A French commentator has claimed that the recent French ban on "street prayer" was a critical factor last Saturday's attack on a peaceful pro-life protest in Paris. More than 200 pro-abortion militants from the Partie de Gauche attacked a small group of pro-life advocates who were protesting peacefully and legally outside a hospital that has recently resumed performing abortions (see the full story here). The pro-lifers, from SOS Tout-petits had to be protected by police who were forced to charge to leftist militants on two occasions in order to protect the group of seven pro-lifers praying the Rosary. The militants mocked the pro-life protesters, shouted blasphemous slogans, insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary and slandered the Catholic Church. They physically and verbally attacked protesters on several occasions; "it was pure hatred" said a witness.
Eyewitness and photographer Anne Kerjean, writing on Nephtar et Nephtali, points out that the leftists have never before taken the risk of mounting a counter-demonstration until the ban on street prayers came into force. This view is supported by the call to action on the Partie de Gauche website which refers to SOS-Tout-petits as "Catholic fundamentalists" and, with reference to the proposed Rosary protest, declares that "the Partie Gauche reminds you that religion has no right to interfere in our secular republic and denounces the fundamentalists who attack women's rights." Anne Kerjean writes that within a day of the ban on street prayer legislation, the Partie Gauche "demonstrated their cowardice by physically and verbally attacking a small group of men and women who were, thankfully, well protected by numerous policemen".
She had intended to join the protest, but lost her way and, arriving late, was bewildered to find a large and belligerently aggressive crowd shouting pro-abortion and anti-Catholic slogans where she had expected to find a small, quiet group praying the rosary. Blending into the crowd she took photos, trying get a record of this unexpected event. As she came through the crowd she spotted a line of police officers in riot gear and realised that behind them were seven pro-lifers, quietly praying the Rosary. they looked frightened, and she exchanged glances and smiles of recognition with them. Unfortunately this gave her away as one of the "enemy" and she found herself physically attacked by leftists demanding that she give them her camera; she reports that she was grabbed, pushed and hit, and had several people trying to take her camera and backpack from her while screaming abuse. The police intervened and put her in the "safe zone" with the pro-life protesters; she was later escorted to safety alone by the police.She has put her photos of the event online, and has subsequently been inundated by abuse and threats from members of the Partie Gauche.
Another witness, Jean Vincent at Lesalonbeige, reports that there was originally a larger group of pro-life protesters but that they were split up by aggressive action by the Partie Gauche, leaving the group of seven "stranded" against the hospital railings - cornered (which is why they needed police protection). This second group were (deliberately) prevented from joining the rest of the pro-life group by the Partie Gauche extremists, but managed were to pray the rosary unimpeded until the 4th decade when they were pelted with eggs by the pro-abortion group which then attacked them from two sides. The police were confused by the tactic, and the protesters were outnumbered more than 5 to 1. The priest who was leading the Rosary and several others were assaulted, thrown to the ground and beaten.
"It is one thing to disagree" writes Jean Vincent, "but to attack peaceful people, praying the Rosary, with a ratio of five to one is shameful".
Anne Kerjean notes that the groups that had a "call to action" against the Rosary protest included Alternative libertaire, Les marxistes révolutionnaires, Le parti de gauche, L'Union Syndicale Solidaire, Le front de gauche, and Les anarchistes de Montreuil -- or as she puts it wryly "...feminists, transexuals, homosexuals ... and not there for a Techno-Parade -- they were all there for us!"
We saw extraordinary pictures recently from Madrid of warped protesters verbally attacking children praying in the public arena; last Saturday in Paris it seems that the public recitation of the Rosary was as much a motivator to the pro-abortion rainbow coalition as anything else. I've not commented until now on the French law banning street prayer because I've not been sure how I've felt about it. on one hand I sympathise with those who do not want roads provocatively taken over by Muslims on Friday afternoons: this is the supposed motivation behind the legislation. On the other hand, Christine at Laudem Gloriae makes the apt point that the new law could be just as easily applied to a Eucharistic procession or the Paris-Chartres pilgrimage. I think that it's essential that prayer remains in the public sphere, that prayer doesn't become something invisible, something that only happens behind closed doors between consenting adults. So what can we, the average pewsitter, do about this? Here are a few ideas: say grace when you're out in public. No, it isn't rude or weird or antisocial. Nobody bats an eyelid when people raise a glass of wine in a toast; how much more important is making the sign of the cross, saying grace, and then making the sign of the cross again?! Over the years our family has grown in boldness with this: we used to only say grace if we were in a semi-public space -- having a picnic for example. Then we started saying it in restaurants, and now we say it everywhere. Nobody has ever taken offense -- if we're in a home where grace isn't said, we'll say "we usually say grace at home before a meal, do you mind if we do the same here?" Nobody has ever minded. My husband and I say grace before our meal when we eat out together; we don't flaunt it, but nor do we hide it. We just say it. OK, perhaps somebody somewhere will think we're a bit odd, but more importantly it's a witness to our Faith, to Our Lord, and is a small sacrifice to make for all the good things that we've been given.
I was recently at the Treasures of Heaven exhibition at the British Museum with a small group of families on a tour led by a priest. As there are many relics, including more than one relic of the True Cross, we were reminded that these are objects worthy of veneration, not simply "exhibits". Accordingly the priest led us all in adoration of the relic of the True Cross. It was humbling and powerful to kneel and pray in that secular space. I suspect that some people viewing the exhibition might have been a little taken aback, but I'd be surprised if anyone had been offended. I don't know if I would have had the courage to do that if I'd been at the exhibition on my own, but I felt that kneeling and praying before a relic of the cross on which Our Lord suffered and died provided both a powerful witness whilst buttressing my faith.
Public prayer can be awkward whether you're used to it or not. Human beings have a natural fear of ridicule, of looking silly, of contempt by our fellow humans. But here's a thought to bolster your courage: look at the photo at the top of this page. Next time you feel sheepish about saying grace in Starbucks or Pizza Express, just think about the seven frail elderly people praying the Rosary surrounded by a violent and baying mob. A few funny looks isn't much to put up with really, is it?