Five a.m.: November 24, 2008: We are away from home. I find myself staring-- disbelieving -- into the chasm that has dashed my hopes for the morning. It is the washing machine and it has eaten my youngest son's Incredible Hulk, light-up tennis shoes.
It is the morning of the Pilgrimage for Life in Huntsville, Texas led by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. We had come from Fort Worth for the weekend to stay with my husband's family near Houston. While closer than the nearly four hour drive we might have had to make with five children in tow, it is still an hour and half away and now our fate is in the hands of the nearest open Wal-Mart. At this point, I am surprised that this is our only crisis. Did I mention, it is five in the morning? It has only just begun.
His Eminence, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, was elevated to the College of Cardinals in October of 2007. He is the first Prince of the Church of the Southern United States. The Pilgrimage for Life is a first for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and as of this moment 400 people have registered with the organizers of the event. They have expressed surprise at those numbers.
Josephus and I rounded up the children, finished packing the last of the freshly laundered clothes (gotta love staying with family!), and crammed the kids into the van. Normally, you would have no need to cram 7 people into a 15 passenger vehicle, but we're the Flavius's and we had been willy-nilly multi-taskers this particular weekend. In addition to a nice visit with Josephus's family, we had also packed in a run to Brenham, Texas to pick up 50 rose bushes for a church fund raiser. All in all, it had been a jam packed weekend, but today is Monday and we are headed to Huntsville to march and pray alongside friends from our sister parish in Houston, St. John Chrysostom, and Catholics from all over the state.
In my mind, this is going to be simple. Yesterday I deftly picked a gas station near the fairgrounds where we are expected to park and sent out directions to all the others in our group. What could go wrong? Overconfidence or at least the appearance of it is one of my fatal flaws. Often I can sense the uncertainty and the answers to that blithe little question being formed before the words leave my mouth. My first instinct is to play it off, but when confronted with a melted shoe (which has put us at least 30 minutes behind schedule), I am now a nervous wreck.
Between leaving late and stopping in Conroe for more Incredible Hulk shoes, we do not make the rendezvous on time. Shocker. I text Fr. Elias frantically. He's apparently running late, too. Thank God. Unfortunately, everyone else has gone on without us. Our two cars are the only ones with mobile phones, so at this point we have no earthly idea where anyone is. Josephus outfits the kids with snacks and we are off. Did I mention a steady drizzle has begun? Did I mention we don't own umbrellas?
So far, we have been relying on the gift of technology, specifically the Maps function of my iPhone. Again, in an über-flight of fancy, having no real map is met with more “what could go wrong?” On an iPhone (3G, no less), you have the benefit of a mobile phone and a GPS device all rolled into one. The screen brings up a map, and you are represented by a cute, little, blue dot on the screen following along a darling, little, purple, highlighted route. Warning: nothing can prepare you for the emotional drama of being the leader of a caravan, when your blue dot runs off the purple road into uncharted territory. The reality is that Google Maps had not accurately plotted the fairground's location, but without knowing this all I can think is that Fr. Elias and a parishioner are behind us and he is supposed to be concelebrating Mass with the Cardinal and several Bishops and while we are not late, we do not have the luxury of time. But God provides in all things and my hand wringing is all for not, shortly (though not shortly enough) we do find the fairgrounds just as I am finally building up my courage to call Father and say the dreaded words : WE ARE LOST. Thankfully, we see the sign up ahead (another bullet dodged) and as we pull into the parking lot we meet the smiling faces of Daren and Peyton Bělunek and their three children. More prayers of thanks to the Lord that we had not simply abandoned our post and left them hanging at Valero. We are are now primed for action! Strollers are at the ready, shoes on (this is a very important step when you are dealing with 5 children ages 1 to 8), icons distributed, to the buses!
Josephus and I had brought a very special icon with us just for this event: a large icon of Rachel Weeping for Her Dead Children. Fr. Elias had blessed it during Divine Liturgy yesterday and we are very happy to bring her along as an interceding witness for us, the unborn, all the victims of abortion, and the culture of death.
After a short bus ride we arrive at the St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church. Fr. Elias goes ahead of us into the church while we are directed to some large, open air tents near a children's playground and sandbox, which are outfitted with speakers for us to hear the Mass. It is clear that quite a few more than the expected 400 registered people have shown up. Actually, we number closer to a thousand. There is a state map up and pins put in for the hometowns of all the people who came to celebrate life and to pray and peacefully protest against the culture of death. Many have come from the Houston and Huntsville area, and many have come from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, like us, but what is amazing to see is that we have come together from all over the state. There are pins pushed through El Paso, Amarillo, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Galveston, but also many little towns across the state as well. El Paso, if you don't know, is more than 800 miles away, Amarillo, more than 500. These people are serious!
As Mass begins we locate the other members of our group; Tom and Mary Wells, and Keri Hendricks, her seven children, along with others. Finally we are all together. About this time, the 1, 3, 5, and 8 years-olds have discovered that we are sitting in what is effectively a very damp sandbox. Our 7 year old daughter is visibly fighting the urge to tattle or join the rest. Josephus and I are stuck - the possibility had not occurred to us - (as we are the amazing, By-The-Seat-of-Our-Pants-Flaviuses) that the children would have such an immediate and available opportunity to cover themselves head to toe with dirt and sand before we embark on a 2 mile walk through the Sam Houston University Campus from the Planned Parenthood clinic to Texas Department of Criminal Justice Walls Unit. This too shall pass and soon enough we hear the Cardinal's exhortation, “We are here in Huntsville today to celebrate the gift of life, and our purpose is not to do anything but to pray and to witness. . . As a community, we need to lift those issues up in prayer at events like these which are not confrontational, but prayerful.”
to be continued . . .