BROOKLYN, N.Y.—The Helpers of God's Precious Infants didn't celebrate their 10th anniversary with a champagne cruise down the Hudson.
They marked it with their regular meeting — at the Ambulatory Surgery Center in Brooklyn, a large, pink-faced medical facility that specializes in abortions.
The event was typical: Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Daily began the morning with Mass for about 350 congregants at St. Michael's Church. After Mass, the Blessed Sacrament was left exposed on the altar of the Church for some to keep vigil. The rest walked to the center, praying 15 decades of the rosary and singing hymns. The helpers use no slogans or images, except for our Lady of Guadalupe. The event ended with silent prayer at the clinic.
Only one thing was different at the 10th anniversary prayer vigil: A group of 30 transvestites taunted the Helpers on the way to Mass, throughout the procession, and then gathered in a police-built pen on the near side of the abortion clinic to heckle them.
“The transvestites were placed behind this barrier,” said Kathleen O'Connell, a New York attorney who was present for the vigil. “They had signs and whistles and noisemakers, and they were singing obscene songs to the tune of Christian hymns.”
“This went on for an hour; really, it was amazing,” O'Connell said, “a startling contrast” between harassment and prayer.
The abortion facility's administrator saw it differently. “I think that's a stretch to use the word prayer,” said Frank Monk, who has been at the center since 1997.
“There is some prayer that goes on [at the vigils] but there are other activities that the patients complain about bitterly,” he said. “They indicate that they have been bothered and harassed. They resent it. They prefer to enter a licensed surgical facility without impediment.”
Monk claimed that Brooklyn's Msgr. Philip Reilly — the founder of the Helpers — is himself guilty of harassing the women. “He does it,” Monk said. “It is extremely unpleasant for the clients.”
Msgr. Reilly, who, for the past several years has spent at least six hours a day in front of the clinic when he is not traveling to teach his methods of prayerful protest, denies Monk's charges flatly. “It's a lie,” Msgr. Reilly told the Register.
He said his purpose is to pray at the center and to offer alternatives to the women seeking an abortion.
These women, Msgr. Reilly said, are often in very difficult situations and are under a lot of pressure. “But because we treat them with dignity,” he said there are “a tremendous number of turnarounds.”
Ten Octobers ago, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Msgr. Reilly joined a group that, in his own words, consisted of “two grandmothers, a grandfather and a working girl.”
Their mission, they said, was to show the face of Christ to everyone involved in the daily routine of the abortion clinic, doctors, clients, nurses and police. The peaceful group didn't realize it at the time, but it was laying the seeds for a revolution in the pro-life movement.
Operation Rescue, with its “take-no-prisoners” style, was in its heyday. The thought of prayerfully winning over the hearts of abortion providers and their clients was viewed by many people in the pro-life movement as ineffective.
For the media and the courts, the image of militant pro-lifers has remained. But since then, thousands of men and women have quietly enlisted in the “Reilly method” of fasting and prayer for conversions of heart.
“I believe this is most effective method because of it is most in tune with God's design,” said Msgr. Reilly. “The greatest evil of abortion is not the 38 million babies that have died — that's a physical evil that happens to the babies.
“In God's eyes, the greater evil is occurs in the hearts of those who do not die physically, but who put the children to death.”
Bishop Daily, who was honored by the Helpers after the Oct. 9 anniversary vigil for his support of the group, was the first American bishop to participate in a prayer vigil with the Helpers. That was nine years ago. Since then, he has participated on more than 100 vigils. To date, more than 60 America bishops have followed his lead, with the numbers growing steadily each year.
Bishop Daily attributed the effectiveness and growth of the Helpers to the centrality of conversion to their mission. “Msgr. Reilly knows the meaning of prayer and penance,” Bishop Daily told the Register. “He also knows the meaning of activism in the proper sense. That's what turns people's minds around. Dialogue is one thing, but it has to be backed up by prayer and penance.”
Commenting on the rapid growth of the Helpers' philosophy — which is now being promoted in Eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand — Msgr. Reilly said, “God is doing it. I wait for the call and just try to follow where he leads me.”