The Austrian Angle
The winds of war have blown over the cobblestone streets of Vienna before. The city saw fighting in both World Wars.
But today a new kind of battle is raging here. One need only observe that a Life Care Center of Human Life International (HLI) is situated just two doors away from the largest abortion business in all Austria.
The first Saturday of each month, HLI-Austria leads a morning of prayer for the unborn. Peter Colosi, a philosophy professor at the Austrian campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville, has been active in these vigils since last summer. He explains that the Saturday program begins with 7:30 a.m. Mass at a famous Franciscan church. After Mass, adoration begins and the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary are begun. After the first mystery, the group makes a 10-minute walk, with police escorts, to the abortion business. Participants pray the Rosary aloud as they process.
The group stops at the cross street of the business, with the center in full view, and continues praying. At the third Glorious Mystery, the crowd walks back to the church where the Rosary is completed and Benediction offered.
“Then we go to the life center for coffee and cake,” explains Colosi, ”and to get to know each other better,” Americans and Austrians.
Colosi was active in the pro-life cause while living in the United States, praying the Rosary peacefully in front of abortion businesses. His efforts in Austria began recently. “I met some of the people involved in full-time pro-life work when I lived in Vienna for two months last summer,” he recalls. “I was so moved that I started doing the work with them.”
Franciscan University student Linda Tran organized the students’ participation, in cooperation with HLI, last December. Her involvement in pro-life ministry started when she began classes at Franciscan in the fall of 2003.
Colosi directed Tran to the HLI Life Care Center in Vienna, where she volunteered several times during her almost four months studying overseas in the fall of 2005 with Steubenville’s study-abroad program.
“As a freshman in college [at a different university], I only saw the logic in abortion and was completely pro-choice,” says Tran. “During my sophomore year, that all quickly changed when my best friend became pregnant. She was encouraged to abort the baby — and so she did.”
In her encounters with this friend the year following, Tran saw firsthand the effects of postpartum depression, suicidal thoughts and crumbling relationships. “That year, my life changed,” she says. “My eyes opened and I could never again ignore the destruction that is caused by [abortion].”
Sylvia Jimenez is a full-time volunteer with HLI-Austria. “HLI’s main work revolves out of its crisis-pregnancy centers, which are named Lebenszentrum (Life Centers),” she says, adding that there are crisis-pregnancy centers in Vienna, Graz and Salzburg. Each center has a chapel for perpetual Eucharistic adoration, which, says Jimenez, is considered “the power source of the work. The team of volunteers and employees regularly gets together for holy Mass, communal prayer and catechesis. All of the crisis-pregnancy centers are located near the largest abortion mills in each city.”
The Life Center in Vienna, headed by Dietmar Fischer, uses a method of pro-life evangelization developed by Msgr. Philip Reilly. “What I love about Msgr. Reilly’s approach is that it is primarily focused on the salvation of souls,” says Jimenez. “He explains that, while we try to save the lives of the babies, we should be primarily concerned about the spiritual lives of all those involved in abortion and contraception, because they run the risk of losing eternal life.”
Msgr. Reilly has been doing pro-life work for more than 40 years. He established the ministry Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, which is gaining popularity in many areas of the world.
For her part, Jimenez was trained in sidewalk counseling by Msgr. Reilly. “I fell in love with the work and spirituality,” she says.
While pro-life work is alive and active in many areas of the world, there are different laws and legislation under which individuals may stand up for the unborn. In Austria, the government recently enacted very strict laws restricting what pro-life people can do in front of an abortion business.
“It is easier than ever to get yourself arrested now,” says Colosi. “For this reason we never do any counseling or praying on our own; we only do it with Human Life International Austria; they know all the laws and obey them.”
He explains that the point of the group is prayer. “We never talk with any of the women going in, or with anyone,” he adds. “The only thing we do is pray.”
One of Austria’s new laws prohibits standing in front of, or even across the street from, the site in a group of three or more people for any length of time.
Tran views the vigil she helped organize for Franciscan University as a success — not necessarily because of results but because of the habit of Christian service into which the activity launched her.
“Usually when in Gaming (the location of Franciscan University’s Austria campus), students don’t think about doing service,” she says. “They are busy planning where to travel next. I believe the success we accomplished wasn’t something extravagantly heroic; it was that we made it out there, participated and opened up our hearts. It was the fact that professors and other staff members helped in the process. It wasn’t about the battle itself — it was about the journey.”
Niki Kalpakgian writes from