by Clare McClean
Co-ordinator of Family Life International NZ’s John Paul II Centre for Life in Wellington and leader of 40 Days for Life in Wellington
With just four days remaining of 40 Days for Life it is time to reflect on some of our experiences at the vigil site.
Fore mostly, the footpath outside Wellington Hospital has been a place of consistent prayer, but it has also been a place of encounter with the public.
We have had some amazing opportunities to pray with, and for, the sick and to also witness to the sanctity of human life. What have been particularly exciting are the few dialogues where an initially angry person has come to understand and accept the need to stand up for our defenceless and innocent unborn brothers and sisters. “You’ve got me,” said one professional hospital staff member who later admitted after a long discussion, “You are right.”
Then there are the public who have stopped to encourage us with statements like:
“Thank you for what you are doing.”
“Keep it up.”
“Hope you are going to have another 40 days after this one.”
“Seeing you here every day has made me consider our duty as Christians to stand up for the defenceless today”
“I am an atheist but what you are doing is right, it’s a matter of logic, and I don’t understand why all Christians aren’t here with you.”
“Can I pray with you?”
We’ve also been made acutely aware of the pain in society inflicted by the culture of death.
People have wanted to come and share their heart wrenching stories with us. Amongst these encounters are someone whose sister committed suicide after two forced abortions; a grandparent who felt helpless to save a grandchild from abortion; and someone who agonises for flatmates who have been changed by abortion and are no longer able to function “normally.”
In these encounters people are able to appreciate what 40 Days for Life is about. They understand the need to stand peacefully and prayerfully keeping watch, waiting for the day when unborn children will be treasured and women will no longer be exploited in our hospital. They ‘get it’. They know we are there to be a loving presence, support for the dying ; a hand of hope and help for the families of the unborn children and a witness to the truth. They know that in a just society the right to life is upheld for all.
However, there are still those who wrongly perceive both us and the reality of abortion. Some of the slogans uttered by passers-by are so ironic. Ponder a moment on these two slogans, particularly in relation to the reality of the abortion procedures,
“no unwanted babies” and “no forced labour”.
Are not both slogans in reality a good description of what abortion truly is: a premature forced labour and the abandonment and rejection of children?
Why is there such a disconnect with logic and reality on our streets?
Why is it that despite our efforts to explain that 40 Days for Life’s visual presence is a prayer vigil, the media and some of the public insist we are “protestors” holding a “protest.”
Why are there rumours spread about (by people who admit they have not yet seen 40 Days for Life) that we are there arguing with people.
Why is it that the feminist blogger referred to our presence as creating an ideological clash!
After all our signs have positive and life-affirming messages eg. “Saving lives, offering hope” ; “We can help 0800 367 5433” ; “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” and even the one that reads “Pray for an end to abortion” simply informs the public of our mission while inviting them to join in. Most of the time we are praying but if we are asked questions we answer them. We have been on the other end of all sorts of loud, rude and annoying retorts. Yet we come to be called the ones described as harassing, argumentative and ideological. What we are doing is being deliberately distorted and misrepresented.
We can though look to Pope Francis for some light on the matter. In Evangelii Gaudium he says “Frequently as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their (= the unborn) lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative.”
We have no ideology to push; no political agenda up our sleeve. We are concerned about a life and death issue affecting the very core of our society: individuals within families. We are standing for what is good, what is true and what is beautiful – the right for everyone to be given a chance at life. The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights and in fact from the right to life all other human rights spring, including authentic women’s rights.
The difficulty for those who label us as protestors lies in the fact that the truth we speak and the goodness we pray for is at variance with the current ideology of New Zealand’s political parties and those accusing us falsely, that is, secular democracy. Having done away with absolute truth and fallen upon the way of relativism, New Zealand politics fails to recognise absolute truths like the right to life. They fail to look outside of their own wishes and thoughts to seek what is true. Truth changes in a secular democracy according to the current whim of the sitting parliament. If we vigil prayers put our trust in politics alone then we would be protesting!
However, a lie cannot last forever! The humanity of the unborn child will again one day be recognised; the dignity of women will again be upheld and abortion will no longer be classified as healthcare. In this we hope and pray during all 40 Days and beyond.