November is the month of fallen heroes. We honour the memory of the soldiers who fought for freedom during the violent struggles of the last century – those who died in the trenches in Europe and those who gave their lives resisting a madman’s frightening dream. But, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Canadian pro-life movement this year, we cannot fail to honour the memory of the heroes of our own movement, who have laboured in the trenches of another struggle and have tirelessly resisted the encroachments of the culture of death. Indeed, the pro-life movement in Canada has been built through the selfless sacrifice of heroes who did not live to see its success, but rather, in the words of the poet, have thrown us the torch, from their failing hands.
It is impossible even to list all of the brave men and women to whom we are so deeply indebted; they form a cloud of witnesses, too numerous to be named. There was the great Rev. Ken Campbell, who picketed Henry Morgentaler’s first freestanding abortuary in Toronto, and was arrested and jailed many times. And Joe Borowski, the Manitoba MLA who selflessly resigned his cabinet position, and took his legal battle to end abortion all the way to the Supreme Court. There was Gilles Grondin, who was so important in getting the pro-life movement involved at the UN, and Niel Slykerman, who, as president of CLC Manitoba, worked diligently to get questionnaires to candidates to find out where they stood on life issues. And Louise Summerhill founded Birthright, which helps women facing crisis pregnancy.
The wonderful films of Peter Gerretsen, and the edifying books of the prolific Father John McGoey, remain: their work is a testament to their commitment to our cause. So, too, the memory of the invaluable witness given by activists such as Frank Mountain and Earl “The Pearl” Amyotte, who picketed hospitals where, instead of being safely delivered, innocent babies were being destroyed. We also remember Carl Scharfe, Joe Grzywna and Eileen Anderson, courageous pro-lifers who worked in CLC’s Toronto office.
The few we name represent only a fraction of those we must remember, those we honour to the right in our cartoon and those in the in memoriam list (the CLC advertisement that appears near the end of each issue of the paper) – names of people that laboured for the cause of life; names, we trust, that are written in the Book of Life.
We continue to be inspired by the example of their work, but even more so by their brave examples of sacrifice. But, as they throw us the torch they carried for so long, we must remember Lichtenberg’s telling remark: “It is almost impossible to bear the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing somebody’s beard.” Indeed, the torch of truth was their Cross. They sacrificed their time, their wealth and their reputations. They suffered the silent incredulity of colleagues, the polite incomprehension of relatives and the outright hostility of strangers.
Thus, when they left us, “their departure was thought to be a disaster and their going from us to be their destruction” (Wisdom 3:2-3). This is how it appears in the eyes of the world. However, as the war monument reminds us: “The souls of the just are in the hand of God” (Wisdom 3:1). Despite the appearance of failure, we know that they achieved a great success. The Cross is always a victory, but it always seems like defeat.
Those who have gone before us in the pro-life movement laboured in the Herculean task of bringing sanity to an insane world. This task, of course, is no less daunting now. But, in moments of discouragement, when the battle seems like it will never be won, we must remember those who gave their lives without seeing any kind of victory, who sowed only the seed, but did not live to see the fruits of their labour.
This, perhaps, is the greatest lesson our departed friends and co-workers have to teach us: we must continue to work with profound hope in our cause, even if we ourselves do not witness its inevitable success. In the words of Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work; yet you are not free to desist from it.” And, in the words of Mother Teresa: “God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that we try.”
A culture of life gestates in Canada. It is the rich inheritance of another generation, for a future yet unborn. Building up this culture of life has been the heroic work of the many friends who have gone before us. With deep gratitude, we honour their memory and strive to be worthy to the cause they served so well. We remain to finish their work and to realize their dream of a just society, where every child is cherished and every life is revered as sacred.