Stephanie Gray

Immaculee Ilibagiza: the woman who forgave

Stephanie Gray
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Mark Twain once said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

Those words aptly capture the spirit of Rwandan-genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza. The suffering she endured in one of the speediest genocides of the 20th century is difficult to fathom.  Perhaps more incomprehensible, is her ability to forgive a mass murderer when she came out alive after 100 days of terror, where almost 1 million of her fellow citizens were slaughtered.

Growing up in a country whose history was scarred with deep animosity between ethnic groups, Immaculee was nonetheless raised in a home where her parents taught her respect and kindness for one’s neighbor.  And she was to be a recipient of that kindness when a pastor hid her, and seven other women, in a tiny bathroom during the genocide.  For 91 days, Immaculee and these women sat in silent terror as they heard the blood-curdling screams of people being butchered outside.  They smelled the stench of rotting bodies. When, three months into their hiding, they moved places, they saw piles of human corpses.

As if Immaculee had not suffered enough, she would soon learn that most of her relatives had been butchered to death.  In the months following this realization, Immaculee was faced with a unique situation: she could visit the prison where the man who murdered her mother and brother—and who had sought to murder her—was being held.  Before Immaculee knew of this man as a killer, she knew of him by name as Felicien, the father of friends she had played with growing up.

Her encounter with Felicien, as told in her own words in her book, Left to Tell, is nothing short of inspiring:

His dirty clothing hung from his emaciated frame in tatters. His skin was sallow, bruised, and broken; and his eyes were filmed and crusted. His once handsome face was hidden beneath a filthy, matted beard; and his bare feet were covered in open, running sores.

I wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like a cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man.

“He looted your parents’ home and robbed your family’s plantation, Immaculee. We found your dad’s farm machinery at his house, didn’t we?” Semana [the guard]yelled at Felicien. “After he killed Rose and Damascene, he kept looking for you ... he wanted you dead so he could take over your property. Didn’t you, pig?” Semana shouted again.

I flinched, letting out an involuntary gasp. Semana looked at me, stunned by my reaction and confused by the tears streaming down my face. He grabbed Felicien by the shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. “What do you have to say to her? What do you have to say to Immaculee?”

Felicien was sobbing. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly, and quietly said what I’d come to say.

“I forgive you.”

My heart eased immediately, and I saw the tension release in Felicien’s shoulders before Semana pushed him out the door and into the courtyard. Two soldiers yanked Felicien up by his armpits and dragged him back toward his cell. When Semana returned, he was furious.

“What was that all about, Immaculee? That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question ... to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him?”

I answered him with the truth: “Forgiveness is all I have to offer.”

It is only in understanding the depth of Immaculee’s suffering that one can see the depth of her mercy.  She most certainly left a fragrant scent of violets not only on this one individual, but on a wounded country that can only be restored with the opposite of what brought it down.


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Justin Trudeau tramples the Charter

Stephanie Gray
Stephanie Gray
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Justin Trudeau has been lambasted for being against “choice” when it comes to how new Liberal candidates vote on bills related to abortion—he expects them to vote in favour of dismembering pre-born children, which includes children moments from birth.  But the problem with Trudeau is not his new expectation that representatives who align with a specific party align one particular way; rather, the problem with Trudeau is the specific position he holds on abortion.

Justin’s father Pierre may have given us the Charter, but it seems Justin himself hasn’t read it.  If he had, he would have seen The Charter is actually anti-abortion.

Most prominently, Section 7 guarantees “everyone” the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.  Who falls under the category “everyone”?  Considering that killing a dog, while perhaps outrageous, isn’t a Charter violation, but killing a toddler is, it seems reasonable to deduce that “everyone” refers to all members of the human family.  After all, that’s how the United Nations defines everyone in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To exclude some members of the human family from basic rights like the right to life, is to permit discrimination, thus violating Section 15 of the Charter as well: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination…based on…age.”

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To deprive the pre-born their right to life because they are inside of, and dependent on, their mothers’ bodies, or because they may not feel pain, or because they cannot think and reason, is to discriminate against them based on age.  After all, the pre-born are where they are because, in our species, at that age, that’s where you should be.  They are as dependent as they are because, in our species, at that age, you are dependent on your mother’s body.  They have a low level of development because, in our species, at that age, that’s the developmental level you should be at.

Why should those of us who are older be allowed to kill those who are younger?

But Justin seems to think they should be, making him an oversized bully who not only wants to maintain Canada’s status quo (which includes abortion late in pregnancy and for sex-selection) of ripping off the limbs of tiny human children for any reason, but he wants to ensure other Liberal party representatives do the same.

