Prayer. Sacrifice. Friendship. Charity. Could one Virginia community’s work to put basic Gospel tenets into action be a model for the future of the pro-life movement?
“I think it is a turn from desperation to great hope and transformative hope going forward,” Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, told CNA of a new free medical clinic set to open in November, replacing a long-standing abortion clinic.
The story began with friendship. The Amethyst Women’s Health Center was a decades-old abortion clinic in Manassas, Va., a western suburb of Washington, D.C., founded by a husband and wife and operating since 1988. The clinic averaged 1,300 abortions per year. As the clinic opened its doors day after day for years, local Catholics began to regularly pray outside the building all year round for the victims of the abortions, for the clinic workers and owners, and for an end to the abortions there.
In 2013, two members of the pro-life community visited the clinic and struck up a friendship with the owner, her son, and one of the contracted abortionists. In their regular clinic visits, they learned that the owner, now a widow, was not opposed to leaving the practice but felt trapped since operating the clinic had been her livelihood for years. If she left the clinic, her son would need support as well. They tried to find a job for her son, while realizing that they would need to raise a significant amount of money within three months to purchase the clinic and buy her out so she could retire.
For such an urgent task, one of the men received a key piece of advice — pray to the Blessed Mother. He began to pray a 14-day rosary novena. Members of local parishes began discreetly spreading the word among their church communities. A coalition of local entrepreneurs also banded together and began raising money.
Donations poured in, and in less than three months, the community raised all the money required to buy out the clinic, which closed at the end of September 2015. The owner, who had been a baptized Catholic, eventually repented and came back to the faith. However, the community was faced with the question of what to do with the former clinic building. The idea formed to turn it into a charitable medical clinic.
There was a “great desire that something redemptive would happen here,” Art Bennett told CNA. He had been approached about possibly establishing the health clinic, and local community members “wanted it to be a place where people would find hope and healing.” Over the next two years, parishioners of nearby parishes and the diocese worked to make the dream a reality.
In August 2017, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington gave the approval for the new clinic, and Catholic Charities announced that it would indeed open in November.
“Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic” will offer a range of general family practitioner services free-of-charge, with physicians and nurses volunteering their time and effort. It will have a target demographic of uninsured persons, which number around 8,000 in that part of the county, Bennett said. The clinic will also provide referrals to nearby Novant Health for other services for qualified patients, and a physician network has been set up to see patients with more serious medical problems at a reduced or free rate.
Bennett hopes that the clinic will serve as a “transformation” of the community from having an abortion clinic to providing free health care for those who need it. Another free health clinic in the area had closed, he said, and that was a further impetus for Catholic Charities to fill the gap. Promoting human dignity and upholding the common good will be two pillars of the clinic’s mission, he said. “By offering this service, we’re not only acknowledging the dignity of the individual,” he said, but also “helping the common good, helping people overcome problems so they can flourish and lead a better life.”
The clinic will also put into practice the corporal works of mercy. “Most of the work we did on this was done during the Year of Mercy, mapping it out, doing the research, so we think this is a fruit of the Year of Mercy,” he said.
They also see a Marian connection.
The abortion clinic closed after the countless rosaries that were said for life, and the new clinic is named for the “Mother of Mercy.” “Mary, with her maternal care for people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, we thought that that was a nice integration,” Bennett said. The clinic was “brought in to bring a better future to this location,” he told CNA, a future that would include “hope and healing and transformation.” “This has been quite a transformation.”