The pro-life retreat held in Brooklyn, New York at the Monastery of the Precious Blood from the 28th June to the 1st of July was, for me at least, long anticipated. I had heard a rough idea of the plan when it was still very much in its infancy about 9 months beforehand. I’d entertained the notion of going but had very little hope at that time that it would become a reality. That’s just one example of how dreams do occasionally come true. I was absolutely delighted when I was told that I was definitely going and it was hard to contain my excitement. Before I knew it, I was packed off onto a plane with 30 other young Catholics from across the country.
After a long and tiring journey, we alighted at JFK airport around midnight to be welcomed by Monsignor Reilly himself along with some other generous members of the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants (which Monsignor founded) who were kind enough to convey a large group of weary, jetlagged Australians to the Monastery in Brooklyn where we were to live for the next 12 days. Aside from the retreat itself, my memories of the stay in NY are a mixture of whirlwind sight-seeing, numerous conversations and games in the dining room and many moments of quiet reflection and prayer.
We arrived at the large and beautiful Monastery at about 2 in the morning to be greeted by the unstintingly generous Sister Precious and some other ladies who help maintain the Precious Blood Monastery. We were shown to the female section of the dorm rooms, each of which was well-maintained and bore the delightful epigraph of a particular saint on its door. My room was dedicated to Saint Bernadette. We collapsed onto our beds and slept like the dead until we were awakened 4 hours later for morning Mass in town. After Mass, our group of about 50 people processed in prayer and song down to Brooklyn’s largest abortion mill. Half of the prayers and hymns were actually in Spanish due to the large proportion of Hispanic people in the prayer group. Upon arriving, we discovered a marching band there to greet us… or at least to meet us. Carrying large banners which bore various pro-choice slogans, the disorderly group of 20-30 protestors were there as our opposition. The police had placed portable metal fences about 6 or 7 metres apart behind which each group was placed facing each other; we praying and singing, they playing their instruments and chanting. I had never before experienced anything like this and found it incredibly confronting at first. However, as is usual in such circumstances, the loud and boisterous group, instead of distracting me, reminded me what I was there for and in fact, served to help me focus on my prayers. Later on I discovered that their entire show was actually a disadvantage to their movement and to the abortion mill as several women intending to have abortions that morning were put off by the entire display and, thanks to the counselling of Monsignor Reilly and other members of the Helpers, chose to keep their babies. I heard that there were seven turnarounds that morning.
The actual retreat began on Tuesday and ran for four very intensive days. Our day began at 7:30 with Mass; the talks began at 9:15 and ran until around 6 pm, including lunch (preceded by the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel) as well as one or two small breaks in between. Following the talks, dinner was served after which we had some free time to spend as we wished. Monsignor also showed us a few DVDs of his talks and some of the vigils. When this finished, we gathered in the Chapel once again for evening prayer in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. They were very full days.
A few times during our stay we returned to pray outside the abortion mill. I was privileged to have the opportunity to counsel alongside Monsignor for a while.
We had several guest speakers come to talk to us on different areas of the pro-life movement but the real highlight for me was hearing Monsignor speak. I had heard him only once before at World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. I have never forgotten his talk which inspired and moved me and caused me to view the pro-life movement in a new light. What I mainly took from that talk erased the “us versus them” mentality which I had always had and never questioned. Instead, Monsignor encouraged us all to see the pro-abortion advocates as still God’s children but merely wayward and needing to be loved and prayed for. This was a large focus-area for his talks during the retreat. He based his lectures on a book of his, a copy of which he gave to each of us. This book was composed of 5 different essays detailing every aspect of the culture of death – its history, every major person responsible for its progression, the underlying aims of proponents of the culture of death, as well as the history of the pro-life movement. He also went into the biology of conception and the cycle of life as well as the psychological and emotional experience of a woman going to the abortion mill and his method of counselling someone in such a state.
Each essay was astounding in the information it gave, coloured and brought to life by Monsignor’s spoken anecdotes and related stories. This book, simply called “A Compendium of Presentations by Msgr, Philip J. Reilly” is an absolute must-read for all pro-lifers and Catholics. In fact, if the whole world read this book, the culture of death would surely change completely so vital are the information and the facts detailed in its pages. (Editor: Msgr Reilly’s book is your free gift this month with donations over $80. Thank-you for your generosity.)
His talks were absolutely enthralling. For such a busy man, I knew we were incredibly blessed to have him all to ourselves for those four days not to mention the time he made himself totally available to us for confession or even just private chats. He had a tendency to refer to personal stories that were relevant to whatever we were currently discussing but he is such a brilliant storyteller that I found myself engrossed in each one! He revealed such a huge amount of experience in so many areas that I discovered my admiration and respect for this wonderful man were constantly growing and I could feel the same happening to my companions. I have learned so much from this wonderful experience and I know I will never forget it. My heartfelt thanks to Family Life International for giving me this unique opportunity and to all those who contributed financially to allow myself and others to go. I don’t know who these people are but I can never thank them enough.