BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
A CA-rnta It bishop made a S112 nificant act of faith last Saturday when he led a prayer vigil to an abortion centre.
Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood becomes the first English bishop to make such a public demonstration of support for the pro-life cause. He follows in the footsteps of bishops in America and on the continent who have made similar acts of witness.
The vigil. organised by the London based Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the pro-life group Helpers of God's Precious Infants ( HGPI), commenced with Mass at Trinity Catholic High School in Woodford Green, Essex, where the bishop gave a homily on the right to life.
The procession then made the 25-minute walk to the Marie Stopes Centre at Buckhurst Hill. Over 140 people turned up to support the vigil. A full size image of Our lady of Guadelupe, Patroness of the Unborn, was prominent throughout.
Organisers said six workers from the clinic stood outside with three minders. The vigil was peaceful and passed without incident.
Patrick McCarthy, of HGPI, who helped to organise the vigil protest, said it was a "signifi
cant and memorable" witness of faith and he called on other bishops to follow Bishop McMahon's lead.
-Bishops make pro-life noises, they issue pastoral letters, but they don't appear to believe in demonstrating. Bishop McMahon spoke brilliantly, right from the heart. He spoke of the need for prophets to bear witness. He said 'the obligation to respect life is not just an individual obligation but a responsibility for society as a whole'. It was intensely moving — a beautifully reverential Mass that touched everyone personally. He clearly sees prolife as a very important cause."
Mr McCarthy explained that
the Helpers pray every Saturday outside similar centres across the diocese. "Usually there are just three people. Once a month the helpers unite to pray outside one centre and we can expect 40-50 people to come but Saturday's turnout was unprecedented.
"We trebled the numbers precisely because people knew the bishop was coming."
He added: "Everyone was praying and saying the rosary. It was low key and gentle."
The Helpers of God's Precious Infants was founded in America by Mgr Philip Riley of New York and offers a peaceful contrast to some of the more
protests which have ended in bloodshed. Trained pavement counsellors are always on hand to offer women practical support and advice. The focus for the prayer groups is quiet prayer and meditation. In America the Helpers enjoy substantial help from the bishops.
While Bishop McMahon was present two pregnant women approached the counsellors. They did not turn away but entered the clinic.
Josephine Quintavalle, director of the ProLife Alliance, said she applauded the bishop's defence of the unborn.
"We think this is very helpful. This is exactly the kind of leadership we want to see." She continued: "Cardinals lead similar protests in America and we feel the pro-life movement in this country will flourish with more leadership from the bishops.
"It's inevitable that if our priests speak out many more people will take courage from that. My sincere congratulations to the bishop for the courageous stand he has taken."
As The Catholic Herald went to press two ProLife Alliance candidates, who stood in May's local elections, were due in court to face charges under the Public Order Act of showing a picture of an aborted baby deemed to be "abusive, threatening or intimidating".
Fiona Pinto and her colleague, Joseph Biddulph, were arrested in April for campaigning in the streets of Newport. Wales, with a picture of an aborted baby of 21 weeks. They pleaded not guilty in a court hearing on May I. A pretrial review was expected to take place on Wednesday June 18 to set a date for trial.
Fiona Pinto said the prosecution were "very keen" for the case to proceed.
The alliance has argued repeatedly that as taxpayers' money funds the majority of abortions in this country it is only right that the reality of abortion should be shown to the electorate.