Flags celebrate Ireland, protest abortion

A field full of green, orange and white flags in the shape of a large Irish flag gave St. Patrick’s Day flair to the athletic field bordering Ravensworth Road and St. Michael School in Annandale Thursday morning. But while the small flags (10,000 in each color) blended together to create an ideal decoration for the popular saint’s feast day, the meaning behind the display went much deeper.

Supplied by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic lay organization focusing on Irish issues and the Right-to-Life movement, each small flag represented an abortion procured in the state of Virginia every year. 30,000 flags, 30,000 lives.

The display is “a reminder of the cost of abortion in this country,” said Father Jerry J. Pokorsky, pastor of St. Michael Church, who led St. Michael School students in a procession and blessing next to the field following Thursday’s 8:30 a.m. Mass. Each flag is “witnessing to life,” he said.

The students, too, witnessed to life on Wednesday afternoon when they helped plant the 30,000 plastic flags in the muddy field. They stood nearby during Father Pokorsky’s blessing.

“It was really something special to see them all out working,” said Joe Kennedy, pro-life chair for the Virginia Ancient Order of Hibernians and organizer of the event.

Kennedy said he began mulling the idea of planting flags to represent abortions for St. Patrick’s Day two years ago.

“As a pro-life leader, I wanted to bring St. Patrick’s Day back into the Church rather than out into a bar,” he said. “Working to put these flags out — one for every life that we lose — dramatically illustrates that fact.”

Kennedy had originally pictured 30,000 Irish flags on the field, but not only were they difficult to find, they were expensive. He ended up purchasing the flags that utility companies use to mark right-of-ways and no-dig areas. Now that he has the flags, Kennedy said he hopes to continue the Irish flag tradition every year at a different location in the state.

Several members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, dressed in vivid green, were present for the short blessing, carrying large Irish and American flags at the start of the procession.

“Since we’re an Irish organization, what better time to (have this event) than on the feast of St. Patrick?” asked Hibernian J.J. Kelly, a parishioner of St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield. And “what a great way to get the kids involved.”