Monday, September 26, 2011

Division in the pro-life movement over use of graphic images

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, kneeling next to Dan Goodnow (center; blue jacket), president of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants of Michigan has led prayer vigils like this in September of each year since his installation. 
This one, from 2009,  drew nearly 700

Soon after arriving at Assumption Grotto in Detroit in 2005, I learned of a little known group called, the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, and all I knew was that they did pro-life work.  I was invited to go to a pro-life prayer vigil.  I was told that the founder of the growing apostolate, Msgr. Patrick Reilly, was coming in from New York to lead it. 

I had been familiar with pro-life activism from the time I was quite young, but was not involved in it.  I prayed for an end to abortion in my own way.  I knew people were getting arrested and I saw anger and shouting at those going into the mills. This brought out pro-choice protestors and it sometimes got ugly.   In my teens, I recall that period of time when mills were being bombed in the off hours, and later at times that resulted in death.   While I have always been pro-life and was horrified at abortion, something seemed off with these methods, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  I wanted to get involved, but something kept me at a distance.  It wasn't that I was a coward.  I can be a pitbull. 

I would later understand my own reluctance to be involved in those kinds of efforts at Mass held by Msgr. Reilly back in 2005.  There, I encountered an entirely different approach to saving lives - one that I felt had much greater potential to win not just individual battles, but the war.  In fact, it was aimed at saving souls which is how I believe Christians should work to save the lives of babies.   Abortion is such a grave evil, that human efforts alone will not stop it.  What comes to mind is the Gospel passage in which the apostles could not cast the demons out of a man.  Upon asking Our Lord about this, he explained that some demons can only be cast out with prayer and fasting (Matt 17:21, Mark 9:29).


In the major vigils, Msgr. Reilly made it clear that we were not there to protest.  We were not there to condemn the mother and others going into the mills.  We were not to bring any signs or posters of any kind; all that would be visible in this regard was a crucifix and a banner with Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the Protectress of the Unborn.  In fact, Msgr. Reilly made it clear, our job was not to speak at all, but to pray earnestly. What really struck a chord with me, is that he passionately encouraged us to pray not just for the baby's life; he told us to pray for the mother, for the father of the child, for those encouraging the woman to have the abortion, for the doctors and staff at the mill.  His mission was clear: End abortion by changing hearts through prayer, and by being a witness to the love of  Christ.  As Archbishop Vigneron explained in the homily at Mass before his last vigil, we are merely instruments to be used by God.  His grace works through us. 

On this basis, Msgr. Reilly's approach resonated with me and got me involved in the pro-life movement. I now get involved in the major vigils, extending the witness online with my photography. I support local crisis pregnancy centers, and I pray for the success of HGPI sidewalk counselors. 

I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way because I don't know how else to explain why the bishops are so willing to get involved with HGPI, and just as importantly, why so many lay people and religious are willing to get involved. 

The Helpers of God's Precious Infants of Michigan has been involving Catholic hierarchy here in Detroit in it's major prayer vigils for many years.  Proof of their willingness to get involved in this kind of effort is visible in the many that I have photographed and uploaded. Those which happen about 4 times yearly here in Detroit, draw no less than 250-300 and have drawn as many as 700. My last photostory from earlier this month shows that people will come out even in drenching rain to pray. Anyone wanting to know the success rate of the Helpers here in Michigan should contact them. 


A "Helpers" sidewalk counselor speaks to a man who brought in a young woman.
He conversed voluntarily with several of the counselors.  Many who come to the mills feel there
are no alternatives.  When they see the "Helpers" are not confrontational, many are willing to hear
what they have to say.  Some "turn", and there are times when some months later, a woman or other
family member will return, with baby in the car, to thank them for saving the baby's life.


In between these major vigils, are the daily work of a core group of "Helpers".  When two mills are open on 8 mile, they are out there - in the rain, shine, snow, sleet, and sub-zero weather.  Among them, are trained sidewalk counselors.  As women come to the mill, they are met with compassionate faces offering them a Rosary and brochures.  They are informed of help available at local crisis pregnancy centers.   There are no confrontations, and I have witnessed a good number of the people taking the information and Rosaries.  I have witnessed some choosing to leave, or spending time talking to those outside.  For those women going through with the abortion, the same counselors hand them post-abortive literature.  Perhaps they will repent and convert, as well as avoid future abortions.  Along with the counselors are a group of "prayer warriors".  They simply stand there working the beads and praying for all involved.  There are still others who are supporting with their prayers and sacrifices away from the mills.   It is a very wholesome approach, and one that I would encourage bishops to bring into their own dioceses.

For guidance contact the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, main chapter in New York.  I'm sure the Michigan Chapter wouldn't mind providing some tips, as well.

Indiscriminate Use of Graphic Images

I think there is a time and a place to use graphic images.  I do not believe they should be used indiscriminately (as in unrestrained) and in the open where small children are needlessly exposed to them.  Some would say that they see more violence on television.  If that is happening, then some parents are not taking care to guard the innocence that that should be preserved in a small child.  Perhaps that is why there is so much violence is that parents are enabling them to become immune at a young age. 

In any event, there are certain things we shield small children from.  We shield them from witnessing sex; we send them to the other room when delicate conversations are taking place, and good parents often restrict what kind of horror films small eyes should be seeing.  Why should parents then be confronted with an unexpected mobile billboard with a mutilated, aborted baby pulling up along side the car, or in front of the school, or flying in the air? 

Upon learning that the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform was going to descend on Amarillo to picket parishes with graphic photos of aborted babies until Bishop Zurek released Fr. Frank Pavone from his "ecclesiastical house arrest", it became all too clear why some bishops are reluctant to get involved in pro-life activities.  Could some be persuaded not to have an abortion after seeing the photos?  I'm sure they can.  But who is counting the number of people who will now turn a blind eye to even the most peaceful of very successful efforst, like those of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants? 

Further reading on this point:




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2 comments:

Sarah L said...

Hi Diane,

Regarding the use of graphic images, Helpers of God's Precious Infants follows the strategy of Msgr. Reilly. When an image of an aborted baby is used (negative image), it is always accompanied by an image of a baby living in the womb (positive image). The negative image is therefore not used just to shock, disgust or accuse, but to show the reality of abortion in contrast to the beautiful and peacful image of the living baby. Both images serve to bring the TRUTH into focus, that human life in the womb is beautiful and fragile, needs to be protected, and that certain choices lead to a violent, although usually unseen demise.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Thank you Sarah - a good distinction.

I meant to note that when I said there is a time and a place for graphic images, I think the Helpers have it right.

There are some photos mounted in such a way that, really, only those entering the mill, see it. They see it as they are walking into the clinic. It would go largely unnoticed by those passing by.

This is what I call, the last line of defense.

The largest sign, which is so large it must be held up by two people, is of a smiling baby. This is what everyone sees - this positive image.