Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2008 Pilgrimage for Life in Huntsville, Texas, part two:

The Cardinal notes the tragic, but all too important connection between abortion and violence and today it was especially poignant, because today, we not only pray for the lives of the victims of abortion, which included the innocent, but also their mothers and fathers and families that were touched by this tragedy. We also include prayers for all those on Death Row and an end to the death penalty, interceding especially for the 10 prisoners who are slated for execution in the coming year.

On this note, I will say that I have always had a personal struggle with the Death Penalty. Intellectually, I can connect that to be really pro-life that I should be against it. I have even made the argument I'm only “for” the Death Penalty because the state of Texas does not have a genuine life sentence. I have heard and empathized with those who note that abortion's victims are innocent and that the Death Row inmates earned their punishment. For what it is worth, the babies who die in the holocaust of abortion are innocent, but not all victims of abortion are innocent. The reality is that abortion takes its toll on the mothers, the fathers, grandparents, brother and sisters, clinic workers, the abortionists themselves. The violence of the single act of abortion can be pictured as a bullet-hole with many rays spreading out from it. Death row inmates and criminal violence are some of those rays. Violence begets more violence.

We march and pray the Rosary, all of us together, not simply the 19 of us from the Byzantine parishes in Texas, but all thousand of us, strangers helping strangers, volunteers handing out water and making sure we walked on our allotted portion of the road, and stopping traffic for us. At one point, a Houston native takes over pushing my stroller so that I can help my husband herd along our now lagging 5 year old. There are several moments before we began praying that I wonder, “why are we doing this? What are we trying to prove? I mean, we're pro-life! We're a family of five, plus another on the way, I think people get the picture!” The children, for one, think the whole idea is wacko and demonstrate their opinions in various ways. A. (age 3) stops walking altogether and decides that she would prefer to be carried the rest of the way. N. (age 8) lays down the icon of Rachel Weeping in the grass and then sullenly trudges forward, D. (age 5) runs in circles saying, “but why do we have to waaaalk?” over and over again. M. (age 7) is doing her best, but it is soon clear that her desire to push the stroller is greater than her ability. All this and we have not yet reached the rallying point in front of Planned Parenthood. It is very discouraging. But! Do not be discouraged! Off goes my cardigan, which I wrap Rachel's four corners in. Having fashioned a rudimentary sling, I jostle Rachel and her brood on to my back, grab the handles of the stroller and I am off! Poor Josephus is being encircled by sad and heavy children. I can see Fr. Elias in the crowd, guffawing at our spectacle, while I put on my best, “what spectacle?” face. None the less, I was soon relieved of Rachel as she is passed on to a helpful and capable gentleman from St. John's. It is not long before the prayers of the Rosary are lifting me out of my discouragement and dismay and joyfully we proclaim the mysteries of the the Holy Rosary along with all our Latin Catholic brothers and sisters. It isn't just my spirits that we lift, but the children's and Joseph's, as well. It is physically and spiritually renewing to be among all these holy people witnessing the Gospel.
Another striking note: when we finally joined Fr. Elias, I asked him, “where is the Planned Parenthood clinic?”

I'm sure he thought that I was nuts, but we were standing down in the street below the parking lot and I couldn't see it through the crowd. Sure enough, there looking as un-menacing and unassuming as ever, was your standard issue strip mall Planned Parenthood clinic. 

The same cannot be said for the Walls Unit. Before you see the Walls Unit, you smell it. I had never considered that imprisonment could have an odor, a stench really. And it genuinely reeks of suffering. I cannot imagine what it would be to work there or to live there, to bring that wretchedness home to your family day after day, much less to visit a family member or friend there. It was truly horrible and it was the first of several small conversions that are made in my heart today. You might think, “okay, so it stinks. So what?” But actually, these people through a series of events, circumstances, and choices have debased themselves to the point of living like animals (at the Walls Unit, we dispatch them much in the same way, with the utmost concern for humane treatment)-at least judging from the smell of things. The walls of the unit are several stories high, topped with barbed wire and guard houses. There are few doors and no trees, no landscaping of an kind. It is a sort of misery that I have never really fathomed. This is not an argument to set everyone free, but television and movies have sanitized our view of prisons. And while the food might be depicted as unappetizing here or there, no one tells you that it smells like an open sewer.

Both places have related problems, abortion clinics often have these storefronts that could fit into any strip mall setting, in any suburb, anywhere. Despite that, the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that roughly 1.2 million abortions were procured and recorded an income in excess of 1 billion dollars last year (of that, more than $336 million are acknowledge to be federal and state grants and contracts, but there is no official accounting where and how many taxpayer dollars are given to the ironically, not-for-profit organization). For many people, there is an assumption that Planned Parenthood is just a clinic offering health services for under-privileged women. Likewise, the Walls Unit is a place of genuine suffering- that is apparent simply by driving in the vicinity or standing downwind. Many people assume that we , as a society, have gone out of our way to provide a decent standard of living for the inmates, especially those on Death Row. One stroll passed its environs called all that into question for me. What we are left to consider is: one is cloaked in a shroud of respectability to hide away the misery and tragedy inside, the other is covered over with a veil of rhetoric, aided by our own willingness to be deceived by the circumstances of its residents.

After we past the monolith of the Walls Unit, we meet at last at the Prisoner Release Center.  We, Texas Byzantines, have our picture taken with Cardinal DiNardo. We board the buses back to our cars and depart for a Byzantine and Eastern Catholic Homeschooling Fellowship at the home of Ken and Keri Hendrickson just south of Huntsville. The children, who have only moments before been fussing over the long walk, are now running up and down the visitors' ramp, excited to take another bus ride, and looking forward to some very loosely supervised playtime with their new friends.

Father bought the pizza and we are happy to relieve him of it. The Hendricksons' home sits on several acres and the children have the benefit of running and playing with wild abandon while we, grown-ups, get acquainted. Women being women (and Catholic women at that ) chat about everything from breast-feeding and cloth diapers to blueberries, bunnies, homeschooling and beyond. Despite the reality of a four hour drive back to Fort Worth, Josephus and I are so contented to stay and talk with our new found friends that we don't leave until night is falling.
As we drive back to our home, the children dozing off in quick succession, exhausted from their busy, busy day Joseph and I spend the hours talking about what each of us has taken away from the experience, our new friends, and thinking about what we might do a little differently for the next pro- life rally or march. It has been, all in all, a great, beautiful day.

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