Is there anyone you want to meet before you die? Dr. Robert Walley was on my list. Years ago, I read about the work of MaterCare International, and a little light went on inside of me.
Here was a man, who could have been enjoying a very well-paid career as an obstetrician, instead fighting the culture of death and fundraising to save the lives of women and their unborn children in developing countries.
Here was a man who took his calling as a Catholic, a doctor, and a man seriously, doing the work of Christ with very little fanfare, and much persecution. Here was a man who I wanted to meet. I’ll tell you that I’ve daydreamed about becoming a mid-wife so that I could join in his work. This week Dr. Walley agreed to let me interview him.
When Walley became a doctor in England, 1964, he didn’t see “the nasty signs on the horizon.” It never occurred to him he would one day be living in Newfoundland with his wife and seven children, fighting the culture of death.
When liberal abortion laws came to the UK, Catholic doctors were given three options: do the abortion, change your specialty, or leave. The pressure and persecution were a big surprise. He said Catholic doctors felt like groundhogs, hiding away in the winter, and popping up their heads occasionally to see if a new spring had arrived. “But there was no new spring. We were on our own.” He decided to move to Canada, where he had once studied for a short time.
One day he was surprised to receive a letter in the mail bearing the Pontifical stamp. It was from Saint John Paul II, nominating him to the newly created Pontifical Council for Health. John Paul II asked him to create something for Catholic doctors to find a way to support one another and change the culture of death.
This was the beginning of MaterCare and meetings in Rome every two years. Walley had no idea MaterCare would soon take him into the developing countries of Africa. The encyclical Evangelium Vitae led him there.
333,000 women die every year in childbirth, and 99 per cent of those are in developing countries. The world offers these women sterilization and abortion (a word many of these cultures don’t even have in their own languages). Instead of abortion Dr. Walley offered prenatal care, a clean place to deliver, training for African midwives and doctors, and access to medical care when things went wrong.
The Pope told the doctor that he was needed more now than ever and that it was up to the whole Church to encourage and support his work and to see those facilities and that care paid for. But, with the exclusion of John Paul II and Pope Benedict, the support never really came. Even in some Catholic circles his work isn’t considered “politically correct.”
Walley calls the relationship between a woman and her obstetrician a “covenant relationship, second only to that of a priest.” But the relationship has been attacked by the culture of death, which turned covenental relationships into contractual ones, even in the Catholic world.
When I asked him how he fought discouragement he answered, “We
didn’t come into this to change the world. Only one man did that, and he was
God. We’re just trying to make a bit of a difference ... (we) have the Church,
the Eucharist, Jesus Christ. Everything we need.”
I guess because I have grown used to organizations bowing to secular pressure, I felt a need to share about the exceptional work of a man, his family, and team (made up of four staff in a small space) who will not give up on the truth of the preciousness of human life, and the dignity of all women.
Dr. Walley is a true feminist if there ever was one. He has faced persecution, discouragement, and rejection within and without the Church. But he continues his work, convicted, thoughtful, and gravely joyful.
He himself is surprised at the path his work has taken him, and it only proves all the more that it is the providential work of the Holy Spirit. Because of all this, I beg you, please, to join me, especially with your Lenten offerings, in financially supporting, encouraging, and praying for the work of MaterCare International.
“Motherhood has fundamental significance for all Christians, for it was a young woman’s fiat that became a part of God’s covenant. Mary nourished and nurtured the baby, the Son of God, in her womb for 266 days. This was the most intimate relationship between a human being and God. All mothers therefore share in some way this special gift of intimacy with God when they give a ‘sincere gift of self through their own birthing experiences. Obstetricians are the most privileged of all health-care providers as they are called to provide care for the co-creators of new life” — Dr. Robert Walley.
Doctors and journalists are invited to join Dr. Walley in September for MaterCare’s Rome Conference. Visit matercare.org for details or to donate.