The Pro-life Convention, under the title “Save the Planet’s People” was held at the Holiday Inn, Toronto from June 25, to June 27, 1992. to say that it was a success would be an understatement. Thanks to the organizing committee under the direction of Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, and Clare Dodds as Co-ordinator, the Convention was probably the best that has been held in Canada so far. It was probably the best that has been held in Canada so far. It was sponsored by Alliance for Life and Campaign Life Coalition and hosted by Campaign Life, Toronto. A convention is defined as “a formal assembly or conference for a common purpose.” During my more than fifty years as a priest, I have attended many conferences and conventions in different parts of the world. But I can honestly say that I have never experienced such unity of purpose, such complete dedication to a cause, and such true Christian charity as were evident from the beginning to the end of this memorable event.
With sixty-five speakers, most of them experts on some aspect of the Pro-life issue – medical, theological, social – plus a boat cruise on Lake Ontario, a party in the Ballroom and a banquet, it would be impossible to go into detail, but here is a very summary account of a few of the events. The convention started officially with a few informal and most enjoyable party in the in the Hotel Ballroom on Thursday evening. There were probably up to five hundred people present. The M.C. made it clear that formal introductions were not necessary. Everybody was a “friend” in the true sense of the word and it really worked. My trouble during the weekend was that I said “Hi, there” to everyone I met in the Hotel and especially on the elevators and got some strange looks. I forgot tat there were other visitors not of our convention or convictions!
The Boat Cruise
I was sorry that I am not twenty years younger as I would have loved to be part of the Boat Cruise around Lake Ontario. It took place from 8.oo to 10.30 p.m. on Friday evening and was most enjoyable. To the music of the band “Timeless” arranged by Jimmy Holmes, even some who will never see 70 again pranced around the deck and nearly fell over board.
Possibly the most effective event in the entire convention was the Life Chain. It was held along University Avenue from 12 noon to 1 p.m. More than 600 people stood along the paths on each side of the Avenue holding signs which made just one statement, “Abrotion Kills Children.” Hundreds, possibly thousands, of cars passed up and down plus countless pedestrians. The Life chain is a powerful witness for life. We got all the usual responses – thumbs up and thumbs down; horns blown, some indicating agreement, others opposition. But it is a very effective reminder to the public that “Abortion kills children,” and it must make people think.
One of the most powerful statements of Christ in the gospel is, “Without Me you can do nothing.” Without Him, all our efforts are but “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.” So, every morning began with a reminder of this paramount principle. For the Catholics the day began with Mass in the Nathan Phillips Room and for Protestants prayer and hymn singing in the Centre Ballroom. A brief homily from Father Alphonse de Valk faced us in the right direction for the day.
I don’t think anybody would challenge the assertion that the Star of the Show was the Archbishop of New York Cardinal John O’Conno. That somebody who is in such demand would have agreed to come is a testimony to his will-known pro-life convictions. Here is a very brief summary of the Cardinal’s activities during that week. He arrived back from a week in Rome on Friday morning ; flew to Toronto that afternoon ; spoke to the priests and religious at a brunch on Saturday morning; held a news conference ; was chief Celebrant and homilist at 5pm mass in St. Patrick’s Redemptorist Church; was Guest Speaker at the Banquet – attended by 950 people – and rushed for the airport to return to New York.
The brunch at which the Cardinal addressed over one hundred priests and religious was – in my opinion – his best performance. I think he felt completely “at home.” He is not a dynamic speaker. His charism is his simple, down-to-earth approach. We all knew that the Cardinal was speaking from his heart. He has been insulted and mocked in his own Cathedral; he has seen the Blessed Sacrament blasphemed and trampled on by gays ad lesbians – and all because he will not bow to the secularism of the age. He is a modern St. John Fisher, who will render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but will not render to Caesar the things that are God’s. the statement which impressed me most was this: “Christ was not crucified for patting children on the head or for the miracles He worked. Christ was crucified because He preached the truth and would not back down.” He went on to say that if we priests preach the truth we shall not be popular – but neither was Christ! These may not be the Cardinal’s exact words, but I think it was his message – and I cringed a little!