Paul Lee wanders into the Toronto Right to Life office at around 10 a.m. He’s a little late, because he spent hours on the phone the night before talking with students across the province of Ontario, assisting them with transportation and logistical planning to get to the next Ontario Students For Life conference in Ottawa.
Today he has to send more registrations, confirm a Mass time with Ottawa’s Roman Catholic archbishop, find a Protestant minister for the conference, confirm a caterer for the weekend, and finalize the contracts with the school in Ottawa and its custodial staff. At the end of the day he is catching a bus to Windsor to rally support among members of Windsor Students For Life.
Paul is not an employee of the OSFL. In fact, he’s a busy, full-time university student. But he wants to save unborn children and to use his skills and gifts accordingly.
Looking at the demographics of the pro-life communities in Canada, many fear that the median age of pro-lifers is rising with each passing year. Established organizations like Campaign Life Coalition, Alliance For Life and its network of right-to-life organizations, Birthright chapters, and countless other pro-life organizations have all begun to experience the struggles that go with an aging volunteer base. The urgent question is, “Where are the youth?”
“Youth are the future” is the oft-repeated slogan that adults love to throw out to an adolescent audience, usually gaining a round of applause, whistling, and “Woo-hoo’s.” As adults, however, we must begin to look at what type of message we are sending to these young people. By confirming their place in the future, we downplay or altogether miss giving them a meaningful place and position of responsibility within our communities in the present. The pro-life youth of the past 10 years have not waited for the future, but have seized the day and become active.
Ontario Students For Life has over 20 different local groups under its banner. The fledgling Youth For Life International, headed by 15-year-old Canadian Michael Trolly, is growing. The National Campus Life Network has 17 campus liaisons to its credit after only three years of operation. Each of these were created, and continue to be run, by dedicated pro-life students.
Today’s pro-life youth have different ideas on how to cultivate a culture of life. Through student organizations, they are able to put these fresh perspectives into practise. The point remains, however, that young people are not knocking down the door to be involved in long-standing pro-life organizations.
One may attempt to brush this off with the belief that young people are not lining up to help out anywhere; but a StatsCan survey released in August 1998 demonstrates otherwise. The survey shows that youth from ages 15 to 24 have the highest rate of volunteerism of any age group, accounting for 18 per cent of the volunteer labour pool and averaging about 125 volunteer hours per person last year.
The bottom line, quite frankly, is that as adults in the pro-life community, we need to be prepared to accept new visions and new actions if we truly want more youth involvement. Patience and a willingness to tolerate an abundance of energy and enthusiasm is vital. At some stage the generations need to meet. The young must hear the wisdom of the old, but the old must accept that youth are looking at abortion through a different lens than that used when pro-life activism began decades ago.
Some ideas may seem crazy, some goals lofty or even unattainable. Yet when one looks at what we as a pro-life community are up against – the killing of children within the womb – what idea could be any crazier than that?
John MacMullen is executive director of Ontario Students for Life, and is involved in various Christian youth ministry activities.