Stephanie Gray

St. Maximilian Kolbe: He gave his life so another might live

Stephanie Gray
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He was 47.  The other man was 41.  The latter man would go on to live for 53 more years, because of the former man who went on to live for only a couple more weeks.

Maximilian and Franciszek faced a brutal situation reflecting man’s inhumanity to man, but it was soon redeemed as a moment reflecting man’s humanity to man, all because of a choice.

In July 1941, both Maximilian and Franciszek were prisoners in Auschwitz I.  One of their inmates disappeared and the Nazis sought to retaliate by selecting 10 men to face death by starvation to deter future escapes.  When Franciszek Gajowniczek was selected, he cried out that he had a wife and children, pleading that his life be spared.

Observing this, Maximilian, also known as Father Kolbe, made a choice to step forward and offer his own life instead.  When Franciszek Gajowniczek was 93 years old, he still recalled that day: “Father Kolbe told the commandant, ‘I want to go instead of the man who was selected. He has a wife and family. I am alone. I am a Catholic priest.’”

The commandant agreed to the switch.

What awaited Father Kolbe was not a quick death, but rather days of suffering, sitting cold and naked without food or water.  Yet again, his focus was not on the self, but the other:  He helped calm those within the cell and surrounding ones by singing and praying.  He provided consolation to them, and was the last to be killed.

A Polish man assigned to work in the building had eye-witness testimony of the final days of Father Kolbe and his fellow prisoners:

“In the cell of the poor wretches there were daily loud prayers, the rosary and singing, in which prisoners from neighbouring cells also joined. When no SS men were in the Block I went to the Bunker to talk to the men and comfort them…I had the impression I was in a church. Fr. Kolbe was leading and the prisoners responded in unison. They were often so deep in prayer that they did not even hear that inspecting SS men had descended to the Bunker; and the voices fell silent only at the loud yelling of their visitors. When the cells were opened the poor wretches cried loudly and begged for a piece of bread and for water, which they did not receive, however. If any of the stronger ones approached the door he was immediately kicked in the stomach by the SS men, so that falling backwards on the cement floor he was instantly killed; or he was shot to death.

“…Fr. Kolbe bore up bravely, he did not beg and did not complain but raised the spirits of the others…. Since they had grown very weak, prayers were now only whispered. At every inspection, when almost all the others were now lying on the floor, Fr. Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing in the centre as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men. Two weeks passed in this way. Meanwhile one after another they died, until only Fr. Kolbe was left.

“This the authorities felt was too long; the cell was needed for new victims. So one day they brought in the head of the sick-quarters, a German, a common criminal named Bock, who gave Fr Kolbe an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. Fr Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner. Unable to watch this I left under the pretext of work to be done. Immediately after the SS men with the executioner had left I returned to the cell, where I found Fr Kolbe leaning in a sitting position against the back wall with his eyes open and his head drooping sideways. His face was calm and radiant.”

Six years ago, I walked the very ground both men stood.  When I wrote to family and friends back home, I said, “I’m finding it difficult to find the words to describe the experience of walking around a place built for such evil.  It was gut-wrenching.”  One of the most emotional moments I experienced at Auschwitz I was standing at the basement cell door where Father Kolbe (since canonized a Roman Catholic saint) spent his final days.

As is the practise for the tours at Auschwitz, before going past the cell (where there is a memorial inside) our tour guide explained, “Within concentration camps there were some resistance movements that were organized.  We tell Kolbe’s story because he showed the greatest resistance to the Nazis: by staying human.”

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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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