Charlottetown – Five hundred youths from all across Canada gathered here in mid-October for the national conference of the Canadian Pro-Life Youth Organization (CYPLO). They described the experience as awesome.

MLA Leone Bagnall, House Leader of the provincial Opposition, showed her support by making time to drop in. However, the local media didn’t find the province’s first national youth conference important enough to cover. It was the weekend, after all. Air Farce was in town, abortion rights promoter Doris Anderson was being installed as Chancellor at the University, and CBC was busy with its annual open house.

Meantime, the young people attended sessions on building relationships, chaste dating, and techniques for handling and reversing peer pressure. Other topics included euthanasia, post abortion syndrome, Birthright, RU-486, pre-natal development, technological reproduction, the media, politics, and AIDS.

Maturity and Relationships

One of the awesome parts of the weekend was the maturity and leaderships shown by five already seasoned young panelists who stressed that youth can make a difference.

Looking very much the ordinary teen, Wayne J. Ottenbreit told his listeners that prayer is the most important element of the pro-life struggle.

He outlined a number of pro-life activities carried out by Regina youth. One regular event is the Jericho walk (See Joshua 6). It’s a combination life chain and walk for life that involves praying while walking around and around an abortion facility. The walls haven’t tumbled (yet), but the dedication of the youth has grown.

Both national president Coby Vandenberg of Bracebridge, and Angela MacDonald of Antigonish, N.S. (recently of Edmonton), described participation in vigils, life chains and other public activities as important elements of personal growth,

“Friends and classmates may tease you for standing up for chastity and life, but privately they’ll admit that they respect you for it”, PEI CYPLO president Anne Marie Garvey assured her listeners, speaking from experience.

Randly Malick of Steubenville, Ohio, talked about occasions when he had been able to directly and indirectly affect the attitudes of a number of friends and casual acquaintances: “God wants to use you. If you are open to Him and faithful in being available, He will provide opportunities for you to reach others.”

In his workshops, family physician Rob Blackwood delivered a blunt message. “Chastity before marriage and mutual fidelity afterward are the only true ‘safe sex.’ You can’t count on condoms.”

The father of nine backed up his words with colour slides of pathological tissue changes caused by organisms transmitted during sexual activity. This confrontation with stark reality was almost too graphic for some teens, who aptly declared them “gross!”

“You think these things can’t happen to you? Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t come to my office exhibiting one or more of these abnormalities,” Dr. Blackwood, who practices in a smallish PEI community, told them. “Many of them are your age, and all too often the damage is permanent. If it turns out that they’re HIV positive, they have received a death sentence.”

Over the weekend the young people heard some 15 other speakers, all recognized experts in their field. They includes former abortion provider Carol Everett; Doug Scott, author and nationally recognized foe of Planned Parenthood; Mary Beth Bonacci , editor and educator; theology graduate and professional ventriloquist Randy Malick (and rabbit); Riat Marker, international lecturer on euthanasia; Dr. Robert Walley, Professor of Maternal and Child Health ; lawyer Clare Dodds; and intrepid pro-life MP Tom Wappell.

Many also spoke at concurrent adult conference, organized by several Atlantic area pro-life groups.

Lift up for life

The keynote speaker for the youth conference was Dr. Delores Grier, Vice Chancellor for Community Relations (Archdiocese of New York). Her opening talk on Friday urging the young people to “Lift up for Life” set the tone for the weekend, and was received with a standing ovation and enthusiastic hugs.

In her closing address, Dr. Grier said, “We need the youth of tomorrow. You must take the information you received this weekend, go out in twos and threes like the apostles, and bring Jesus Christ to young people.”

She warned them that this would present a particular challenge. “Sometimes your friends will turn out to be the enemy. Sometimes even a brother or sister will. So you must keep close to the ‘General’ who sends you forth on this task, making prayer very much a part of your lives.”

On Sunday evening, PEI Bishop Vernon Fougere, who had attended some sessions, celebrated Mass for the Catholic participants, while Mr. Blayne Banting, Professor at Maritime Christian College in Charlottetown conducted a Christian worship service for others.

Said one young person, “It was the most beautiful Mass I’ve ever attended.” Another said, “ It was inspiring to hear Church leaders condemn abortion so forcefully, leaving no uncertainties.”

The young people spend all their time in talk and prayer. There were small group workshops, joint presentations, skits and banner making. There was time to socialize, and time to eat, with lots of pop and pizza and snacks, and a banquet. There were bus tours, singing, bowling and square dancing. And lots and lots of new friends – who all believe chastity is important.

The major organizer of the conference was Mrs. Gay Garvey, RN, who has worked tirelessly for half a dozen years to evangelize youth through the chastity message.

“We feel that it is important work that we can do youth today,” says Mrs. Garvey and her husband Tom.

Next year’s national CYPLO conference will be held in British Columbia.