“You are my hero!”

With those words, the wife of a late pro-life doctor voiced the sentiments of Catholic physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals gathered for the annual White Mass, held at St. Augustine’s Church Oct. 26.

Sally Wong uses a walker due to a back injury. Yet, she was unafraid to spontaneously approach the podium and take a microphone as international pro-life advocate Stephanie Gray received her latest accolade.

“I have never seen anybody so deep and enthusiastic, so living,” said Wong, widow of Dr. Lawrence Wong and a longtime behind-the-scenes supporter of pro-life initiatives. “You practically live pro-life! You are my hero!”

Gray then received the St. Camillus Award from Vancouver’s Catholic Physicians’ Guild, which represents about 50 local health care workers. St. Camillus is the patron saint of the sick, hospitals, nurses and physicians. 

Pro-life 'hero'

“Stephanie brings true professionalism to the pro-life movement,” said doctor and award presenter Julia Ralphs.  “Her poise, intellect, and wit make her very effective in communicating her message.”

Gray co-founded the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform in 2001, and was its executive director until 2014, when she founded the pro-life group Love Unleashes Life. She has given hundreds of speeches at schools and conferences, participated in 30 debates with pro-abortion opponents, published a physicians’ guide to discussing abortion, and even shared her message at Google headquarters. The video recording of that talk has since been viewed more than 157,000 times online.

Sally Wong, a longtime pro-life advocate, with her “hero,” Stephanie Gray.

“She not only changes minds on critical issues, but her warmth brings healing to those who need it and her example brings out the best in those she trains,” said Ralphs. “She is a real spiritual mother to the vulnerable.”

Gray received her award humbly, preferring to sit instead of stand as Ralphs described her achievements. She had few words for the room of medical professionals who applauded her work.

“One of my favourite prayers … says: ‘I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.’ I think that’s what this award signifies. I am a link, you are a link, everyone else here is a link, and we form a chain. It’s a chain that works to be Christ’s light to the world,” she said.

“I am a very small link in a very large chain.”

The Catholic Physicians’ Guild unites faith-based medical professionals in prayer and community. The guild presented the award during the annual White Mass, when members pray with Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, and honour one non-physician and one physician for outstanding work.

The award for this year’s physician went to longtime guild member and recently retired family doctor Howard Bright.

Living his values

Bright joined the Catholic Church as an adult, and “ever since then, Howie has embraced the moral principles of a practising Catholic doctor, big-time,” even to the point of shocking his colleagues at the University of British Columbia, said fellow doctor Andy Saleski.

“Once he heard that contraception was contrary to Christ’s teaching, Howie adopted a contraceptive-free, pro-life policy in his practice,” and, with his wife, taught the Billings family planning method.

Doctor Howard Bright (centre) receives an award from doctors Jim Lane (left) and Andy Saleski.

Bright carried the guild through difficult times. “For a number of years, we were fortunate if there were three or four physicians at our meetings,” said Saleski.

“At times, it seemed the guild consisted of Howie Bright, Toni Parsons, and whoever else happened to be on the executive, if indeed there was any such person! At that time, I was wondering whether Howie Bright and the Catholic Physicians’ Guild were identical terms.”

The guild bounced back, increasing its membership to about 50 and playing an instrumental role in the creation of a Catholic physicians’ guild in Seattle. Bright is also a past-president of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, and his dedication to attending conferences with the U.S.-based Catholic Medical Association earned the Vancouver guild an invitation to join the CMA, the first Canadian guild ever so invited.

“It was only a matter of time before this award would wind its way toward Howie, as the quintessential Catholic physician and icon of the Catholic Physicians’ Guild,” said Saleski.

“He has been tirelessly persevering in the promotion of his belief that in these difficult times, Catholic physicians need to meet regularly for support, prayer, and collegiality.”

'Guardians of human life'

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, thanked all physicians present for their dedication to local patients, calling them the “guardians and servants of human life.”

During his White Mass homily, he also took a moment to reflect on the moral quandaries that faithful doctors and nurses face in their work.

Archbishop Miller encouraged health-care workers to stay true to their consciences in his homily.

“What Jesus commands us with regard to the intrinsic dignity of human life from conception to its natural end must be taken with the utmost seriousness,” he said.

“Despite its legalization in Canada, we need to be clear that euthanasia and assisted suicide are direct contradictions of the central Christian belief in the value and beauty of life as a gift from God. The Catholic Church … remains strongly opposed to every action which compromises the right to life.”

Guild president and doctor Jim Lane mentioned several recent events that have worried the local Catholic medical community, including an Ontario court ruling that would force doctors to refer their patients to procedures against their religious beliefs or consciences, and recent suggestions that Canada should allow euthanasia for children.

It is “a great disappointment to all of us,” said Lane. However, he was heartened to hear the World Medical Association, at a recent meeting, “totally rejected” a motion by Canadian and Dutch delegates to consider euthanasia ethical in countries where it is legal.

“The end result was the Canadian Medical Association actually withdrew from the World Medical Association. They went home with their tail between their legs,” he said.

“Please continue to pray for our patients, and all our health care providers.”