Over 600 attend March for Life in Fredericton

"March for Life Features Remarks from American Pro-Life Advocate, former Lieutenant-Governor" | The New Freeman | Barry Mackenzie

FREDERICTON – Nearly 600 people gathered on the lawn of the Provincial Legislature here on Thursday, May 14th, for the annual March for Life. Carrying banners and signs with slogans like “Thanks Mom – for Life” and “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart,” these pro-life advocates sought to demonstrate to the members of the Legislative Assembly their commitment to the protection of human life from conception to natural death.

The morning began prayerfully, as services were held at Brunswick Street Baptist Church and at St. Dunstan’s Roman Catholic Church. At Brunswick Street, an interdenominational prayer service was held that included prayers offered by a number of local Pastors, including the Rev. Dean Annis, past-president of Fredericton Right to Life. At St. Dunstan’s, Mass was celebrated by Bishop Robert Harris of the Diocese of Saint John. Also in the sanctuary were Archbishop Valéry Vienneau of Moncton and eight priests from the Dioceses of Saint John and Moncton.

Bishop Harris’ homily focused on the theme of the 2015 March for Life: “Every Life Matters,” and he came back to this point several times. This was also the message conveyed in a letter he penned to the people of his Diocese two weeks earlier, in which he wrote: “In our society, where life is threatened in so many ways, we need to affirm without hesitation and with conviction, that life is sacred. [...] When God creates, from the first moment of conception, God loves every human person into being. All human life is a gift of God created for eternity. It is said that life has its origin in God and life finds its destiny in God.”

During his homily, Bishop Harris drew on the traditional teachings of the Church as well as the writings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and several of his predecessors. “Pope Francis has argued that in recent years the Church has become engaged in the defence of the right to life precisely because human life has become cheap in the contemporary world – citing “unborn” among the most vulnerable categories of people,” Bishop Harris said. He also quoted Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “The Church’s defence of unborn life cannot be expected to change because it is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right.”

Like his letter to the people of the Diocese, Bishop Harris’ homily was more than just a restatement of the Church’s position on the dignity of human life. It was, more importantly, an invitation. Quoting Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Bishop Harris reminded the congregation that St. John Paul II encouraged us to “speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.” As such, before concluding, Bishop Harris noted, “As Catholic Christians, we are called to be “people of life and for life,” sent to be witnesses and diffusers of a “culture of life.”

Following the Mass at St. Dunstan’s, which was largely attended by people from across New Brunswick, and the service of prayer at Brunswick Street Baptist Church, the Pro-Life Rally in front of the Legislative Assembly building began at 11:30 am, and before long the lawn was filled with demonstrators. The lawn itself was used to make a very poignant statement, as 1,000 pink and blue flags were planted in the ground to represent a share of the children aborted in Canada each year (approximately 100,000). Anita Durette was the coordinator of this project, and she noted that flags were being planted at Marches for Life across the country, including at the National March for Life on Parliament Hill, which also took place on May 14th.

Among the assembled crowd were about 60 students from two Catholic schools in the province. Dr. Carolyn Barry is Principal of Our Lady of Grace Catholic School in New Maryland. “We pray for the unborn every day, and all vulnerable life, and so the students are very committed to pro-life issues, and very knowledgeable about them,” Dr. Barry said. “I found the Mass today very hopeful – lovely big congregation, two bishops, all the priests – and the whole liturgy was filled with hope. So I think it’s a beautiful way for [the students] to be firm and courageous about it, but in a happy way. To see that many gathered together that think the same way they do is very powerful for them.” Judy Burnham, Principal of Divine Mercy School in Saint John, felt much the same way about the participation of her students in the March for Life. She supervised 30 students from Grades 4-8, while the remainder of her students were home in Saint John where she said “they are praying for us as well.”

The speakers during the Rally were many and varied, and included representatives from the Knights of Columbus (State Deputy Armand LeBlanc) and the Catholic Women’s League (New Brunswick President Margaret McCallum). Rev. Dean Annis, Ann O’Keefe, Jody Carr, MLA, and former Lieutenant Governor Graydon Nicholas also shared words. The three principal speakers were Emé Lacroix, Dr. Elizabeth Phillips, and Darlene Pawlik.

Mme. Lacroix is well known on the Acadian Penninsula, where with her husband, Donat, she is an accomplished folk singer. She came forward with a powerful letter in L’Acadie Nouvelle which was published last year and which she shared with the crowd.

