St John Paul II, Pope of the family

ImageThis last weekend was historic. It has been described as the day of 4 Popes. Pope Francis canonised two of his predecessors, Pope John XXIII and John Paul II, while Pope emeritus Benedict XVI was present.

For us in the pro-life movement, the canonisation of Pope Saint John Paul II is particularly special. He was a fearless defender of human dignity, human life, and the family. And his insights into human interpersonal relations, including sexual relations was profound, and has been described as one of the Church’s best kept secrets.

Pope Francis in his Regina Coeli address after told the pilgrims of Bergamo and Krakow “Dear ones, honour the memory of these two holy Popes by following their teachings faithfully.”

St John Paul II’s life was remarkable.

He grew up in the town of Wadowice, Poland. A town with a large Jewish population, some of which he counted as his close friends.

It’s ironic, but the “Pope of the Family” lost all of his family by the time he was twenty. An elder sister died before he was born. His mother died when he was eight years old. His older brother when he was twelve, and finally his father died when he was twenty, leave the future Pope as the only surviving member of his family.

At the time of his father’s death, Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany. He had to take manual labouring work at a mine, and then a chemical factory to avoid being deported. He is also credited with protecting many Jews from the Nazi authorities. It was at this time that he began to feel the call to the priesthood. He started his studies for the priesthood in an underground seminary and eventually had to go into hiding from the Nazi authorities until the end of the war.

As a priest he became popular with young people and as Pope he started World Youth Day, which he and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta are now the patrons. As a bishop, he was involved in Vatican II, and had a role in preparing influential documents for the council. He also published his important book “Love and Responsibility”. As Archbishop he was influential in the writing of the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

He was a walker, runner, kayaker and skier. As a cardinal he was asked if it was becoming for a cardinal to ski, his reply was, “It is unbecoming for a cardinal to ski badly”. He continued to run and weight train in the Vatican during the first few years of his pontificate.

His election as Pope was a surprise. He was the first non-Italian Pope in over 460 years. His energy and achievements as a Pope were outstanding. He travelled to 129 countries and fearlessly preached to all who would listen. Dictatorships fell after his visits, notably in Chile and Haiti and Paraguay. His support for the solidarity movement in Poland was the catalyst that brought down communism in Poland, which started a chain reaction in the eastern bloc countries.

St John Paul II sent out a call to defend life, faith and family before the Cairo conference on Population and Development, and as a result the attempt the make abortion a “human right” failed.

Wherever he went he attracted large crowds, as many as 5 million attended the 1995 world youth day in Manila, the Philippines. His funeral attracted 4 million to Rome, with over 250 000 within the Vatican.

Defence of life, faith and family was his personal mission. His weekly angelus audiences for the first years as Pope were devoted to the “theology of the body”. It’s a teaching that is slowly gaining popularity within the Catholic Church, and recently within other Christian Churches too.

St John Paul II was a priest, Pope, theologian, writer, poet, actor and sportsman. He wrote 14 encyclicals, beatified 1340, canonised 483 and improved relations with Judaism, Islam and other Christian denominations. He was shot and critically injured, but survived, then meet and forgave his attacker.

But he will be remembered as Pope Francis said, “the Pope of the family”.


40 Days for Life

40 days of hopeImage

I remember during my early years at university becoming friends with an exchange student from West Germany. When she left her home country, a wall divided it from the communist country of East Germany, and people had been killed for trying to cross that wall. By the time her year in New Zealand was over, Germans could freely travel across the border between the two Germanys, and official German reunification had taken place within a year.

When she came to New Zealand, the fall of the Berlin wall was a distant hope, with few people expecting it to happen within their lifetime. It seemed beyond reasonable for the wall to fall.

But it did.

The flame of resistance within the eastern bloc countries had been lit a decade before when Pope John Paul II visited his home country of Poland. His battle cry, “Be not afraid”, gave the people of Poland hope. A hope that spread throughout Eastern Europe, and contributed greatly to the eventual collapse of communism in Europe.

