Topics

Catholic Vancouver May 15, 2019

Pro-lifers must embrace the ‘art of accompaniment’

By Agnieszka Ruck

Pro-lifers hold handwritten signs at the March for Life in Victoria May 9. Political activism is important, but several speakers stressed that so is being physically present for the vulnerable. (Agnieszka Ruck photos)

In the secrecy of the confessionals at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria, many women have admitted to going through with abortions.

According to Bishop Gary Gordon, they all had the same message. “I have known many women who have chosen abortion, and every single one cried out to me, from their side of the confessional: ‘If someone had been with me, I would not have done this!’”

For the bishop, that’s a sign of what the pro-life movement – which packed St. Andrew’s Cathedral and two other nearby churches ahead of the March for Life that day – needs to focus on.

“We have the solution of a culture of throwaway society. It’s called love. It’s called accompaniment,” he said at Mass May 9. “We know that when we are able to accompany people as they are, who they are, and in their struggle,” they “will choose life.”

That principle, he said, extends to vulnerable pregnant women, as well as to the disabled, ill, or elderly.

“We know for our frail elderly and our vulnerable in our hospitals, care homes, and at home, that if the dignity of their own weakness and poverty of life in their old age is loved and accompanied, they will not choose euthanasia.”

It’s a common refrain in the Catholic Church these days; Pope Francis called for a renewal of “the art of accompaniment” in his 2013 exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, and Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Milller, CSB, echoed the same sentiment at the pro-life march in Victoria May 9.

Archbishop Miller speaking at the B.C. Legislature.

“If we want to save the innocent unborn, we must first save their mothers,” Archbishop Miller told the more than 2,000 pro-life activists on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature that day.

“We must continue to give them our understanding, our compassion and our practical assistance. In a word, we must be ready to accompany them in their suffering – for suffer they do – and gently share with them the truth about the origin, wonder, and beauty of every human life.”

Archbishop Miller said public engagement is important, but must be reasonable, knowledgeable, persuasive, and not violent.

“By gathering here in front of our legislature, we are raising our voices in a prophetic cry: ‘choose life.’ This cry is not disruptive, but a service to society, reminding them that what they hold dear about respecting the human dignity of the marginalized should extend to the most vulnerable and fragile in our midst: the defenceless child in a mother’s womb.”

Many pro-lifers are already doing this. International speaker Stephanie Gray said in her travels she has met many people who have done heroic deeds inspired by pro-life motivations.

“I have friends who have adopted three little girls from China, all with severe cleft palate who have required multiple surgeries. They are now in their teenage years and are all amazing violin players and little geniuses. Their lives transformed,” she said.

Another friend of hers was caring for a one-year-old infant when she and her husband felt convicted to travel to Africa and adopt two children. They did – then returned a few years later and adopted two more, this time with Down Syndrome.

Meanwhile, a 28-year-old single woman she met in the U.S. last month told Gray over the last four years she has fostered over 20 children and has adopted two of them. “That is the power of ‘one.’”

A family at the March for Life.

Gray said the number of people in need can be overwhelming, but pro-lifers who really care about all lives – from the very young to the very old – should not let that immobilize them.

She quoted Edward Everett Hale, who said, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

Anna Nienhuis urged those at the March for Life in Victoria to become more politically active.

“We need to get political if we want to see change that impacts all of Canada, change that reaches into the life of every pre-born child and every mother who is unsure about her ability or willingness to parent,” said Nienhuis, a mother of five and a member of pro-life advocacy group We Need A Law.

“Our leaders represent us and they can’t do that well if they don’t know us and what matters to us.”

But, she added, activism does not replace the personal, local actions that can make a difference for vulnerable families today.

“If you see a young pregnant woman at the grocery store, tell her you’re cheering for her. If you have a local pregnancy care centre near you, make sure they have enough formula and diapers when struggling moms, or women struggling with whether they can be moms, come to them for help,” she said.

“If you have children, talk to them about abortion. Tell them to come to you first when they face a crisis, and tell them they will be met with love, grace, and support. Talk to your (children) about respect, responsibility, and doing hard things.”

Read more about the March for Life in Victoria here.

Bishop Gary Gordon speaking about “the art of accompaniment” at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
A father kneels in prayer during Mass before the March for Life in Victoria.
More than 2,000 people arrived for the March for Life.
Anna Nienhuis of We Need A Law.
Stephanie Gray.
A participant shows her handwritten sign.