Greetings in Christ!
The end of April and the beginning of May was definitely a busy time for the Quebec Life Coalition (QLC). No sooner had we gotten off the “40 Days for Life” ride, in which we had spent the 40-day Lenten period from February 25 to April 5 praying in front of the Morgentaler abortion clinic (see http://www.40daysforlife.com/montreal-english/ for details) that we jumped into writing the May newsletter as well as doing outreach and promotion for the 2009 Walk for Life in Ottawa.
What happened at the University of Notre Dame over the last few weeks will be remembered as an important event in the history of the US Catholic Church and the pro-life movement. It has thrown light on a liberal / traditionalist divide within the Church which must be healed if the Church is to be credible in its pro-life teaching.
On March 20, 2009, President Fr. John Jenkins of the Univeristy of Notre Dame –the USA’s most prominent Catholic institution of higher learning—formally announced that he had invited US president Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address to the University’s graduates on May 17, 2009, and to receive an honorary doctorate in Law. There was only one problem: Barack Obama, according to some in pro-life circles, is the single most pro-abortion president in the history of the United States. The university of Notre-Dame, on the other hand, is nominally Catholic, and thus officially considers direct abortion an intrinsically evil act – an act forbidden under any circumstance whatsoever. Moreover, in line with the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church, the US conference of Bishops had published in 2004 a document entitled “Catholics in Political Life” which outlined how to deal with pro-abortion public persons. In that document the following directive can be found: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” However, a leaked memo written by Jenkins to the Notre Dame board of Trustees shows that Jenkins had spotted what he believed to be a chink in the directive, in that the latter was meant for Catholics only, given that the title of the document was "Catholics in Political Life"—non-catholics were therefore exempt from this particular prohibition against receiving awards or platforms, Jenkins believed.
The blogospheric reaction to the news of Jenkins’ invitation was swift. Within about a month’s time over 350,000 signatures on a letter demanding that the invitation be rescinded were gathered on a site specially built by the Notre-Dame Cardinal Newman Society. And along with the blogospheric storm crashed down on Notre-Dame a wave of bishopric reaction. According to LifeSiteNews, no less than 79 US bishops firmly condemned the invitation. South Bend’s (and thus Notre-Dame’s) own bishop, the Most Reverend John D’Arcy, even announced he would boycott the event, and chastised Jenkins for failing to consult with him before going ahead with the invitation. Indeed, Bishop John affirmed in a pastoral letter to his diocese that he would have been happy to clear up any ambiguity in the Bishop’s conference document. He remarked that it was he – the local bishop—and not a canon lawyer who had the final say on the application of canon law within his diocese. He noted that he would quite likely have told Jenkins to find another commencement speaker.
As the date neared, a host of pro-life groups from around the US converged on the Notre Dame campus, waiving placards and staging demonstrations and protests. Members of prominent pro-lifer Randall Terry’s “Operation Rescue” trotted baby carriages with plastic dolls covered with fake blood on campus. Randall Terry himself was arrested for trespassing. A local priest, Fr. Norman Weslin, two days before the address, was charged for trespassing and carried away on a blanket when he refused to leave the premises. A plane flying a banner depicting an aborted foetus regularly circled above the campus. Groups within the university organized an alternate commencement and prayer vigils and a Eucharistic procession. Last but not least, the other speaker invited to the commencement ceremony, Mary Ann Glendon, a former United States ambassador to the Vatican whom Jenkins had invited to speak alongside Obama, and to whom was to be bestowed the prestigious Laetare Medal, had suddenly turned down the invitation, citing, in a letter to Jenkins which she made public, her displeasure at being used as Notre-Dame’s cover for disobeying the Bishop’s clear instruction to not give awards to pro-abortion public persons. But Jenkins held his course. And on the big day, with a reported many hundreds of pro-life protestors lining the streets leading into the campus, inside the basketball stadium made commencement hall a rapturous crowd greeted Obama and shouted down with choruses of “Yes we can!” and “We are ND!” and “Idiot!” the few individuals present at the commencement who booed at the start of Obama’s address. In short, it was, as one media source stated, “an Obama love-in.”
