By Mike Girard
After breakfast Thursday morning I was off to the Annual General Meeting of Alliance for Life Ontario. I met Jakki Jeffs and we shared remembrances of our meeting in Sault Ste. Marie a few years ago. Soon the room was full and the “business of the day” carried us along for the next full hour. I tried to remember peoples’ names and absorb as much as I could and I began to feel a real part of what we in the pro-life movement refer to as “family.” I was impressed with Jakki’s organization and knowledge, as well as with others who spoke with sincerity and commitment to the cause.
With barely time for a breath in between, the Annual General Meeting of the newly formed Life Canada began. When I glanced at Peter Ryan, I offered him my unspoken moral support as he began to conduct the meeting and lead us into unchartered territory, and through our first AGM. I felt nervous when I began my short presentation of my ideas on education in the schools but by the time the meeting finished, I felt rather confident, like a young soldier ready for duty. It was nice to actually see and hear fellow board members from the other parts of this vast country of ours. God be with us!
After lunch I ran into Fr. Jim Whalen, of Priests for Life. I was hoping to speak to him and it happened very candidly and I was impressed by his openness and friendliness. I told him that I hope that more clergy, priests and bishops would be more vocal, active and supportive of pro-life work. Why is it that by and large it is the laity who approach the clergy with ideas and plans of action and not the other way around? Where are our leaders when you need them?
Around the same time I bumped into Fr. Paul Burchat, also of Priests for Life, and a priest of the Madonna House community. I had seen him in Combermere two weeks earlier. The words I uttered while at Madonna House, “God is here,” came back to me, but this time as a question – “Is God here? Are we in the pro-life movement doing God’s work or our work? Are we being faithful to God as his instruments in his work? Or are we merely doing good human work?”
I made a point to sit in on the “Getting a Grip on Canada (Youth)” session with Tanya Granic. As a high school teacher I wanted to get an idea what is going on with the youth and the younger people in our pro-life family. Seeing, hearing and briefly talking to Tanya seemed to inject youthful vitality into my veins as I pranced down the hall to my next session.
“Presenting in the schools” was a must on my list and the presentation by June Scandiffio more than lived up to my expectations. I wrote down every word my hand and pen could muster, and before I knew it, her talk was over. I really admire her for her teaching half-time and devoting the rest of her time to pro-life education in the schools. We need more teachers like June! In the hall after her talk, one question to her turned into a good 20-minute conversation where June shared more of her wealth of knowledge and experience. From one teacher to another – thank you, June.
I managed to slip in to “Clergy Activism: Shepherds, Lead Your Flock.” It was truly inspiring to hear Fr. Colleton along with Rev. Ken Campbell and Rev. Dean Detlefsen. We sorely need the clergy, our shepherds and spiritual leaders. The sheep without a shepherd get lost or eaten by wolves. We look to you for leadership. Thanks to all in the brotherhood of clergy actively supporting and promoting the culture of life. God smiles down upon you, I am sure.
The plenary session Thursday evening was both interesting and inspiring, hearing from Jim Hughes and Jakki Jeffs. They shared news and information and acknowledged various people who were doing fine work for pro-life. Speaking of acknowledgments, I didn’t hear anybody acknowledge all the work Jakki and Jim have done over the years. We thank you, Jakki and Jim, for all the long hours, hard work, and unwavering dedication you have devoted to the pro-life cause and family in Canada. You are both admired and respected, and your leadership has given us credibility as a movement.
I have come to realize that the pro-life movement is Canada is not structured rigidly, operating and moving on policies and procedures, legal and otherwise. Yes, we have those, but I see our movement more like a loose band of disciples coming from all walks of life, following the Master. What brings us together is our unity of purpose and what keeps us together is our unity of spirit. I see Jim and Jakki as being at the head of the “disciples,” offering their knowledge and wisdom, guidance and direction. God bless you!
As Peter Morrison and I made our way back to our rooms after some mingling and conversation, we had a chance meeting with Anna Halpine of the World Youth Alliance. We spoke with Anna about a wide range of topics. I must say, Peter and I were captivated by this young woman – by her wealth of experience, breath of knowledge, penetrating analysis of things, and a wisdom beyond her years. I was equally impressed by her genuine concern for us two rookies on the fledgling Life Canada board of directors. Now the focus for my time and purpose at the conference was much clearer. Thank you Anna for your help and sharing. The first full day of the conference – and what a full day it was – ended on very positive note, and I sang myself to sleep.
When Friday dawned, I was up and out the door, with a sense of anticipation of another dawn and perhaps the beginning of good things to come in our pro-life movement. After Mass and a rousing prayer session led by Rev. Ken Campbell, I was treated to a talk by Laurie Velker, who touched my heart with her talk from her heart, by Peter Kreeft, who took me on an intellectual journey, and by Michael Coren, who gave us all a good laugh and sigh of relief.
Lunch proved to be eventful, as Peter and I sat down for lunch and conversation with Charles Rice. Not only is he going to be sending information to Peter and me, he paid for our lunch! We couldn’t turn down such a generous offer. Speaking of food, when I bumped into Joe Scheidler in the lobby, we chatted briefly and I asked him if he remembered me from his visit to Sault Ste. Marie about six years ago. He smiled down upon me and said, “And I remember the muffins we had.” Food has a way of bringing people together.
It was a good breath of fresh air, literally, to step out of the Regal Constellation and out on the street corner for a short Life Chain. Even though it rained, our spirits were not dampened in the least. With one sign on my head and the other over my heart, I felt energized and inspired standing alongside my pro-life brothers and sisters.
After half an hour, we headed to a nearby detention center where Linda Gibbons and Rosemary Connell were in jail, on account of their courageous pro-life activism. For me this was the most emotionally touching part of the entire conference. While at the jail we sang songs, waved and offered our moral support. Other women in the jail waved back out of the small corner windows. Some of us still had our signs from the Life Chain. Here we were in the dark of early evening, standing as a light for the truth and as a pillar of support for Linda and Rosemary. I got choked up many times and had to hold back the tears. It was a deeply moving experience which I will never forget.
For me, Pro-Life 2000 was a grand experience and a wonderful time. I believe there are good things coming on the horizon. I have a sense of optimism as we strive to strengthen ourselves internally and work closer together. Yes, as the conference speakers made clear to us, this is a battle between good and evil: we have to pray; we will suffer; this is God’s work; our job is to be faithful; in the end we will win. God be with us. See you next year!