The UK’s Pro-Life Drama Unfolds

The UK’s Pro-Life Drama Unfolds

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Alfie Evans dies the day before an historic Rosary on the Coast, followed by thousands marching for life through the streets of London on the Feast of the English Martyrs.

The timing couldn’t have been more high profile. Within a few short days, the question of life issues, long suppressed in one of the world’s most secular countries, suddenly took center stage.

First, toddler Alfie Evans was denied permission to seek treatment in Italy by a UK court and died in Liverpool’s Alder Hey hospital on Friday, April 28. Coming less than a year after baby Charlie Gard died in similar circumstances, the UK media reluctantly covered the controversy, releasing a firestorm of contention on social media concerning that society’s respect for life.

The very next day, more than 40,000 Catholics gathered along the coastlines of Scotland, England, Wales and Cornwall to pray the rosary for life and faith.  And on May 4, the Feast of the English Martyrs*, the sunny streets of London were suddenly filled with pro-life marchers, as thousands of (mostly) young people streamed into Trafalgar Square to protest 50 years of abortion.

 REGINA caught up with Rosary on the Coast organizer JP Mallon in Scotland and photographer Clare Short in London for photos and views on what’s been happening there.

Bishop John Keenan was an enthusiastic supporter of the Rosary on the Coast.

REGINA: The UK is one of the most aggressively secular countries in the world. How did this idea of a Rosary on the coastline start? 

JP MALLON: The idea of the Rosary here came primarily from the Consecration of Scotland last year and from the inspiration of our Catholic brothers and sisters in Poland and Ireland. Antonia Moffat of the Walsingham Shrine was in attendance at the Consecration of Scotland along with the rest of the Rosary Committee and after discussion with Bishop John Keenan of Paisley the idea began to form. A small committee was formed in February and here we are!

HYTHE, KENT HOSTED TWO BUSLOADS FROM LONDON. It never stopped raining and driving winds, but everyone stayed.

REGINA: What were the initial expectations for its success? Were they borne out?

JP MALLON: Initially we as Sancta Familia Media were asked to get involved in organising. We saw the huge response in Ireland and Poland and to be honest we never believed it would have caught on as much as it did!

WELLS ON SEA: Hundreds of Catholics  gathered around Walsingham on a bitterly cold day  lashed with rain. Here, a priest and a parishioner with the famous statue of Our Lady of Walsingham.

REGINA: Against what kind of background did this take place? What is the state of the Faith in the UK overall? 

JP MALLON: The faith in the UK is not in a good place compared to figures from the 1950s and 60s. In many places Catholicism is cultural rather than devout with the vast majority of Catholics no longer practising. The remnants of the faith are not much more beyond a child getting photographs for First Communion. Many do not get baptised and some now turn down Confirmation!

BISHOP CUNNINGHAM LED THREE HUNDRED CATHOLICS to the coast from Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.

REGINA: Pretty grim.

JP MALLON: However in Scotland, against this gloomy backdrop there are shoots of hope. The visit of Pope Benedict in 2010 did increase interest in the Church. Many of our new seminarians credit him as their inspiration and incidentally we have our highest number of seminarians in 20 years!

 

WHITESAND'S BAY, ST DAVID'S, WALES on an absolutely glorious, sunny day attracted 15 Catholics including two Sisters of Mercy 

REGINA: Now, that is interesting.

JP MALLON: Pope Benedict spoke often of a much leaner Church; this is the reality we may face. However it must be noted that as society in general becomes more skeptical of faith, the number of practising Catholics has remained steady compared to other Christian denominations whose numbers are plummeting in Scotland.

PLUSCARDEN ABBEY IN SCOTLAND: Eleven members of the community, together with some resident guests, gathered by the Black Burn (stream) which  flows into the River Lossie, and thence into the North Sea.

REGINA: So, 500 years after the Scottish Reformation, the Catholic Church is stronger than the protestant denominations there. Incredible.

JP MALLON: It seems more youth are interested in our great and ancient Church traditions which has lead to a revival in the devotional life and can only bear much fruit.

Fr PILLARI FROM LANHERNE CARMELITE CONVENT, ST MAWGAN CORNWALL leads the Rosary on their beach in stunning weather.

