Throughout my journey with the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa across North America in defense of life, I’ve been to many wonderful places surrounded by amazing people. One place I wasn’t planning to end up when we started this historic trip was in prison.
On Monday of this week, on the eve of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the From Ocean to Ocean Pilgrimage made a special stop at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario, Canada. The main purpose of the visit was to bring the Black Madonna icon of Our Blessed Mother to Mary Wagner, a young woman who is in jail for her pro-life activism. Mary engages in peaceful and non-violent civil disobedience by offering her gentle and loving support to women at abortion facilities in order to persuade them to choose life. She was arrested in 2012 after she entered the waiting room of an abortion facility in Toronto and offered help to any woman who would choose life for their babies.
The charges against Mary: “Mischief: interference with lawful enjoyment/operation of a business,” and the breach of a probation order that prohibits her from being within 200 meters from any abortion facility in Ontario. Since beginning her campaign of civil disobedience, Mary has been arrested six times, and has spent over three years in prison.
I offered Mass at the prison for about 25 inmates, guards, nurses, administrators and visitors, concelebrating with Father Allan Varlaki from nearby Holy Rosary Parish. This was only the second Mass Mary was able to attend since her arrest on August 12, 2012. Everyone seemed to be moved by the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, and they were grateful that the Black Madonna, after visiting so many nations (26 now), would come to them. (This was not the first prison that the pilgrim icon has visited. Our Lady also visited another prison for women in Madrid, Spain.)
In my homily, I stressed the mercy of God and how the icon reminds us of our human dignity no matter what sins we may have committed in the past. The gold in the icon of Jasna Gora is symbolic of heavenly glory and eternity. An icon always represents a resurrected or transfigured person that has overcome sin and death. Jesus took on our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and died on the cross to reclaim our human dignity. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross takes away the sins of the world. There is no sin that God is unable or unwilling to forgive if we turn to him with a humble, contrite heart and ask for his forgiveness.
The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa reminds us that God is not to be feared with a servile fear. He comes to us as a child in the arms of his mother. Mary looks upon us with eyes of mercy. Jesus is love and mercy itself.
We also prayed that Canadian laws would respect life, and for sinners to know and accept the love and mercy of God. Not everyone who attended was Catholic, but everyone was invited to come forward to receive a blessing if they could not receive Holy Communion. All the inmates thanked me for the visit. One prisoner told me that she had changed her life around and wanted to become a Catholic!
After Communion, John Bulsza, who significantly contributed to the organization of this visit, read the following letter from Fr. Piotr Baltarowicz, pastor of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Siemylow, Poland:
Here is your Mother.
Thank you, Jesus, for Mary, your mother, for her good heart. Thanks to her love, our hearts become good, tender, beautiful…
I am happy that today in Vanier Centre for Women is present the icon of Our Lady of Czȩstochowa. Personally I join with you, at this moment, through the Holy Mass, which I am celebrating in my village of Siemysłów. The Most Holy Mother in her gaze embraces everybody: priests, prison staff and administration, guests…but especially she looks on you women inmates! This is a gaze of love and mercy. To each of you the Holy Mother desires to say: “You are my beloved child of God”. She gives each of you Jesus! Hope! God will not abandon you! God Our Father will help you to further live beautiful lives. The world is menaced by wars. The world needs you to bring about peace.
I want, together with the Most Holy Mother and her Son Jesus, to take a moment to speak of our dear sister Mary Wagner. Thank you for your stand towards the defence of life! It is the greatest gift which you have given to the world! Thank you for being present to the unborn children and their mothers, as one who would lean over the rail of a cradle and behold the precious child — this is real peace! May the encounter with the Most Holy Mother be for you all, a blessing. The Most Holy Mother knows your hearts, knows your needs. Pray and she will fill your hearts with love. I thank the women, who together with Mary, pray every day! Kiss the icon of the Blessed Mother!
Through Mr. John Bulsza I thank all those who organized this visit of the Icon to Vanier Centre for Women, in Milton. May Almighty God bless you and may with you be the intercessions of the company of The Most Holy Mother Mary, Saint Joseph her spouse, Blessed John Paul II, Saint Maximillian Maria Kolbe, and St. Faustina Kowalska.
Fr . Peter Bałtarowicz
We prayed one decade of the Rosary together reflecting on the mystery of the Annunciation which we would celebrate the next day. I wished we could have stayed longer, but previous commitments prevented us from doing so. The visit was an edifying for everyone involved and recalled Christ’s words that the just will hear at their judgment:
Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.
Please continue to pray for me on this journey, and join in prayer with the millions who have been touched by this historic worldwide pilgrimage for an end to abortion and for the protection of life and family.