Reprinted with permission from Unmasking Choice

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Pro-life activists need strong minds, but also tender hearts

Stephanie Gray
Stephanie Gray

2014 marks my 15th year of doing public speaking and serious activism for the pro-life cause.  And over this time, I believe the most important development this experience has taught me can be captured in the observation of a priest friend of mine who heard me speak in 2005 and not again until 2013: “There’s something different about your presentations now,” he said. “They’re softer.  There’s a softness there that wasn’t there before.”

He’s right.  The past few years I have learned to balance the head with the heart.  Historically, when I would make an airtight (and I mean airtight) case against abortion (I knew how to navigate through the science and philosophy and argue so well that people would tell me to become a lawyer), I would observe that people would still disagree with me.  “How is that possible?” I’ve wondered. “The pro-life view is so logical.  It makes sense.  Why don’t people get it?”  Well I have come to see that, as I’ve written about here and here and here, peoples’ disagreement with the pro-life message often comes from a place of pain, suffering, and personal experience.

I have come to see this because my 600+ presentations have been complemented with thousands of one-on-one conversations whether after talks, on call-in radio interviews, or through CCBR’s activism projects.  And when you actually engage the culture, when you actually talk to people “on the streets,” when you hear pro-abortion rhetoric actually coming from the mouths of people and not just in a philosopher’s essay, you start to notice things.

You start to notice that the angry guy who won’t accept that abortion is wrong has a sister who had an abortion—and what he’s really doing is defending the sibling he loves.

You start to notice that that girl who won’t accept that life begins at fertilization was conceived by in vitro fertilization—and what she’s really doing is resisting a devastating truth that would cause her to question her beginnings and necessitate that she grieve for the siblings she never knew because they’re frozen or killed.

You start to notice that the girl who thinks abortion is needed in cases of rape was molested by her uncle—and what she’s really doing is crying out from a place of pain, wondering not so much if the pre-born are human, but as my friends over at Justice for All say, whether the pro-lifer is human.

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And the best advice I can give to passionate pro-lifers who will have these sorts of encounters if they’re engaging the culture as they should, is to live the Prayer of St. Francis: “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand.”

Seek to understand.

Listening does wonders.  And when we seek to understand, we will truly and deeply listen.

Asking questions does wonders.  And when we seek to understand, we will ask good questions. 

Praying does wonders.  And when we seek to understand, we will pray for Divine inspiration to conduct ourselves in such a way that the person most needs to see and hear.

Nothing of what I’ve said means we shouldn’t refine our arguments to be as clear and solid as possible, or that we shouldn’t show abortion victim photography.  We most certainly should do those things.  But what I’m saying is that what matters is how we do them.  What matters is that we master the art of dialogue, and know when to appeal to “the head” and when to appeal to “the heart.”

Case in point—my colleague Maaike recently shared this testimony about the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) when it was displayed at the University of Lethbridge last fall:

In one conversation, a pro-life student went to the heart of the matter when an angry protester defended her right to abortion. The protester had already heard our apologetics from another volunteer, talking for about 45 minutes.  Then the protester turned to the pro-life student when the pro-lifer asked her why she felt she needed to defend abortion. It turned out that the protester had been abused by her dad and her mom didn’t do anything; she said she would never put a baby in a similar situation. The GAP volunteer expressed sympathy and affirmed the woman's value. They then talked about abortion, and the volunteer asked how killing her own child would improve the situation/cycle of abuse. After about 30 minutes the woman said no one had ever told her that she deserved to be loved by her own parents. She then rolled up her sign and left.

No one had ever told her that she deserved to be loved by her own parents. 

When we seek to understand, we find ourselves amidst profoundly beautiful opportunities to build up the brokenhearted, and to love them—to desire the other’s good—in a way that the abortion advocate least expects yet most needs to hear.

May all people who claim the name pro-life follow the example of this young pro-life student, and have the strongest of minds and the most tender of hearts.

Reprinted with permission from UnmaskingChoice.ca.

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Notorious abortionist Garson Romalis has died: over a decade ago, I sat with him in his office

Stephanie Gray
Stephanie Gray

Another infamous Canadian abortionist has died.  The Vancouver Province reported that Dr. Garson Romalis died from illness on January 30, incidentally almost a full pregnancy gestation since abortionist Henry Morgentaler died last May 29.

When I learned of Dr. Romalis’ death, I couldn’t help but recall our encounter sitting in his medical office more than a decade ago when I was an 18-year-old UBC student. 

