Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the magazine First Things, was the banquet speaker and held the attention of the nearly 500-strong audience for an hour, leaving them hungry for more. More importantly, his uplifting and hopeful speech motivated veteran and recent activists alike to be a voice for the unborn, the sick, the elderly and the disabled.
Fr. Neuhaus, who was born and raised near Ottawa before moving to the U.S., thanked those who were involved in the pro-life movement, which he described as society’s “most selfless” human and civil rights movement. He noted that pro-lifers did not choose the pro-life movement; rather, it claimed them to do God’s work. Subsequently, we cannot choose to just let go. We must continue to go to marches, attend conferences and write letters. How many more? “Many more,” he said. “Many more. Many more.”
While it may not seem that pro-life efforts are succeeding, one generation of the movement prepares the next and eventually, the culture of life must prevail because Jesus Christ has prevailed. As for when victory will actually be seen, Fr. Neuhaus quoted T.S. Eliot, who said, “To us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
Leaving it in God’s hands allows for hope. He differentiated between optimism and hopefulness – the former is nothing more than looking forward with eyes closed because it is human-centred, but the latter, with its faith in God, can look forward realistically.
Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., he said that if pro-lifers want to change the culture, they must be a movement based in love. We must love our opponents, he said, “and they must know we love them.” That is the only way to change someone’s mind or heart, “as any parent knows.”
Fr. Neuhaus said that people of faith are not imposing their agenda on anyone. Echoing Pope John Paul II, he said the church imposes nothing, it merely proposes. It offers the path to a better way. Besides, the beginning of human life is not a moral question but a scientific one. All “sane people,” he said, agree that life begins at the moment of conception/fertilization.
The issue, to many, is not when life begins but what life is worth living. He recalled reading an academic article in the 1960s about what life was worth living and realized that no one in his Brooklyn congregation qualified for a life worth living. Yet these people, many living in poverty or with otherwise broken lives, would take in the pregnant teenager and open their lives and their hearts to the precious gift of a new child. They were all capable of love and being loved, and thus, all had lives worth living. Fr. Neuhaus asked by what measure human life is protected, if it is decided that one, particular human life is not worth protecting.
To truly protect human rights, he said, the rights of all humans must be protected. It will take a moral re-awakening, and it is the responsibility of the pro-life movement to be the conscience of the nation. “We must love the Canadian experiment more than do those who would let it fall back simply into the hands of power and self-interest. You are calling your nation – calling your nation to something great and glorious and good.”