Dr. Phillips has a practice in Sussex, and shared with the hundreds assembled in front of the Legislature her personal story as a physician in an age when physicians are expected to refer for abortions, no questions asked. She recounted stories of the many women she has tried to counsel when they have found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. Moreover, Dr. Phillips referred to the growing trend among medical associations across Canada which are increasingly inclined to demand that doctors refer for abortion regardless of their personal opinions. She remarked, “You can’t come into my office and say, ‘Dr. Phillips, I want narcotics for my elbow pain.’ [...] But, if you came into my office and said, ‘Dr. Phillips, I want to have an abortion,’ it’s expected that I won’t even have a conversation with you about it.”

Darlene Pawlik, a noted American Pro-Life advocate, was the principal guest for the Rally, and her testimony touched the crowd. Conceived in rape, Pawlik was the target of human trafficking at 13 and sold into prostitution on her 14th birthday. She conceived a child in rape, and only escaped her abuser by faking an abortion. Pawlik says that after she pledged her life to God she was able to turn her life around, and is now married with five children and two grandchildren.

Ms. Pawlik took a few moments to speak with The New Freeman following her speech at the Rally. When asked about her decision to dedicate her life to spreading her story and her message, she said, “I don’t think we’re here on the earth very long, and I think that we need to use our life in all of the circumstances that God gave us to the very best advantage we can, for as many people as we can.”

For several years after she became involved with the Pro-Life movement in the United States, Pawlik restricted her activities to the “back room,” to stuffing envelopes, making phone calls, and doing other work behind the scenes. Her decision to share her story and to speak on behalf of the Pro-Life cause came gradually and with experience. Pawlik spoke earlier in the week in Saint John, during her first Canadian speaking tour, although she has spoken in 8-10 States.

There was an impressive showing of Progressive Conservative Members of the Legislative Assembly (19 of 22 members of the PC caucus were present), whose spokesperson was Jody Carr, MLA for Oromocto. Mr. Carr confirmed the commitment of his party to the cause of Life. Carr praised the crowd for their courage, saying “Be proud of yourself for having this respect for human life. Human life is sacred, something of value, something of worth.” He was critical of Premier Brian Gallant, who made it clear before the last Provincial election that pro-life views were not welcome in his Liberal caucus. “To tell MLAs that their voice doesn’t matter is saying, ‘You, the people of New Brunswick have no voice.’” Carr also criticized the lifting of restrictions on abortion in the province, saying that no additional support is being given to women in crisis, and that costs of abortion-on-demand are mounting. He closed by saying, “Don’t let the vocal minority make you go away.”

Former Lieutenant Governor Graydon Nicholas spoke about his relief at being finally able to speak publicly about his views on Pro-Life after many years in public office, both as Judge and as the Queen’s Representative. He related his views on the sanctity of human life to his First Nations upbringing and to his faith, sharing with the crowd St. John Paul’s II prayer from his Evangelium Vitae. Nicholas and his wife, Beth, will be speaking at Fredericton Right to Life’s 15th annual Focus on Life Dinner on June 1st.

Following the conclusion of the speeches and a closing prayer by Moncton Archishop Valery Vienneau, the 500-600 strong crowd processed quietly through downtown Fredericton behind a lone bagpiper. The March concluded in the parking lot of the Mother and Child Welcome Centre on Brunswick Street. Afterwards, all were welcomed to attend a reception in the Monsignor Boyd Family Centre at St. Dunstan’s Church.

A small, if very vocal, group of pro-choice demonstrators attempted to steal the show during the speech given by Dr. Elizabeth Phillips, but they left the grounds of the Legislature after a short time. Their sometimes vulgar banners and protest signs, as well as their fog horns and loud chanting, stood in marked contrast to the signs and applause of their pro-life counterparts. A portion of this same group endeavoured to halt the parade by lying down across Brunswick Street, though members of the Fredericton Police rectified the problem quickly. They then stood along the last leg of the procession and were openly critical of the marchers and their signs.

Peter Ryan, Executive Director of NB Right to Life and the MC for the March, was pleased overall with the day. “It was a very positive event – great crowd, great speakers, great spirit, strong turn-out by Tory MLAs. The Mass for life was uplifting,” Ryan said.

Echoing the feelings of other observers, Ryan noted, “A negative was the sensational and superficial TV coverage. They ignored our theme ‘Every Life Matters.’ They seem blind to how abortion and euthanasia affect the unborn, sick, elderly and those with disability. Their one-sided coverage of the brief disruption of our rally by abortion rights advocates failed to indicate how aggressive and rude these young people were. We need to pray for our opponents and show them civility, even when their behaviour is outrageous. I was proud of our people’s restraint.”

In addition to what many have called biased coverage in the television media, coverage of the March for Life was absent from all three English daily newspapers. A fairly balanced piece appeared in L’Acadie Nouvelle on May 15th.

Photo credit: Bob Shaw

Photo credit: Bob Shaw

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