The Canadian pro-life movement enjoyed its best annual March for Life ever this year, with organizers saying that some 6,000 people descended on the nation’s capital for a series of events May 11-13. Aided by a large contingent of young people, the turnout represented a large increase over last year, when about 3,500 took part.
“I thought it was excellent,” said March for Life committee chair Frank Mountain. “We have to thank the whole Campaign Life Coalition Ottawa office staff, especially Wanda Hartlin, Chris Murawsky and Paul Lauzon.”
The three days of events got underway May 11 with a Mass for Catholic participants at St. Theresa’s Church, celebrated by Peterborough Bishop Nicola De Angelis. The group then moved on to a candlelight vigil at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument, where a group of about 20 pro-abortion demonstrators mildly tried to disrupt the proceedings.
Although March for Life organizers arranged for a permit to use the monument grounds for the event, the pro-abortionists falsely claimed they, too, had a permit and proceeded to post pro-abortion banners and signs around the monument. They also enlisted the assistance of Ottawa city councillor Diane Holmes, who attended at the scene and attempted to negotiate on their behalf with Ottawa city police.
The police eventually ordered the pro-abortionists to take down their signs and take up positions across the street, after it became clear they had no permit. However, when a reporter and video camera from a local television station appeared, they contravened the police order and crossed the street back on to the side of the vigil, waving signs and chanting pro-abortion slogans.
Police then threatened them with arrest for disrupting the peace, before they went back across the street – but not before playing for the camera and making it onto that night’s television newscast.
The rest of the vigil continued without incident, with the high-powered public address system of musician David MacDonald drowning out anything the pro-abortionists had to say. The rogues eventually dispersed. Pro-life officials say they will be following up with appropriate authorities on the ethics of Councillor Holmes getting involved in a potentially tense situation.
May 12 began with a spiritual emphasis, as 1,300 Catholics filled St. Patrick’s Basilica to overflowing for another Mass, while a prayer service at St. George’s Anglican Church attracted the leadership of four local pastors.
In his homily at St. Patrick’s, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Ottawa, Marcel Gervais, noted that in a world of death, pro-life activists are trying to promote life. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI in attacking the phenomenon of relativism and spoke of the need for unity among Christians. He also emphasized that God loves every unborn child. “Praise be to God! To life!” the archbishop concluded.
At St. George’s, Pastors Robert McRoberts, Bill Rabey, Ramon Salgado and Colin McKenzie prayed with the congregation for a wide range of life-related issues, including caring pro-life organizations, the medical profession, governments and politicians. They concluded with a reading from Psalm 24: “A mighty fortress is our God.”
It was then time for all to gather on Parliament Hill for the main event. David MacDonald and band greeted the assembling thousands in song, before a series of speakers took the podium to offer their words of support and encouragement. Despite a federal political crisis raging at the time, they included a number of members of Parliament, an array of religious leaders and representatives of the international men’s organization, the Knights of Columbus
Under sunny, but slightly cool, skies, and accompanied by police escorts, the 6,000 then marched without incident through the streets of downtown Ottawa, signing songs, waving banners from their organizations and schools and saying hello to passersby. Some more music and speeches took place back on Parliament Hill afterward, before a Silent No More event was staged.
As with the first such Silent No More last year, about a dozen men and women stepped forth to publicly tell their stories about how abortion had negatively impacted their lives. Tears were in evidence many times among both the speakers and the audience.
The day concluded with a sellout crowd of 600 attending the Rose Dinner at the Congress Centre in downtown Ottawa. They gathered to hear keynote speakers Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Roman Catholic primate of Canada, and Knight of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.
“We are united in our love for life, in our defence of life in our country,” said Ouellet in his bilingual speech. He referred to the massive turnout for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, noted for his vigorous pro-life stand, as proof that the pro-life cause is very much alive and reverberating in people’s hearts.
Ouellet said John Paul II left a great legacy both for human life and divine life, the latter of which is the ultimate destiny of all humankind. But he also paid tribute to new Pope Benedict XVI, calling him one of the great personalities of the Catholic church. “We know from the outset he is a giant,” he said. “He is a man of great heart and dialogue.”
He concluded by inviting everyone “in a special way, to not only to continue your commitment … but to pray for our political leaders.”
In his speech, Anderson sounded a warning that in our current climate, “the elderly, sick and mentally handicapped are increasingly at risk. Why? Because once the principle that the right to life is no longer an absolute value in the law, no one – no one – is really safe.”
He added that pro-life advocates propose a culture of life “because it is right and because only such a culture is consistent with the great dignity and value of every human life.” Regarding the unborn, old and sick, Anderson said: “Though we cannot hear their voices, they have called us. Though we cannot see them, we stand with them. Though we may never know any of them, their cause must be our cause.”
He concluded by noting that, “Life is the greatest gift we have, but it is a gift that, when denied to one, is diminished for all … It must be a bright future where every human being is valued, every human life is respected and every human person – his potential, her potential – is recognized, promoted and given the freedom and the opportunity to fully develop in the way God intended when He created that life here on earth.”
Rob Merrifield, the MP for Yellowhead, Alta., was presented at the dinner with this year’s Joseph P. Borowski Award for being the politician who most courageously defended life and the family in the political arena during the past year.
A Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus press conference was held earlier in the day, with the theme of “abuse during pregnancy can lead to abortion.” It featured a presentation by physician Dr. Beth-Anne Van Noppen on the phenomenon of violence against pregnant women.
The March for Life came to a close May 13 with an all-day conference for youth.