That same battle cry was also for the pro-life movement which was always so close to his heart. We have the Lord himself on our side. No matter how strong the opponents of the ‘Culture of Life” might be, they cannot endure. No matter how strong they seem, or how much they influence government policy, they are running on borrowed time. In fact, the war against them has already been won. It was won on the cross.

And victories are happening.

In the US, there have been a record number of pro-life laws being passed1,2, and it’s bringing abortion rates down. Spain is considering ending abortion on demard3.

So how might an end of abortion look? Especially here in New Zealand?

We have seen the numbers and rates of abortions drop here and New Zealand and in the US as well. And the greatest declines in abortion rates are in the youngest age groups. We can expect this to continue.

There are already shortages of staff willing to participate in abortion4. And this has affected abortion services5. The 40 days for life program includes prayer for medical staff involved in abortion, and has seen 88 workers leave abortion providers. This is something that could easily happen in New Zealand, and we know there are abortion staff in New Zealand who have doubts about their jobs6. They need our prayer.

I have noticed a change in public perception of the pro-life movement. We are now seen as the ones who are helping women. The opposition is still there, and they can still dominate the political process and the media. But the general public are more open to the pro-life message than ever before. I’m constantly surprised by the people who are genuinely enthusiastic about our work helping expectant mums. As in Eastern Europe during the last years of communism, hope is rising. And I can feel the change.

There is still more work to do. More prayer and pro-life work is needed. But slowly the public is seeing that abortion isn’t the solution that they thought it was. One day they will see that it isn’t a solution at all.

We need to hope. We need to pray. And we need to “Be not afraid”.



Get involved: 40 days for life


1.            Johnson, J. Pro-life laws and clinic closures lowered abortion rate: CDC | LifeSiteNews.com. LifeSiteNews (2013). at <http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/abortion-laws-and-clinic-closures-lowered-abortion-rate-cdc>

2.            Johnson, J. ‘Record number’ of pro-abortion laws being introduced dwarfed by pro-life gains, legal expert says | LifeSiteNews.com. LifeSiteNews (2014). at <http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/record-number-of-pro-abortion-laws-being-introduced-dwarfed-by-pro-life-gai>

3.            Metaxas, E. Restricting abortion, Spanish style | LifeSiteNews.com. LifeSiteNews at <http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/restricting-abortion-spanish-style>

4.            Board forced to bring outsiders to staff abortion facility -. CathNews N. Z. (2012). at <http://cathnews.co.nz/2012/10/16/board-forced-to-bring-outsiders-to-staff-invercargill-abortion-facility/>

5.            Hill, M. Abortion clinic opens in secrecy to protect staff. Stuff.co.nz (2012). at <http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/7813405/Abortion-clinic-opens-in-secrecy-to-protect-staff>

6.            Whelan, M. A day at the clinic. The Wireless at <http://thewireless.co.nz/themes/free/a-day-at-the-clinic>


A Pro-life view of ‘Tolerance’

“Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.” G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Something about ‘tolerance’ has always made me uncomfortable. I’ve long been aware that the loudest preachers of tolerance are the ones who are the most intolerant of my own beliefs. I’m well aware of that, and the contradiction of it, but somehow it never really was the reason.

And those who preach tolerance are full of conviction. It’s their followers who they expect to abandon their convictions, or conform to what is politically correct. We all know plenty of them. I’ve also been aware of this for a long time, but it was never the whole source of what was bothering me about ‘tolerance’.

There was always something else that I could never put my finger on.

Then I was blessed enough to hear Fr Jim Brand from Vatican radio talking about ‘tolerance’, and my eyes were opened. “What might we tolerate?” he asked, “A fly buzzing around…”

Essentially he was reminding us all that when we only ‘tolerate’ something bad or irritating. When we declare our tolerance of a person, it’s actually a put down. And that’s a problem for a Christian. The worth of each and every person comes from them being made in the image and likeness of God. Whether it’s a ‘reproductive rights’ protestor, an expectant mum at a pregnancy centre, or her preborn child. Another human being is never a ‘thing’ to be ‘tolerated’, but a chance for us to practice our Christian vocation of love.

