for the opening Mass and procession, but every day since," says a delighted Paul Hanrahan, Director of Family Life International which organises Sydney's prayer vigil each year.
However with the city bracing itself for storms and heavy rain over the next few days the committed volunteers are still determined to remain at the daily prayer vigil held on the corner opposite the Surry Hills Clinic where priests, religious, students and individuals make sure there is always a good gathering to keep vigil.
The daily prayer vigil throughout the 40 days of Lent takes place from 6 am until 8 pm with supporters arriving at various times throughout the day. Some drop in to pray during their lunch hours and others, such as students attend between classes while mothers arrive during the time their kids are at school.
Each day among those keeping vigil are experienced counsellors from Family Life International and affiliated groups to offer help and support to women who may be contemplating an abortion or to those who may have terminated a pregnancy several years before and are still in grief over their loss.
"We don't approach women entering or coming out of the Preterm Clinic. Instead we pray and wait for them to approach us. Once they do, we talk quietly with them and if they need support and counsel, we are able to refer them to our psychologists and counsellors," says Paul.
Early this week a distressed young woman watched the group from across the street and then finally, her mind made up, approached Paul.
"She asked if I minded if she asked a few questions and quizzed me about women who are drug addicts who have babies and wanted to know what my opinion was about a woman who is raped going ahead with the resultant pregnancy. These are the sort of issues we are asked all the time, so I spoke to her about the sanctity of life and how sometimes people don't realise the help that is available and how they don't need to walk through the door of the abortion clinic opposite. Which was when she started to cry and told me some months before, she had had an abortion."
Paul and counsellors from Family Life International talked to her and gave her phone numbers, encouraging her to call later so they could help her with her grief and her great sadness.
"Then a couple of hours later I received a text message from her saying: "Thank you for your kindness today. I believe it is no coincidence I have met you. God has sent you on my path for a reason and I hope to keep in contact. Thank you once again and God bless."
The 40 Days for Life Lenten Prayer Vigil began in 2004 with a small grassroots group of Texans. But the idea of praying for the unborn and their mothers throughout Lent quickly spread. By 2007 it had become a Lenten tradition across the US. Since this time 40 Days for Life has become an international event and is observed each year in 422 across the US, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Europe, Puerto Rico, Spain, Argentina, Armenia and Australia.
"Each year more and more people join our vigil and volunteer to take part either for an hour or two or even an entire morning or afternoon," Paul says.
He believes more and more people whether Catholics or non-Catholics believe in the precious gift of life and this is why there has been such a positive response to this year's prayer vigil, not only in Sydney but in cities across Australia where similar Lenten vigils for the unborn are being held.
"As a society we cannot allow ourselves to accept the fact abortion is acceptable, because to take that view is to see human life as expendable," warns Bishop Julian Porteous, the Archdiocese of Sydney's Episcopal Bishop for Evangelisation and Renewal, and patron of the annual 40 Days for Life Prayer Vigil.
"The Lenten season calls on all of us to make greater sacrifices than we normally might, so let us go in the name of Christ to Australia's oldest abortion centre to pray and reach out with charity to everyone there, especially the unborn who may never experience love apart from our prayers," he says and urges all who are able to join in the vigil during the 40 days of Lent.
Each Friday and Saturday from now until the vigil for the unborn ends on Sunday, 1 April, St Peter's Catholic Church will remain open for all night Adoration.
To participate in the vigil and find out more log on to http://40daysforlife.com/sydney/
Photography by Patrick J. Lee