A pro-life youth conference organised by Campaign Life Coalition (CLC, of which QLC is the Quebec division) and co-sponsored by the National Campus Life Network (NCLN) was held in Ottawa the day after the May 14 March for Life.
NCLN is an organization that helps university students establish pro-life groups on their campuses. They provide advice, pre-printed literature, as well as access to pro-life seminars and retreats, such as this very Youth Conference that was held on May 15 in Ottawa. QLC’s secretary-general and Montreal director of the 40 Days for Life, Georges Buscemi, had a chance to attend, along with about 600 or so students from Canadian high schools and universities. During this day of seminars and plenary sessions, students were offered presentations on euthanasia and assisted suicide by Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, and Father John Lemire, and by Conservative MP Pierre Lemieux, who, during a plenary session, encouraged students to run for office. Lemieux remarked that he had never really dreamt of becoming an MP, but he gave it a try and now fights for life and family at the highest levels.
Liberal MP Paul Szabo also delivered to the students a forthright address about the ups and downs of being a pro-life MP. One presentation the assembled students particularly appreciated was that of Samantha Singson, former CLC U.N. representative and now director of governmental relations at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), publishers of the “Friday Fax” which many pro-lifers receive weekly by email.
C-FAM monitor UN diplomats and their use of sneaky, abortion-promoting wording in their resolutions at the UN headquarters in New York City. The listeners especially appreciated Ms. Singson’s frankness when she described how UN diplomats stealthily maneuvered and inserted weasel wording in their resolutions to promote abortion around the world, and how she and the C-FAM team helped shed light on their machinations and thwart them.
What most interested us here at QLC was the one meeting which the chaperones and teachers held for about an hour in a separate room, while the students were busy elsewhere. During this session, in which Jim Hughes, president of CLC, was present, teachers and parents spoke openly about how to better approach sometimes reticent school boards with requests for money to use towards pro-life and pro-family activities for students. The lessons shared during this session could definitely carry over to teachers and parents here in Quebec. In fact, we at QLC would very much welcome any teacher or parent who is reading this and wants to know more. Just give us a call or write!
You probably already know that Montreal will be hosting its next 40 Days for Life, 40-day, 12-hour-a-day prayer and fasting vigil in front of an abortion clinic this September 23 to November 1, 2009. What you might not know is that the founders of the 40 Days for Life have decided to take the whole venture to “The Next Level”.
The latter phrase is the title of their new project, which includes two very exciting elements. The first is that the next 40 Days (this fall) will “piggy back” onto other, existing pro-life organizations, making it possible for the 40 Days to take place in many, many more venues than it had taken place in a given season so far. So if last fall the 40 Days was held in 179 cities, we could be witnessing this fall a staggering 500 cities participating simultaneously in this prayerful show of solidarity with the unborn and their families.
The second element is part of what David Bereit, co-founder of the 40 Days, called the “Ending Abortion Initiative” or EAI. As part of this initiative, the 40 Days headquarters will be providing, free of charge, an extremely powerful online tool which will help local pro-life efforts (such QLC) set up their own strong, grassroots pro-life ministries. In a way, one can see this new system as a type of franchise model for pro-life ministries: the successes and lessons learned from the 40 Days founders and their group (called Coalition for Life) in College Station, Texas, will be documented and put into modular lesson format for internet users to securely access and implement in their own cities. This system, which will cost upwards of $30,000 US to set up, and is similar to the online training programs used by multi-national corporations, will be implemented this summer.