So tolerance is far below the standard required of a Christian. If an expectant Mum came into our centre, and I merely tolerated her because of her beliefs about abortion, then I have failed her, myself and our Lord.

Her, because she will pick up the difference between a ‘tolerant’ attitude and a true Christian attitude of unconditional love. It’s the reason that faith based crisis pregnancy centres have been so effective. I’ve failed myself because I’ve failed to live up to my Christian vocation, and it doing so, I’ve failed our Lord too.

But there is the call to be intolerant. Yes, Christians are called to be intolerant. Our Lord himself showed a great deal of intolerance towards the practice of ‘money changing’ in the temple.

While we are not to be intolerant of people, there is plenty we are called to be intolerant too: Abortion, contraception, poverty, human trafficking, violence and anything that robs people of their God given dignity.

It’s our mission and vocation to bring the Gospel of Life, a world where everyone experiences God given grace and dignity, from conception to natural death. And it’s our job to be intolerant to a culture of death that robs people of their God given dignity, and then so often, their lives too.

And in this, may we never be that man without a conviction!

“All men are equal as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King.” G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)


Under fire… Again

target on back

Monday morning, first day back from the holidays and after some prayers, I’m sitting at my desk checking the voicemail. I had a message from a lovely lady who had organised a group of women to knit baby clothes for us. I returned to call to assure her that the box of baby gear had arrived and that we are very thankful for it. She let me know that since she left the voicemail, the ‘thank you’ card from us had arrived. I looked back at the clothes still in the box, and remembered a lead I needed to follow up for some shelving at a price a charity could afford. I knew the little shelf we had was only a stopgap measure, but I didn’t think it would be full to overflowing with clothes donations before I even started asking for them. Pro-life people are so generous.

And then the email arrives. Someone has spotted a blog entry about us. And we are in the pro-abortion gun sights again. Specifically the John Paul II centre for life in Dunedin.

This blog is alleging that we are using bullying, judgemental, scare and deception tactics against the pregnant women who choose to come to us. These charges are completely false. I can say that with authority, because I’m the coordinator of the centre, so I know what happens here. And what chance have we had to do that? We have only just opened!

So what’s all this about? Well, it started last November when a prominent pro-abortion activist and a couple of her supporters visited the centre. They wanted the literature that we give to pregnant women. As I was trying to explain that our 0800 number was still being answered by the centres further north, one of her supporters headed for a table of brochures in our large meeting room, and starts helping herself to them. Why would she do that?

As soon as you have climbed the stairs and come into the centre, you can clearly see our small meeting room. It’s small, comfortable and perfect for two people to have a chat and a cup of coffee. It even has a few brochures. There aren’t many there, the room is mostly for us to listen, and only then see if we can sort out some help. And most of the brochures there are probably available elsewhere in Dunedin. We really don’t use a lot of printed matter for pregnant women.

But this supporter ignored that room and headed straight for our meeting room. Did she really think that we are seeing 20 or 30 pregnant women at a time? We seated about 30 in there for the official opening, with the rest of the crowd standing, in the room, or out in the foyer.

Between that and me trying to telling them that the pregnancy centre side of the centre wasn’t yet fully running, you would think that she would figure out that the brochures she was taking weren’t for pregnant mums. They were for the pro-life people who had been at the official opening of the centre a week before.

The brochures that the support helped herself to must have been given to this blogger, as she spends a lot of time going through them and pointing out how bad they are for pregnant women. And I agree that they aren’t suitable for pregnant women. That’s why we don’t offer them to them. And that’s why we keep them away from rooms where we meet with pregnant women.

The first brochure that the blogger criticises was an old black and white (with a few red headings) one from the US. It was US in its context and very North American in its tone. Pro-lifers can usually figure these things out, and as for the tone of it, I can generally count on their tolerance. This is a brochure that I would never offer to a pregnant women. The details were probably all correct for the time and place of it’s publication. Since then, worse abuses have become public knowledge in the US. The brochure is old and American, it probably isn’t going to be in the centre much longer. If anyone wants a copy, I’m happy for them to come and take one to study. It’s relevant because US abortion providers are trying to bring their agenda to New Zealand. Some of the text (with modifications and omissions) is online here. The blogger cites accurately from it, which is much better that she does for the next brochure she attacks.

