Stakes High for the ‘Shield’
Christendom College’s Shield of Roses has been praying and counseling in front of abortion clinics since 1982. The students show no signs of pulling back now. By Anthony Flott.
In a sense, Paul Wilson began fighting abortion before he even left the womb.
“My mother was told that I would be born mentally retarded,” says Wilson, a sophomore at Christendom College in Front Royal, Va. “Her doctor was really, really, really badly pushing abortion. She was dead-set against me coming into the world.”
Wilson made it and he’s still fighting for life. Today he is president of Christendom’s Shield of Roses, a robust pro-life student group that each Saturday witnesses at an abortion clinic in the nation’s capital.
“I would prefer not to have to do it, but someone needs to,” Wilson says. “You have to act on being pro-life. It doesn’t do any good to just be something if you’re not going to try to get some problems changed.”
Christendom students have been trying to solve the problem of abortion almost since the college’s inception 30 years ago. Shield of Roses formed in 1982. For hundreds of Saturdays since, Christendom students have faithfully carried “the Shield” to Planned Parenthood’s Marjorie Schumacher Center in downtown Washington, D.C.
Saturdays begin early, with a 7 a.m. Mass on campus. Afterward, the group of participating students — usually around 40-strong — pile into one of the college’s passenger vans and the cars of fellow students.
Promotions on what Wilson calls “Mega Shield Days” might attract 100 or more — close to a quarter of the college’s enrollment. “Everyone here is pro-life,” says Wilson.
Once at the clinic, the students split into two groups. Most gather for song and prayer: all 20 mysteries of the Rosary, intercessory requests, the Litany of Loreto and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
A smaller group of around six coeds, meanwhile, heads for the clinic as sidewalk counselors. Counseling is peaceful, tactful — and realistic. “You establish eye contact and say a few words,” says senior Cassidy Burgos, who estimates she’s attended 100 Shield Saturdays.
Even such minimal contact is difficult to establish, as clinic escorts talk over the counselors, usher women past them or even “push us back,” says Burgos. She estimates that three to 10 escorts are usually there, most of them 20-somethings.
Knowing escorts will show, she says, motivates her to rise from bed. “We can’t pride ourselves on [our presence]; they’re out there, too. I wake up at 6:30 and I can think of many reasons not to go on, and I know the escorts will be there.”
Katherine Kujawski, a Christendom junior and head of sidewalk counseling, is responsible for training and monitoring fellow counselors, who are shown a video illustrating practical aspects of sidewalk counseling. Students offer women information on crisis-pregnancy centers and other help. They also show a model of an 11-week-old unborn child.
Last year, Shield of Roses began a new effort. While most of the students return to campus, three or four stay behind and wait for women to emerge after their presumed abortions.
“Nearly every woman will stop and pray with us for a little while and we can give them a few phone numbers, someone to talk to later,” says Burgos. “We may not be able to save any lives, but, if we can just be open for these women to turn to in their suffering, they know they won’t be alone.”
Some lives are saved, though, as a result of the students’ witness — women either leaving the clinic after entering or not going in at all.
Saves are big news on campus. “They’ll announce it in the lunchroom,” notes Father John Heisler, Christendom’s chaplain. “The cheering that takes place, you’d think the basketball team just won the conference championship.”
Shield of Roses has prompted Christendom students to pro-life actions beyond Washington, D.C., too. About 25 were bused to Florida to pray and protest outside Terry Schiavo’s hospice; others traveled to Washington, D.C., to counter the pro-abortion “March for Women’s Lives.” And each year a large contingent joins in the March for Life.
Christendom students agree that the group has strengthened their faith. Kujawski synopsizes their witness when he says the experience has “helped to build even a stronger trust in God. You have to trust in him when you’re out there and when no one turns around. It’s in his mercy and in his providence. They’ll only turn around and only listen to you in correspondence to the grace that they react to.”
Such commitment and spiritual depth is no surprise to Father Heisler, who says Christendom students come to the college more ready to defend life than were students of his generation.
There’s a sense, he says, “that they have lost friends that they could have known. And so they’re championing for friends.”
Anthony Flott writes from