Pro-Life 2000: ‘The Great Conference’

Recently I attended the National Pro-Life Conference, sponsored by Alliance for Life (Ontario) and Campaign Life Coalition (Canada). It was held at the Regal Constellation Hotel, Toronto, October 26-28. The title of the conference was, “No Exceptions, No Compromises, No Apologies.”

I have attended many pro-life conferences during the past 20 years but I have no hesitation in saying that this was the most inspiring, the most informative, and the most enjoyable conference I have yet experienced.

One of the principal reasons for its success was the choice of speakers. There were 14 of them in all, so it would not be possible to give a detailed history of each. I think the best known in Canada would be Michael Coren, famous for his TV show, Michael Coren Live, shown every week night at 10 p.m. on CTS. Also we had Dr. John Shea, past-president of Catholic Doctors Guild of Toronto and co-founder of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Then there was Professor Peter Kreeft of Boston College and Professor Charles Rice, Professor of Law at Notre Dame University, and I cannot omit my long time friend, Joe Scheidler, Executive Director of the Pro-Life Action League in the U.S., and author of the book, 99 Ways to Close Abortion Clinics. The other speakers were, I am told, equally inspiring but I was unable to attend all the lectures.

Thursday the 26th

The conference commenced on Thursday morning with a 9 a.m. Mass, celebrated by Bishop Pearse Lacey, a great supporter of all pro-life occasions. He treated us to an inspiring homily on the sanctity of every human life. The remainder of the day was devoted to workshops on different aspects of the pro-life movement. They were held in different rooms of the hotel so those attending the conference could choose whichever appealed to them.

I had the pleasure of conducting one workshop with Rev. Ken Campbell, who represents the evangelical pro-life constituency and Rev. Dean Detlefsen of the Lutheran Church. All three of us were completely at one regarding the sanctity of life and the abhorrence of abortion. The title of the workshop was “Clergy Activism: shepherds Lead Your Flock.”

May I add that some years ago, Rev. Ken Campbell and myself had the pleasure of being in jail together. He is a perfect example of the title of the conference, “No Exceptions, No Compromises, No Apologies.”

Friday the 27th

This day was completely devoted to lectures. They were held in a very large hall of the hotel at different times, so that everybody could attend each lecture. Just over 500 people attended the conference – and 29 priests among them. Last year we had only five priests. I think they were all members of Priests for Life. Father Jim Whalen, the director of that organization, was present for the entire conference and spoke at the Masses.

At the conclusion of each lecture there was time for questions and this gave the speakers the opportunity to clarify some of the very learned statements they had made. I was also pleased to note that most of the speakers were not afraid to include some spirituality into their talks and to rise above the mere natural reasons for condemning the crime of abortion. I would also like to add that each day commenced with Mass for the Catholics and a prayer service for the Protestants.

On Friday evening some 200 people drove to the West Detention Centre where Linda Gibbons and Rosemary Connell were awaiting trial for the “crime” of trying to prevent the murder of babies. We prayed and sang and shouted words of encouragement. It was quite dark but we could see a number of the detained ladies waving from the windows. The officers saw us but made no attempt to dissuade us. We concluded with a rousing “Three Cheers” for Linda and Rosemary and returned to the hotel. I left with mixed feelings of admiration and guilt – admiration at the courage and self-sacrifice of these two ladies and guilt that I was walking free.

Later that evening we were entertained to a most enjoyable banquet in the large hotel dining room. Karen Murawsky was the Mistress of Ceremonies. When we had finished a delicious meal, Professor Charles Rice entertained us to an eloquent talk, the title of which was, “No Exception: a Pro-Life Imperative.”

Saturday the 28th

I had expected Saturday to be a kind of wind-up day, but it turned out to be on a par with Thursday and Friday with excellent and inspiring talks by Dr. Joel Brind – “Abortion and Breast Cancer, The Untold Truth.” Lawyer Gregg Cunningham – retired U.S. Air Force Colonel – gave a talk entitled “Standing in the GAP.” Professor Peter Kreeft spoke on “The Role of Faith in Pro-Life Efforts.”

The best was yet to come

The conclusion of the conference was, I think, the most encouraging aspect. We were treated to three wonderful talks from the younger members of the pro-life gathering. The first was from Adrian Dieleman. Adrian is the son of Joanne Dieleman, Director of Aid to Women, and brother of Deny, Office Manager of Campaign Life in Toronto. He was paralyzed in a motor accident in 1987. He lives in a chair as he is unable to walk. But, instead of succumbing to self-pity, Adrian has devoted his life to the topic of injury prevention and he stresses the fact that even an injured body can live a useful life.

He dwells on the Christian doctrine that the body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. He is an eloquent speaker and he kept us spellbound with his positive approach to life. Adrian has been featured in a number of TV programmes, including 100 Huntley Street, It’s A New Day (Winnipeg), The Change (Holland), Breakfast Television (Toronto) and Canada AM.

A little later we were addressed by Anna Halpine, whom I have known since she was a child. Until recently, Anna was working in Brussels as assistant to Rosemary Dana Scallon, a Member of the European Parliament. Anna co-founded the World Youth Alliance in response to the international community’s invitation for young people to get involved in the international decision-making process. The Alliance works to unite all the young people around the world, working in solidarity with each other to promote life and the family. Canada can be proud of having such a gifted representative in international organizations. Her talk was both informative and inspiring. She spoke with ease and eloquence.

Anna was followed by Tanya Granic, a young lady who, I am told, is just 20 years of age. She is National Director of Campaign Life Coalition Youth, and has been active in student pro-life work for a number of years. She has served as the University of Western Ontario’s representative to the National Campus Life Network. Her optimism stirred the audience and her humour had us howling with laughter.

These two young girls, as it were, put the lid on the conference and left us with a feeling of encouragement and hope. As somebody has said, “as the dark gets darker, the lights get brighter.

And so ended what I can truly call “The Great Conference.” Thanks and congratulations to the many organizers, especially Jim Hughes and Yoli Singson. Also to Steve Jalsevac and his two sons, John and Dominic – they spent the entire conference recording all the talks for videos and tapes. We pray the Lord to grant us many more conferences of this caliber!

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