This was the “Teen abortion risks fact sheet”. Again, we don’t use it for pregnant women, only for general pro-life education. There is an online version which is an expanded and updated version of our print copies. The blogger starts off citing it accurately, reporting “6x more likely to attempt suicide”. Next she says, “She’ll develop psychological problems and likely end up in a mental hospital”. The brochure actually says “Teens who abort are more likely to develop psychological problems, and are nearly three times more likely to be admitted to mental health hospitals than teens in general”

This exaggerating and misrepresenting would be easier to accept if her link to the online version actually worked. Then the reader could actually see something similar to the brochure that she was satirising.

And the mental health issue has been investigated in New Zealand by a pro-abortion researcher, so I don’t think we are being dishonest about it. The bloggers treatment of the rest of the brochure follows the same tactics.

When she is finished with that she launches into an attack of the centre and our work with statements like, “They should not exist”.

The problem is she hasn’t actually attacked us at all. She has created a caricature of us, probably some pro-life version of Family Planning from a parallel universe. And that is the object of her attack. Her version doesn’t resemble us at all. We are not a professional counselling service, but if a pregnant women needs that, we do have access to professionally qualified counsellors. ‘Peer counselling’ is a better description of what we do, and that’s mostly listening. If we wanted to hide the fact that we are pro-life, why would we called ourselves the John Paul II centre for life? If our pregnant and worried website was about deception, why does it have our logo on it with a link to our main site?

She does admit that she would allow us to exist if we “just distribute factual information, plus provide practical assistance”.

I’ve spent more time on this than it deserves. Those baby clothes behind me still needs a shelf to live on, and I have an appointment to see someone about that. And then there are the prams and car seats that need some storage solutions too. And there is a social worker who runs a birth support group for families of limited means who wants to meet me so we can arrange referrals. If this blogger really does know all about supporting pregnant women, maybe she should contact me directly. I’m always happy to learn.


Why are they not telling women the information they want about abortion and breast cancer?

I had a few ‘pro-choice’ activists visit me in the office this week. They were obviously wanting to know a bit about what we are doing, and were polite enough to visit in person. This differs greatly from my experience in the past. I remember a vigil outside an abortion clinic many years ago. One of the pro-abortion counter protesters had a sign reading, ‘If Mary had an abortion, there would be no Christians”. Obviously they were going out of they way to offend us. But not my visitors of this week. They actually were polite, although for one of them, it was a rather assertive form of politeness. After helping themselves to some of our literature, they were kind enough to give me some of their own.

As soon as it was put in my hand I saw something that was wrong. Their brochure said that there was “no association between abortion and breast cancer”. They are obviously referring to the work of Joel Brind, but they made a really bold claim. If they had stuck to a causal link between abortion and breast cancer, they would have had many official organisations to back them up. Joel Brind’s work is controversial, and is not widely accepted outside the pro-life community. But they crossed the line from talking about causality, to using the word ‘association’. And in doing so, they crossed the line between what is ‘officially’ accepted and what is propaganda.

If a young pregnant woman asks whether having an abortion will mean she is more likely to get breast cancer, there are some clear answers, and they aren’t at all controversial.

Research has demonstrated that having children lowers the risk of breast cancer. The younger the age of the women at the first birth, the lower her risk of breast cancer. Also the more children a women has, the lower her risk. Some studies state that each child lowers the risk by 7%. Breastfeeding also lowers the risk, by 4 -5% per year of breastfeeding. Obviously, if the women aborts the child, she doesn’t get the protection of a full term pregnancy.

Some organisations warn that there is a short term increase in breast cancer risk after childbirth, and a slight increase in risk for women who have their first and only birth after the age of 35. I really don’t think that pro abortion groups are going to want to mention this, after all, if they do, then are going to have to admit that for the majority of women, childbirth and breastfeeding provides significant protection against breast cancer. And a woman who receives an abortion doesn’t get the benefit of breastfeeding, or a full term pregnancy.

