Wellington: Reflection on 40 Days for Life

Wellington 40 Days for Lifeby 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.



Family Life International NZ holds a prayerful vigil outside Family Planning conference

Prayer at Te PapaFamily Life International is praying outside the Family Planning Association’s Conference today because we care about New Zealand children and women.

Every child deserves to be given a chance at life.  FPA is keen to see abortion scrubbed from the Crimes Act and to make medical abortions more widespread.  Consequently more unborn babies will lose their lives.

Neither can abortion be considered as health-care for women – it is linked to both physical and psychological problems such as infections, infertility and depression. Abortion is not health-care.  We pray that the lies and deceit surrounding abortion are lifted.  Government needs to fund agencies promoting genuine healthcare.

Their educational resources and programmes also have poor health outcomes.  Seldom, if ever, do they mention the positive gains of having one sexual partner for life.  Rather sexual activity is promoted as something to launch into “when you feel ready” and when you are comfortable with someone.  Behind the use of the expression “your sexual partners” is the apparent expectation that there will be more than one if not many.  Yet having many sexual partners not only jeopardises one’s own health but also that of others – it potentially turns one into a public health hazard.  It is no surprise, then, that the incidence and types of STDs/STIs continues to grow.

New Zealand has to ask itself what sort of health education we want for our young.  Do we want to guard their natural modesty or break it down so they can move into a promiscuous lifestyle?  Do we want them to know that true love involves responsibility or mislead them into thinking it’s just about emotions?  Do we want them to respect themselves and others or do we want them to view others as objects to be used?

We pray today New Zealand will choose only what leads to health and happiness for our children’s future.

Happy Families, Healthy Economies: Our experience of the 7th World Congress of Families

Ian and Clare World Congress for Familiesby Ian and Clare McClean, Family Life International NZ – Wellington

We were privileged to recently attend the 7th World Congress of Families held in Sydney’s unique Eveleigh Locomotive Workshops at Redfern. Around 800 people from all around the world attended over the three days (15 – 18th May).

Previous congresses have been in Prague (1997), Geneva (1999), Mexico City (2004), Warsaw (2007), Amsterdam (2009) and Madrid (2012).

Reflecting back on the congress, universal is the first word that springs to mind. The speakers were from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds covering a myriad of topics on both the micro and macro level affecting families. Throughout, though, both research and practice pointed to the essential part the natural family plays in a healthy society and the need for the economy to serve the family and not the other way around.

Words of hope came from African and Russian delegates. While generally-speaking in Western countries the natural family and religion is in crisis, Theresa Okafor from Nigeria, spoke of her desire to see Africa give back to the West its lost heritage. Missionaries had made a significant impact for her own life. “I’m a twin, and in some parts of Africa, they were seen as evil. I’m alive, in part, because of the Scottish missionaries,” she said. She then went on to itemize characteristics of African culture (outside South Africa) which need to be resurrected in the West. During the 20th century the majority of churches were destroyed in Russia but the swing around in faith is dramatic: in Moscow alone there is now a need for 200 more churches to be built! Russia is dismayed to see the West willingly give up what they had forcefully taken from them and are now reclaiming.

William May’s talk Getting the Marriage Conversation Right indicated a way forward in upholding marriage. To continue to defend marriage amidst a campaign of silence and intimidation we need to learn new ways of communicating about marriage. For instance, the definition, marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union, is now being constructively adopted in the current debate. Marriage is worth fighting for and we were rightly reminded history hasn’t been written yet!

Unfortunately, much of our health education is based on instilling fear with predictably poor results. Louise Kirk from England highlighted the need for virtues based education to start early so that children can learn what trust and love look like and also begin to appreciate the wonderful gift of their fertility long before their hormones start raging. Her curriculum Alive to the World is now available from Freedom Press in Australia.

