When I arrived on Fifth Avenue in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral the Saturday after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the first thing I noticed were the closed bronze doors, the barricades and the police presence. Once the so-called Women’s March got started, Sisters of Life and Franciscan Friars of the Renewal were a welcoming committee to anyone who wanted to pray.
And miracles happened that day, some between God and woman, others I heard a word or two about after, including the confession that was long in coming for an abortion, a post-abortion-healing retreat in her future. Others walked through the cathedral quietly, sat in pews before the Eucharistic Lord exposed on the main altar. Security guards appropriately insisted they leave their signs behind but many a pink hat certainly made it through.
When he opened a previously scheduled afternoon of prayer the Sisters of Life had organized (their first choice had been the next day, the actual 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision), Bishop John J. O’Hara, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, begged God for mercy and healing and peace. In stirring remarks, he urged those gathered to dedicate themselves to prayer and penance for reparation and healing in a culture on full display on the city streets.
With Trump Tower just up the block, the whole scene seemed to be overflowing with … everything. Many there for prayer expressed their confusion to me about what the protest was even about. Obviously, Trump. But it was more than that. “I Stand with Planned Parenthood.” Handmade signs expressed every kind of unhappiness; a few signs simply said “#SAD.” Women’s rights, human rights, pro-love. When I saw the sign urging men to stop contributing to violence and a girl of about 5 years old wearing a sign explaining that girls are people, too, I found myself praying all the harder for common ground to be seen. If we want to talk human dignity and peace, we have common ground. “Love trumps hate,” many signs declared. And Love himself was on display most of the afternoon inside this temple of God in the middle of all the commotion.
Even as Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan celebrated the evening Mass, you could hear the protesters and sirens as it was winding down. The Gospel and the homily were about hope. Thanks be to God.
The demonstrations that day, and every conversation I seemed to get myself into or overhear, suggest that people are paying more attention to politics under Trump. Some are excited with the prospects of the newness of a nonpolitician. Many are worried. Others, as you’ve seen on the streets or in the news, are unhappy, to say the least.
When a previously scheduled afternoon of prayer at the only time available on the St. Patrick’s Cathedral schedule coincided with the biggest news story of the day, the message seemed to be clear: This is a time for prayer. Mercy and healing will happen if we cooperate with God. Whomever you voted for, pray for the president, pray for your neighbor, pray for strangers. Pray! Alongside love, it is our strength.
Eucharistic adoration. Confession. The Rosary. The Mass. And radiant women of mercy and mission standing on the side steps, welcoming. This was the best use of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the powerhouse on Fifth dubbed “America’s Parish Church,” on the day of the Women’s March. Providentially timed. Not to be forgotten.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review, and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).