REGINA: The Alfie Evans case galvanized public opinion globally on respect for life. Do you think the case had an effect on participation?

JP MALLON: Our campaign started before this tragic case gained national attention. Our Campaign encompassed faith, life and peace so I'm sure many who gathered had Alfie on their minds but in truth we did not notice many comments about the case on our channels or emails. In fact the case dominated social media and national news in the days before our Rosary so we may have gained more coverage if it were not for this very sad story. 

Archbishop Longley leading Rosary on the Coast in the Oxford Oratory with Fr. Daniel Saward in the background.

REGINA: So, the Faith is holding steady, and Catholic youth want Tradition. Is it true that the Rosary was an idea of the laity and that the senior hierarchy only signed on later?

JP MALLON: Yes, this was run by the laity, but of course we were aware we needed Church backing and spiritual protection. We were truly blessed that within a short time of launching our online campaign spearheaded spiritually by Bishop Keenan and backed by ALL the Scottish Bishops, we had quick endorsement from Cardinal Nichols of Westminster and Pope Francis. From then on nearly all the Bishops of the UK endorsed and promoted this via email and ad clerums.

DYSART CONVENT CARMEL (CONVENT), Dysart, near Kirkcaldy. The Carmelite sisters opened their gardens so Catholics could join them overlooking St Serfs Tower and the Firth of Forth.

 REGINA: Was there more or less enthusiasm for this event in particular areas?

JP MALLON: What amazed me was that the ENTIRE coast was filled by over 400+ locations. Brian and myself were extremely strict with what we marked as a Rosary location on our map. Many hundreds did not fill in details correctly so perhaps half the locations were missed.

What was clear was how quickly our islands from the very far north of Scotland to the Channel islands at the South of England wanted to be involved. My diocese of Motherwell has in fact no coast, it was the only landlocked Diocese in Scotland yet we had dozens of full bus coaches heading to the nearest beach! 

 Marchers descend on London, May 4 (PHOTO CREDIT: CLARE SHORT)

REGINA: The date chosen was the 50 year anniversary of the UK abortion law. What effect has that law had on Catholics and on the Faith in general, do you think?

JP MALLON: The 1967 Abortion law is our national wound. We are an ageing population; we rely on immigration from the EU to boost our economy. The number of babies lost over the last 50 years is now noticeable. As we increasingly age as a society and turn to abortion and contraception we will increase the stress on our cherished public services. 

(PHOTO CREDIT: CLARE SHORT)

REGINA: Your generation has a different view on abortion than the generations that campaigned for it as an essential woman’s ‘right’, it seems.

JP MALLON: Abortion is profoundly anti-woman. It was billed as the solution to illegal dodgy abortions and we always hear about the hard cases but the figures tell a different story. The vast majority of abortions carried out are unwanted pregnancies in many cases forced or coerced by family, friends and non- committed fathers. 

(PHOTO CREDIT: CLARE SHORT)

REGINA: Your generation has a different view on abortion than the generations that campaigned for it as an essential woman’s ‘right’, it seems.

JP MALLON: Abortion is profoundly anti-woman. It was billed as the solution to illegal dodgy abortions and we always hear about the hard cases but the figures tell a different story. The vast majority of abortions carried out are unwanted pregnancies in many cases forced or coerced by family, friends and non- committed fathers. 

BLACKPOOL: A crowd of Catholics on the sidewalk of the famous seaside resort listen intently as the new Bishop of Lancashire, Paul Swarbrick, speaks.

REGINA: There’s a big atheist movement in the UK, which imagines itself to be informed only by ‘science’ and ‘reason’.

JP MALLON: I wonder why science and reason does not inform the debate? Yet we Catholics are the ones against reason apparently. What gives us great hope is that it seems the younger generation of Catholics are much more brave in challenging the status quo and speaking out about the reality of 50 years of the Culture of Death.

*HISTORICAL NOTE:  The 4th May is the Feast of The English Martyrs. Many Englishmen and women, priests, religious and lay, were put to death during Penal Times in 16th and 17th centuries. It was High Treason for a Catholic priest to offer Mass and for anyone to assist or shelter them – punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering.

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