Since 2007, Greater Columbus Right to Life (GCRTL) has been narrowing its focus to build a culture of life by creating a community of prayer, service, and education. In the process, we have helped hundreds of women turn away from the abortion clinic, seen nearly a dozen abortion clinic employees leave the industry, and built life-changing communities of prayer throughout central Ohio. Recently, a group of Pilgrims representing GCRTL took that focus on prayer and community to a deeper level by traveling to Mexico as part of a pilgrimage, which I was honored to lead. The trip was under the spiritual direction of Fr. Nick Droll. When planning the pilgrimage, there were three things that I wanted to focus on: the role of Our Lady of Guadalupe in evangelizing the Americas and bringing an end to the bloody practice of infant and child sacrifice; the value of praying with our counterparts in Mexico who are building a continual prayer presence through 40 Days for Life and local church outreach at Mexican abortion clinics, and the need that we have to get that spiritual ‘recharge’ as part of our own faith lives. There is a deeply spiritual element to prolife work and it opens us up to the possibility of spiritual warfare in a way that I had not really anticipated.
With the assistance of Tekton Ministries, we built an itinerary that combined the typical pilgrimage visits to churches, basilicas, and holy sites with the elements of service often seen as part of a missions trip. We began most days with prayer at a local abortion clinic, joining 40 Days for Life campaigns at the Roma and Ixtapalapa neighborhoods’ offices of Marie Stopes.
Marie Stopes was a British contemporary of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. The two shared a zeal for contraception, abortion, and eugenics. In Mexico City, abortion is legal until 12 weeks, the clinics are open 7 days a week, and while it is now legal to gather outside of the clinics to pray, it is not legal to speak to a woman entering the abortion clinic. In only a few years, the campaigns have been effective – one of the three clinics we planned to pray at closed in late 2015. It was really amazing to be there. We have always found that our efforts are the most effective when people join together in peaceful prayer and witness from different churches, different cultures, and even different faiths; I had the same sense with our friends in Mexico. Tere, the 40 Days Campaign leader in Ixtapalapa told us several times that it meant so much to her and her volunteers that we would come to support them. We also heard from our tour guide that he has been guiding pilgrimages in Mexico for more than 25 years, and that our group praying with his people that had moved him to tears. Later, he shared that our request to pray at a location in his neighborhood opened his eyes to a clinic that he had not known existed. It was not only our guide and the local campaign who were moved; Kelly Hamilton, GCRTL Treasurer and volunteer with a local pregnancy help center commented, “Seeing the 40 Days for Life sign in Spanish and praying with our pro-life brothers and sisters in Mexico was humbling and motivating. This is an international prayer movement that unites pro-lifers around the world. We stand together in solidarity to protect women and the unborn from abortion.”
Our pilgrimage to Mexico happened to coincide with Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico, something which created a little additional logistical work but also gave those of us brave enough to venture out into the city one night an opportunity to see Pope Francis pass by in his motorcade. It also meant that many of the centuries-old churches and basilicas that the pilgrims visited were especially bedecked with flowers and other tributes. People have many perceptions of Mexico, and often those perceptions are not flattering, but it really is something special to be in a country where nearly the entire population is Christian and mostly Catholic. Our tour guide Javier estimated the population of Mexico to be 90-93% Catholic. While there is plenty of brightly painted pottery, a high rate of poverty, and communities suffering from corruption and cartels, our group had the opportunity to see behind the stereotypical façade to witness the faith, the art and architecture, the generosity, and the beauty of Mexico and her people. Earl Crosby, GCRTL Vice President noted, “The pilgrimage opened my eyes to how wide and deep Catholicism took root in Mexico in the 16th century. Long before Jamestown started build primitive cabins, Mexico was building magnificent cathedrals, which even today far out shine most of the cathedrals in the United States.”
The pilgrims, under the spiritual direction of Father Nick Droll, were able to spend two days at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe – the first and last days of the trip. In addition to visiting the Basilica and walking through the Doors of Mercy to view the Tilma, we went to the Old Basilica, The Church of the Indigenous, and after climbing Tepeyac Hill, The Church of the Well. The pilgrims had an opportunity to visit Tulpetlac – thus visiting all five apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We were able celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a massive church constructed in the shape of a circle with a series of side altars overlooking the rest of the church, the main altar, and the Tilma.
The group also had the opportunity to pray at some of the most beautiful churches in the world, heavily adorned with baroque and rococo paintings and carvings. Two especially stood out– The Shrine of Our Lady of Ocotlan and the Santa Prisca Cathedral. Our Lady of Octotlan is a lesser-known miraculous image of the Virgin Mary that appeared to a pious indigenous convert in the midst of a plague. The Santa Prisca Cathedral in Taxco was founded by the Dominicans and built to form a Rosary. The church and the art were stunning, to such a degree that during Mass, I found myself needing to close my eyes. It was dizzying – to witness the beauty of the Mass in a place of such beauty. I mentioned the feeling to a fellow pilgrim, and she agreed, adding: “and yet, if you think about it, our senses cannot take in this beauty, but it is nothing compared to what Heaven will be like.”
If you would like to experience more of the sights and sounds of our pilgrimage to Mexico, you can visit the trip page at www.gcrtl.org/guadalupe. We also would like to invite you to join your prayers to ours for an end to abortion by joining our spiritual adoption program. We designed 1000 prayer cards with an image of Our Lady and an invitation to spiritually adopt an unborn child at risk of abortion. We took those prayer cards with us to Mexico, where they were blessed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We would love to gift one of them to you as part of our spiritual adoption program. An alternate version of the card featuring a beautiful unborn child and fetal development information is available for those who would prefer to join the program from an ecumenical erspective. Just visit www.gcrtl.org/pray to request your card.
Thank you to all of the pilgrims who joined us, our hosts in Mexico, and especially our spiritual director for the pilgrimage, Fr. Nicholas Droll, who summed it up perfectly: “Our pilgrimage to Mexico was an amazing experience, and we thank our Blessed Lord and Our Lady of Guadalupe that we were able to witness to the sacredness of human life, even in another country, while our Holy Father was also visiting.”