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My classmate and I wanted to organize a debate on abortion; having heard of Dr. Romalis as a local abortionist, we went to his office and asked his secretary if we could speak with him about participating in a forum.  After a few moments she returned to escort us down a hallway where we were brought to a room to speak with Dr. Romalis.  He was unwilling to debate, but recommended I contact Joyce Arthur—who also ended up being unwilling to debate.  We chatted for about 20 minutes and one thing he said was that women are always going to get abortions, so they can be legal and safe or illegal and unsafe.

That concern for women that he expressed to me back then was consistent with a reflection he gave in a January 25, 2008, speech at the University of Toronto Law School’s Symposium to mark the 20th anniversary of R. vs. Morgentaler:

“I have been an abortion provider since 1972. Why do I do abortions, and why do I continue to do abortions, despite two murder attempts?

“The first time I started to think about abortion was in 1960, when I was in second year medical school. I was assigned the case of a young woman who had died of a septic abortion. She had aborted herself using slippery elm bark.

“...The young woman in our case developed an overwhelming infection. At autopsy she had multiple abscesses throughout her body, in her brain, lungs, liver and abdomen.  I have never forgotten that case. [Emphasis added]

“After I graduated from University of British Columbia medical school in 1962, I went to Chicago, where I served my internship and Ob/Gyn residency at Cook County Hospital....I will never forget the 17-year-old girl lying on a stretcher with 6 feet of small bowel protruding from her vagina.” [Emphasis added]

It is a tragic and powerful image that undoubtedly and profoundly affected Dr. Romalis.  My guess is that he didn’t get into abortions because he loved killing babies (in the speech above he said, “I had originally been drawn to obstetrics and gynecology because I loved delivering babies”).  My guess is that he got into abortions because he was moved by the plight of desperate women.

That is consistent with what two other abortionists I have since met (and formally debated) have conveyed.  Both Dr. Baram in Minnesota and Dr. Fellows in Ontario cited the impact, early in their pursuit of medical careers, of seeing women brought to the hospital, hurt by botched abortions, and their desire to help these women.  In fact, at our debate at the University of Western Ontario’s medical school, Dr. Fellows said, “[D]oing an abortion is not something I take great pleasure in; however, helping a woman solve the conundrum that she is presented with is something that I take pride in.”

Believe it or not, I have common ground with these abortionists—I agree that the tragic, horrifying, and very real situations they encountered most certainly warrant a serious response, and that the crises they saw should be prevented.

Where we differ is over how.

What kind of society have we become when we ensure no more women have their own small bowel hanging out of their vaginas by pulling and ripping the bowels (and other body parts) of their babies through their vaginas?

What kind of society have we become when we think we can eliminate a woman’s crisis by way of eliminating a woman’s child?

What kind of society have we become when the hands trained to heal become hands trained to kill?

When Dr. Romalis said abortions can be legal and safe or illegal and unsafe, he made a false dilemma.  There is a third option—illegal and unthinkable.  Abortions don’t have to happen at all.  There is a better way.

That better way is through supporting teenagers like Nadege who was abandoned by her father, five brothers, and boyfriend, and whose mother was dead, but who nonetheless embraced her pre-born son.

That better way is through empowering students like Veronika who was single, 22, and pressured to abort, yet said she “went from being very directionless to a full time student with a direction because of [her] daughter.”

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That better way is through walking with parents like T.K. and Deidrea, who were faced with a poor prenatal diagnosis and chose to maximize what minimal time they had left with their son—embracing every moment of their pregnancy, carrying to full term, and loving Thomas until he died five days later.

If only Dr. Romalis embraced this better way.

In a few days, his funeral will be held.  I wish it could be like that of another abortionist—Dr. Bernard Nathanson.  He was a founder of the National Association of the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) in the United States and was responsible for committing more than 75,000 abortions.  But in 1979 he committed his last one.  He became pro-life and his funeral in 2011 was filled with pro-lifers, including Joan Andrews Bell, a woman who had been jailed for peacefully protesting outside clinics.  In a gesture of mercy and trust, it was Joan Andrews Bell who had asked this redeemed doctor to deliver her baby girl years earlier, knowing that what matters most is not our past, but our present.

In his autobiography, Dr. Nathanson explained that he “discovered that the New Testament God was a loving, forgiving, incomparably cosseting figure in whom I would seek, and ultimately find, the forgiveness that I have pursued so hopelessly, for so long.”

May Dr. Nathanson’s sentiment be ours as well.

Reprinted with permission from UnmaskingChoice

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