So lets go back to our young pregnant woman considering an abortion, and wanting to know how it affects her risk of breast cancer. If she is a teen, and having a first baby, there is a very significant reduction in risk of breast cancer by giving birth to her baby. If she is in her 20’s, there is still a significant protection against breast cancer compared with not giving birth, or waiting until her 30’s. If she has already given birth to a child before the current pregnancy, there is still a modest protective effect of giving birth to the child she is currently pregnant with. And with any child born, she can breastfeed, which also lowers her risk of breast cancer. She won’t get any of this protection if she has an abortion. So when a pregnant woman asks about abortion and her chances of getting breast cancer, the answer for most of them is that if they have the abortion, their chances of getting breast cancer will be higher than if they let their unborn child live.

And none of that relies on controversial science.

I explained this to my pro-choice visitors. One of them immediately expressed his doubts and said he was going to look up this information. I hope he does. He might receive an education.

More information:

The New Zealand Breast cancer foundation, Lower the risk of breast cancer

Wikipedia, Risk factors for breast cancer

Susan G Komen, Lower your risk



Bishop Colin Campbell officially opens Dunedin’s John Paul II Centre for Life

IMG_0847Family Life International NZ’s new John Paul II Centre for Life in Dunedin was officially opened on Sunday the 10th of November by Bishop Colin Campbell who is the Centre’s Patron.

The opening and blessing was witnessed by a capacity crowd of enthusiastic supporters. Approximately 50 adults and 15 children were present, twice the number that the Centre had seats for.

Frank Fischer, the Co-ordinator for the Dunedin John Paul II Centre for Life, started the afternoon by introducing himself, and his background in biomedical research.

The Centre is blessed with wonderful volunteers and they were introduced to the crowd, with a few words about what each of them are doing for the cause of life.

Dame Colleen Bayer, the Founder and National Director of Family Life International NZ talked about the work of saving babies from abortion and the role that the John Paul II Centres for Life have in this life saving work.

During her address, Dame Colleen mentioned a few of the recent babies saved, and the assistance required. Several of these mothers were visiting New Zealand for work or study at the time of becoming pregnant. Colleen told how Family Life International paid their medical costs of delivery through the Auckland and Wellington John Paul II Centres for Life. This amounted to thousands of dollars, a necessary expense as there is no other source of assistance available for these mums.

Dame Colleen also mentioned that each mum was different in their needs. Some mums that approached the Centres only needed to talk to someone, but many required ongoing and practical assistance.

Before he commenced the blessing, Bishop Colin Campbell expressed his enthusiasm for the Centre, and for pro-life work in general.

He reminded the crowd of the struggle to oppose the licence to perform abortions at Dunedin Hospital in the late 1980’s, and the more recent struggle over the abortions at Southland Hospital. He paid tribute to the work that Voice for Life, Pregnancy Counselling and Pregnancy Help have done over the years.

Bishop Campbell expressed his concern that the Catholic Church has been criticised for opposing abortion, but not doing anything practical for mums and families in need, but now there was a Centre in Dunedin which provides for any possible assistance. He then blessed the Centre.

Opening of John Paul II Centre for Life in Dunedin
Bishop Colin Campbell speaks to those gathered at the opening of the John Paul II Centre for Life in Dunedin

Almost the entire crowd remained behind for afternoon tea, taking the opportunity to talk to

Bishop Colin, Colleen Bayer, Frank Fischer, and the volunteers at the Centre.

There are now three of Family Life International NZ’s John Paul II Centres for Life throughout the country. The Dunedin Centre adds to the two existing Centres, in Auckland and Wellington.

Family Life International NZ’s John Paul II Centres for Life provide a physical place where mothers and families facing a crisis pregnancy can come for practical help, support and friendship; so that they may give choose life for their babies.  This offer of support is also extended to the sick, disabled, lonely and those who may find themselves targets of euthanasia-type practices.  The Centres are also a hub for prayer, education and research on life and family issues.