Rest assured, QLC will be making the most out of this new technology and much of the projects outlined in the Operation Mustard Seed flyer will be accomplished using this wonderful service. We’re talking: Sidewalk counseling ministries Pregnancy centre partnerships Post-abortion healing ministries, and more. Please note: neither sidewalk counseling nor post-abortion healing ministries are very well known in Quebec. Bust soon, with your help, they will be! What’s more, by January of 2010 the next phase of the EAI will include personal one-on-one coaching for local pro-lifers on how to better set up pro-life ministries in their own towns. “The Next Level” and the EAI: More fruits of these amazing 40 Days for Life!
You never know when an email will hit the mark. Towards the end of the 40 Days for Life I began sending out “wrap up emails” to all the people and organizations I figured would enjoy hearing about the wrap-up of Montreal’s first 40 Days for Life. One of those emails went to Janis Clarke, founder of Eucharist for Life, a pro-life prayer children’s mission based in Montreal. Very soon after I had clicked “send” on my mass email, I got a call from Janis. She wanted to announce some amazing news: Father Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, one of –if not the— world’s biggest pro-life organizations, had accepted her invitation to come to Montreal on May 12 and 13 to celebrate a mass and conduct presentations and seminars.
I couldn’t believe our good fortune! My mind was reeling at the possible spiritual fruits that could come from this unique and providential visit. And I wasn’t disappointed: Fr. Euteneuer’s visit has begun a new chapter in Montreal’s quest for reaffirming the dignity of the family and the unborn child, and I am simply glad to be part of it.
I want to tell you now what happened during those couple of days, and the exciting projects that we are undertaking because of that visit. Janis Clarke wasn’t the only one involved in the planning and preparation of Fr. Euteneuer’s visit. Paolo Buccella of Montreal’s Youth for Life took charge of the organisational and logistical aspects of the visit, and yours truly at Quebec Life Coalition provided free graphic design and printing for the event flyers. The free services wouldn’t have been possible without the 40 Days for Life and Operation Mustard Seed. Both printer and graphic designer were drawn from the pool of volunteers who wanted to step up and do more for Life on an ongoing basis! I was also invited to join the organizing team in the final planning stages and throughout Fr. E’s visit. Last but certainly not least in making this visit possible were the pastors at Notre-Dame de la Consolata and Ste-Angèle churches, Fathers Robert Gendreau and Jean-Pierre Couturier, without whom none of the visit would have been remotely possible.
There were basically five big events during those two days: On Tuesday, May 12 1) A conference at the Grand Séminaire de Montréal entitled “How to overcome the resistance to the pro-life message within the Church”, 2) An evening conference at Ste-Angèle Chruch entitled “The Fight for Life Around the World”, and on Wednesday, May 13 3) a morning private gathering of pro-life people in Montreal to discuss strategy, the theme being “Where do we go from here?” 4) A private meeting of Montreal pro-life “cognoscenti”, and 5) A solemn mass in honour of Our Lady of Life at Notre-Dame de la Consolata Church. Needless to say, this was an intense couple of days, and I was glad to be there for QLC soaking up every last bit of it. I want to focus, however, on the particularly productive Wednesday morning meeting of pro-life workers in Montreal. This is a group that mostly came out of the 40 Days / QLC, Eucharist for Life and Youth for Life, in addition to Frs. Couturier and Gendreau. What I particularly liked about this meeting is that what came out of it was a consensus to form a coalition of 15 individuals called “Montreal for Life”, and to reconvene in June to further hammer out a plan for promoting the dignity of human life and the family in Montreal. Specifically, we had all agreed that it was high time for Montreal (and Quebec in general) to get its own post-abortion healing ministry established, as well as to establish a parish-based pregnancy support network. I was delighted that at least the first point was in line with the plans that I had put forth in Operation Mustard Seed.
Unfortunately, much of what went on during Fr. Euteneuer’s visit cannot be related in this newsletter: there’s just too much riding on this to give some names and places away. Suffice it to say that the other meetings involved extremely fruitful discussion and that, in the coming months, when you see how we are developing here at QLC, you can be assured that a lot of it stems from these couple of grace-filled days in the company of our very distinguished guest, Fr. Euteneuer, and the newly minted “Montreal for Life.”