A 5.00am start on Saturday, 5th May 2018 saw Guardians Andrew, Michael and Keith leave the Shrine in Bedford en route to the annual visit of the Miraculous Relic Image to the March for Life. This year the venue had changed with a return after ten years to London, where the final destination of the March would be Parliament Square. In the light of Ealing Council’s recent decision to implement buffer zones, and the possible decision of other councils to do the same, the March for Life was more relevant than ever in getting across the message that there are alternatives to abortion and the right to witness to the value of Life as God’s creation.
The base for all the pre-March activities and the assembly point for the anticipated 5,000 marchers was the Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden. The Guardians’ planning for the Pilgrimage Visit of the “Protectress of the Unborn” had been beset with difficulties, particularly with securing dignified access and a handling area, which would allow the team to place the Miraculous Relic Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the room being used as a chapel. Originally, the chapel was situated on the fourth floor, which had no lift access. Following a general call for prayer to our supporters and the followers of the devotion sustaining us, we managed to deal with and overcome these issues, though more manual handling than usual was required to get everything in place in a professional manner.
The chapel home for the day to the Miraculous Relic Image was to be an oasis of calm, peace and silence, away from the hustle and bustle of the Grand Hall with its constant music and speech programme and the various workshops and pro-life stalls situated on the other floors of the building. A team of priests were with us and available throughout the morning for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
By 8.00am, the Miraculous Relic Image was in place for veneration and Guardians Anne Marie, Mike, and Petrit joined us. Guardian Michael set up the ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe stall’ in the pro-life information hall. He and members of the team spent their time during the pre-March programme giving out a wide range of leaflets, prayer cards and dealing with enquiries about the devotion, the Miraculous Relic Image, and the National Pilgrimage Tour. Our day in the chapel started with Morning Office and an ecumenical prayer service. Veneration and confessions followed.
Among the first to venerate was former Glasgow midwife Mary Doogan, who was there to lead a workshop ‘Is Health Care losing its conscience’. Mary is an old friend and supporter of the Guardians. We had met her for the first time in 2014, when we had taken the Miraculous Relic Image to her home parish in Glasgow; we were there to support her case in the Court of Session in Edinburgh for the right of conscientious objection to being forced to supervise Glasgow health staff taking part in abortions.
Prior to the March setting off, a constant stream of pilgrims visited us to spend time in prayer, writing petitions and meditating in silence, with Our Blessed Mother Relic Image being the focus of their devotion. They came in their hundreds, despite a breakdown to the main lifts leaving them out of action for the first two hours, and meaning pilgrims had to walk up six flights of stairs to get to the chapel. As well as meeting many new faces who came to the chapel, we had the chance to talk with many pilgrims whom we had met on our journeys around the country on this and previous National Pilgrimage Tours. This was an opportunity for us to share in the fellowship of our joint individual testimonies and experiences of faith. During the morning, the BBC was with us, filming for a documentary piece for broadcast later in the year and to give a report on the day’s national news programme.
The workshop and other activities finished around 1.00pm and marchers gathered in the Grand Hall for welcome speeches and a rallying cry to stand firm from Bishops John Keenan and John Wilson. The March set off in the early afternoon. The thousands gathered outside the Connaught Rooms had site of our Van that was parked directly outside the main entrance with its smart new logos advertising the National Pilgrimage Tour.
The March set off around 2.00pm with Guardians Anne Marie and Mike representing the Guardians’ Team while the other Guardians packed everything away and travelled back to the Shrine in Bedford. We all were left with a feeling that this year’s Pilgrimage Visit to the March for Life, though different, had been successful and unique.
A special word of thanks to the organisers, Isabel and Ben and their team on the ground at the Connaught Rooms for their support and cooperation.