Lent is a good time to recharge your spiritual batteries. In my case, I didn’t have to go far to accomplish that two Fridays ago. All it took was an eight-block walk down First Avenue from our offices in the New York Catholic Center to Holy Family Church, also known as the U.N. Parish, on East 47th Street, between First and Second avenues.
I arrived well ahead of time, so I stayed outside for a bit on the pleasant March 15 evening. From a bench on Daj Hammerskjold Plaza across the street from Holy Family, I watched people gather on the church steps ahead of a Holy Hour for Life that evening. An email just a few days earlier announced the fifth annual event, which featured a reflection by Cardinal Dolan.
The Holy Hour was held during the recent U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. It is the most important lobbying event for the international pro-life movement, according to an organizer of the Holy Hour. Almost all of the 200 people inside the church were at least two decades younger than me. Despite the age difference, I felt right at home. Father Gerald Murray, the pastor of Holy Family, was also present as well as Franciscan Friars of the Renewal who took leading parts in the Eucharistic Adoration. Other pro-life groups such as Frassati Fellowship of NYC, Be Human, Heroic Media and The Familia Institute participated, too.
Stephen Rooney, of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, who is a seminarian at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, served as master of ceremonies. He set the tone for the Holy Hour when he invited everyone present to bring “to Jesus” whatever they had been going through recently.
The Holy Hour had many beautiful moments. Those in the pews were invited to write a prayer intention on small slips of paper provided. They were asked to bring the intention to the altar along with a tiny electric votive candle. They knelt there to pray along with others who had done the same. As they did, the lines of reflective hymns wafted gently down from the choir loft: “Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ, You Will Reign Forever.”
A friar carried the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament throughout each part of the church, stopping close to each person seated in the pews.
Cardinal Dolan, in his reflection, thanked the organizers and those gathered for the Holy Hour for Life “for the insight” that the protection of human life is such “a burning, noble goal” and “the forces aligned against us are so powerful” that the only way “we’ll ultimately conquer is through the power of prayer.”
Other methods such as political, social, cultural, advocacy and alternatives should not be discounted, the cardinal said, but added they would be much less effective without prayer. “If those good things are not grounded in our faith, in our prayer for the conversion of hearts, including our own, then they are probably going to be fruitless,” Cardinal Dolan said.
Joe Austin, one of the Holy Hour’s lead organizers from the beginning, was a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary at Columbia University five years ago. He brought many students with him to the first Holy Hour. He now lives in another city with his wife, Samantha, but they continue to return to New York. “It’s a way we can encourage a prayerful approach to the pro-life movement,” he said in a phone interview two days later.
The Holy Hour relies on many pro-life organizations and people. In the second year, confessions began to be offered; this year four priests were present to administer the sacrament, in Spanish as well as English. This year, Austin wrote Cardinal Dolan a letter months ago inviting him to preach. He figured he would “take a shot,” and he received an affirmative response. The next morning the cardinal celebrated St. Patrick’s Day Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“The tradition organically formed over time,” Austin said. “We want people to follow the Holy Spirit and the kinds of healing He wants to provide.”