"A long way from a pitchforked mob". That is how the student newspaper for the University of East Anglia summed up the 40 Days for Life vigil here in Norwich, which finished yesterday.
If you go on their website (the publication is called Concrete, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the campus' architectural, erm, brutality), you will not find they have any particularly vested interested in speaking favourably of the pro-life movement. The author of the article admits that, "similarly to most students, I have a relatively pro-choice leaning". But what struck him about the 40 Days was how peaceful it was.
Indeed, over the five weeks the vigil was hosted outside the abortion clinic at the Community Hospital on Bowthorpe Road, others passing by confessed that they expected to find something else. A shouting crowd waving slogans and shoving literature in people's faces perhaps? Instead, they found groups of two or three people quietly praying next to signs that said things like "Pregnant? Worried? Can we help?"
This is in accordance with the positive vision of 40 Days for Life, expressed on the campaign's website: "to access God's power through prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil to end abortion".
By now this international campaign has the benefit of 10 years' experience, and it takes place in cities across all six inhabited continents. This Lent was its introduction to our own diocese.
Who knows what the results will be? To date, 90 abortion facilities have closed and 14,000 mothers have kept their babies because of similar vigils. Even if only one woman felt affirmed and loved enough to change her mind and keep her baby by seeing our witness in Norwich that, for me, would be good enough reason to have taken part.
But one immediate fruit of the vigil here was the number of passers-by who came to thank us for doing it. I don't think we realise the number of people who are silently unconvinced that legalised abortion is in the interests of the child or the mother, or of relationships, families, and society at large. And such public vigils encourage people to know they are not alone. But if convinced people like us hide our lamp under a bushel, how will the darkness of the status quo be ended?
Pictured above is the group on the final day of the vigil outside the abortion clinic in Norwich.