The name “Chilliwack” means “A gathering place” in the local Indian tongue. It certainly lived up to its name for some three hundred pro-life people who gathered there from July 6 to July 9, 1989. The occasion was the “Alliance for Life/Campaign Life Coalition Annual Convention.”
In the early morning of July 6, some twenty-eight “religious fanatics and born-again bigots” enplaned at Toronto international Airport bound for Vancouver en route to Chilliwack. The flight time is about four and a half hours. So, if the plane had taken the opposite direction I could have been at home in Dublin in the same time! The flight was pleasant and it was enjoyable to stroll around the roomy Wardair plane and chat with the other “born-again bigots.” Mind you, some of them are even threatened with intelligence!
We arrived safely and were met by five Budget mini buses, which transported us to the hotel in which we were booked. Father Alphonse de Valk and I stayed at the local parish rectory. At the Rainbow Country Inn we met pro-life people from all over Canada – Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Saskatchewan and anywhere else you can think of. What impressed me – as it always does – was the wonderful feeling of unity and friendship among the pro-life people. We belong to different races, classes, intellectual achievements and religions. But, when we get together we are welded into a tangible “Oneness” because of our devotion to the Unborn Child. Many of these people read The Interim and therefore there was no possibility of concealing my identity – even if I had wanted to! People kept coming up and saying, “I recognize you from your photo in The Interim. I tried to look modest but it’s too much of a strain! What a joy it was to meet all these people who had traveled so far and at considerable expense to support what is without any doubt the “Burning issue of the Century.” Those words are from the cover of MacLean’s a few years ago.
The program was well put together and the sessions were interesting and instructive. But I am convinced that the real value of these occasions is to be found in the people one meets. I never learn very much from the talks – after all, we’ve heard it all before. But meeting people who are so dedicated to our cause is always an inspiration. On this occasion it was even more so than usual. Many of the people who attended the conve4ntion had been in jail “for Life” within the last few weeks or months. They are not the “fair-weather sailors” who often tag along with causes as long as the “price is right.”
I was speaking to one charming, elderly lady who looked the very essence of gentility and inoffensiveness. She could have been the Queen Mother. Somebody came over to us and said to me, “Do you know who this is?” I said, “No” He said, “This is Mrs. Hanlon. She has just been released from three months in prison.” She hadn’t even mentioned it during our casual conversation. She was one of these “religious fanatics and born-again bigots” who sat on the steps of the Vancouver abortuary and put her body between the unborn babies and the murderers and was prepared to pay the price. I asked her how she had been treated. She said, “Oh, quite well.” But I can’t believe that it is a pleasant experience for an elderly lady to spend three months in a common prison. All she had to do was to sign her name that she would not trespass again. But that she would not do. It made me feel mean and miserable. What have I done for the unborn compared with this lovely lady who, I am certain would give her life to save one baby from abortion? Interesting people.
Everyone I met at the convention was interesting. But – like equality in Russia – “some were more interesting than others.” We had Tom Wappel, the Liberal MP for Scarborough West. Tom was on the panel for the session on “Pro-life Political Parties, is this the way to go?” He spoke with great conviction on the pro-life question and I felt that he has the personality and the eloquence, plus the sincerity to make him a powerful influence for life in the Liberal party.
Another interesting personality was Joe Scheidler. Joe is the author of the book 99 Ways to Close an Abortuary. Joe has proved his loyalty to the movement so often in the past that he compels attention. He is gifted with an easy speaking manner and an infectious sense of humor, which make him a delight to listen to. I was also pleased to meet and chat with Father Vincent Hawks well. Father Vincent is the editor of The B.C. Catholic. He has spent 24 days in jail for blocking the entrance to an abortuary during a recent Operation Rescue. We need more priests with the courage and conviction of Father Hawks well to lead their people by example as well as by precept.
Liberal MP John Nunziata was the guest speaker at the banquet on Saturday, July 8. John, who has never missed an opportunity to stand up for the unborn in political circles, inspired us by his eloquent exposition of the present situation as seen through the eyes of one who walks the corridors of power. All this should help us to realize the importance of casting our votes in support of the candidates who stand for the Christian and human values which are the only true foundation for the building of a truly civilized nation.
I cannot conclude without expressing a word of gratitude on behalf of Father de Valk and myself for the hospitality we received at St. Mary’s Parish in Chilliwack. The Gospel of Sunday, July 9, happened to be the one about “staying in the house in which you are welcomed and eating and drinking what is laid before you.” We were welcomed at the rectory, we stayed there and we ate and drank what was laid before us. Sincere thanks to the Pastor, Father Tim McCarthy and his Assistant, Father Ian Stewart. We are also indebted to the Chilliwack Knights of Columbus who sponsored a most enjoyable reception in the Parish Hall.
To sum up
I have attended quite a number of pro-life meetings, conventions and sessions in the past dozen years or so. I think this one was the best I have experienced. There was a definite sense of hope, inspiration, courage and charity. This, I believe, was brought about to some extent by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, which, while being far from perfect, is at least one step back on the road to humanity and sanity. And a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step!
Then there was the presence of those who have suffered in prison for their convictions, which are also ours. It will be a long and a rough road. But with people like those who devoted so much unselfish energy in organizing the Convention and the people who traveled so far to attend, and the people – young and old – who have sacrificed their freedom for the Cause of the Unborn, one cannot but experience an upsurge of hope. The light at the end of the tunnel is shining just a little brighter!