Birth Control is not typically seen as a Protestant issue, but this has not always been so. Historically all Christian churches were aligned on the birth control question, that is, until the twentieth century. A new documentary by Protestants exploring the history of birth control Birth Control:How did we get here? was one of the lunchtime options available to conference attendees. Copies were purchased for both Auckland and Wellington Centres in time before they all sold out. Watch the trailer here:

Another highlight for everyone was hearing first hand from Jose Ureta about the French experience surrounding the marriage debate and especially how the young 20 and 30 year olds have risen up to defend marriage. Drawing 1.5 million people these marches have been the largest ever in France’s history. One European leader has described the French response to the attempt to eliminate marriage as “Europe’s most beautiful surprise.” Besides the Marches for All, the young people have also spontaneously initiated The Watchers (Les Veilleurs) groups of young adults sitting in their town centres at night singing by candlelight (usually until they are removed!). Present at the conference also was a young French man living in Sydney who explained that this movement has spread to other cities around the world including Sydney. Wherever there are French young people gatherings are organized to coincide with the Marches in France. The question was asked why? The young man explained this generation see themselves as victims of divorce, moral relativism and poor education and they want to see and be part of a new cultural revolution. There has been an awakening and they are ready to reject moral relativism and fight for family values. The theatre spontaneously erupted into the French national anthem as a way of acknowledging and celebrating their valour!

Organization of this Congress was a joint project between New Zealand and Australia. Starting with the traditional welcome by the local Indigenous people to the many local speakers, Australasia’s contribution was significant. Tasman speakers in the plenary sessions included:
• Peter Meurs the Director of Development of Fortescue Metals Group attributes the unexpected success of his company to the company’s family ethos. Particularly inspirational was their practical steps of supporting numbers of indigenous people and consequently their families to break free from inter-generational unemployment.
• In his unique and entertaining style, Ian Grant, offered parents encouragement in his presentation Parenting: a Journey of Love for Life.
• Australians Byron and Francine Pirola, from Smart Loving, opened up the inner world of the marriage relationship and shared some of their Smart Loving Tips.
• Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia for six years, John Anderson, gave one of the best addresses of the conference. The breakdown of the family is really only symptomatic of a breakdown of truth and absolutes. He lamented the current lack of reasoned debate in the public sphere which is a natural ramification of a rejection of objective truth and absolute values. Our age is one of self-obsession, funding unsustainable entitlements, borrowing against our children’s future. He indicated three things as the way forward: Firstly, to recommit to truth, secondly, to engage in reasoned debate, and, thirdly to remember who we are fighting for: our children (and grandchildren).

There were plenty of lighter moments enjoyed. The characteristic Australian and New Zealand flavour was evident with the trans-Tasman banter whenever New Zealanders took to the stage. Not showing any bias but New Zealand’s Bob McCroskie outwitted the Australians more than once. Lunch time activities among other presentations included a fashion parade from The Dress Shoppe http://www.tds.com and a live theatre, The Tale of Two Brains. Friday night saw the premiere of the movie Return to the Hiding Place the story of Dutch Resistance fighter Hans Poley who found refuge in Corrie ten Boom’s house during the Nazi occupation. There were plenty of display tables and opportunities to talk with and meet people during the breaks.

Over the three days many modern day myths were exposed. On day one Bishop Peter Elliott stressed Blessed Pope John Paul II’s call for a ‘family politics” in Familiaris Consortio which counteracts the false claims that the family is ‘a private matter’ and that the individual and not the family is the basic cell of society. The World Congress of Families is one endeavour to strengthen the family, the basic living cell of society, by promoting public discussion on research and all matters affecting the family today. At the end of each WCF a declaration is proclaimed to summarize the discussion. The 2013 Declaration can be read in full here.

As part of the closing ceremony the Russian delegates made a delightful presentation of several Russian dolls, each one a family of seven, to key organizers of this congress. The 2014 World Congress of Families is to be held in Russia, with none other than the Kremlin being the venue.