Saturday, May 11th was a very special day for the New Zealand pro-life movement as Colleen Bayer, Founder and Director of Family Life International NZ, had her life’s work acknowledged by the Catholic Church. Earlier this year, Bishop Patrick Dunn, Bishop of Auckland, announced to Colleen that the then Pope Benedict XVI had named her as a Dame in the Order of St Gregory the Great. The award has been given in recognition of the work Colleen has done over the last 40 years to promote a culture of life in New Zealand and to help the mothers and babies who otherwise would become victims of abortion.
The Investiture Mass was held at the Church of St Therese, a Saint who is very close to Colleen’s heart. The date was chosen for the weekend of Mother’s Day as a fitting reminder that at the heart of being pro-life is the love, respect and care for women facing crisis pregnancies. In accepting this honour, Colleen wanted to acknowledge those women who had courageously given life, even in the midst of terrible struggles.
The Mass, which had over 250 people in attendance, including Bishop Dunn and six priests, had the theme “Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will.” A beautiful final touch was the individual blessing of all mothers and grandmothers in attendance by Bishop Dunn; a special gift Colleen had wanted for those who have supported her in this mission, and for the mother’s present who had been helped by Family Life International NZ in their greatest hour of need.
In his homily, Bishop Dunn spoke of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, saying he
warned of the … progression from acceptance of artificial contraception. His fear, which was realised, was that that would lead to a wholesale acceptance of abortion as almost like a human right.
Bishop Dunn also spoke about euthanasia which is a looming threat in New Zealand, and the same-sex marriage legislation which was passed just a few months ago. “Looking back down the years” he said “we see how prophetic this warning has been.”
In an exceptional tribute to Colleen, Bishop Dunn said
Colleen, through all these developments you’ve been an Apostle for Life. A defender of the unborn. And you also realise that if we are to be defenders of the unborn, we must also be defenders and supporters of mothers and fathers who are facing the threat of a difficult pregnancy… We must offer couples, in these very difficult times, love and support, practical support and friendship. And Colleen you and your co-workers have done that.
Just before presenting Colleen with the award and medal, Bishop Dunn articulated the qualities he saw in this dynamic woman:
We all know Colleen. She’s a fundraiser, an educator, a very powerful speaker, a teacher, a CEO, an organiser of practically everything that moves, but also a loving wife, a mother, a woman of faith and a woman of prayer… Today we honour you and we salute you.
Colleen accepted the honour on behalf of all those who work tirelessly in the pro-life movement in New Zealand, acknowledging that
It’s all very well to have a dream and a vision and the get up and go, but you can’t do it alone. .. You need … people to get behind you and help support this work, and so many of you do that. So I would like to thank you.
Taking the honour very seriously Colleen also made a solemn pledge “to stand firm with Mother Church and to always promote the Gospel of Life and to defend and help mothers in need and all families.”
At the conclusion of Mass, a celebration was held in the Parish Hall where flowers were presented to Colleen by one of the mothers helped by Family Life International NZ over the years “We would like to thank you for the years of help that you have given us and we appreciate everything you’ve done for us and we love you” Cushla said.
Another mother helped by Family Life International NZ conveyed her appreciation to Colleen:
I really struggled being in New Zealand, being a migrant and coming to a new country… Meeting Colleen actually changed my life, changed my view on how I view people. She became a second mother to me… Thank you Colleen for saving these children. You say you’ve got 10 grandchildren, bur you’ve got heaps and heaps of them out there.
Entertainment was provided by the Mother of Divine Mercy Youth, a group of young people for whom 98% domestic violence has featured in their lives. These amazing young people are testament to the healing power of God’s Divine Mercy when we turn to Him.
The Mass was a beautiful tribute to a woman who, in answering God’s call for her life, has supported and inspired others to be the people that God has created them to be.