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Cardinal on Pope’s advisory board: I ‘fully support’ jailed Canadian pro-lifer

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay spoke with LifeSiteNews in Milton, Ontario after celebrating Mass with pro-life prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner at the Vanier Centre for Women.
Fri Aug 9, 2013 - 2:46 pm EST

MILTON, Ontario, August 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An influential Indian Cardinal says he “fully support[s]” the efforts of a Canadian pro-lifer who is serving a long-term stint in jail for entering abortion facilities to rescue unborn babies.

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Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, was recently tapped by Pope Francis to join an eight-cardinal advisory board charged with assisting the Pope in reforming the Roman Curia. He also serves as president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences.

The Cardinal spoke with LifeSiteNews’ editor-in-chief, John-Henry Westen, on Friday at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ontario. The Cardinal was at the prison to visit Mary Wagner, who has been arrested repeatedly for peacefully entering abortion facilities to speak with abortion-bound women.

While at the prison, Cardinal Gracias offered Mass for about a dozen inmates, including Wagner and pro-life prisoner of conscience Linda Gibbons. He was joined by Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Lahore, Pakistan.

“[Pope] Francis is so clear about the necessity of us giving witness to the Gospel in spite of difficulties,” said the Cardinal. “I am deeply convinced that one should do what one sees is right. Follow the gospel in good times and in bad, whatever the difficulties. So in that sense, I certainly fully support what Mary Wagner’s doing.”

“Speaking to Mary, it’s clearer to me now that she has a mission,” he said, also describing her work as “an apostolate.” “She is certainly the voice of the unborn child. She is an advocate for their rights.”

Wagner has been in prison since she was arrested on August 15, 2012 outside Toronto’s “Women’s Care Clinic” on Lawrence Ave. West. Like Gibbons, who has been at Vanier since June, Wagner remains in jail because she refuses in conscience to agree to a bail condition that would bar her from approaching abortion facilities.

Cardinal Gracias said that after meeting Wagner he is “more convinced of the utility of what she’s doing.”

“It’s not just a futile exercise which is fighting against the windmills,” he said. “Whatever people might doubt about the effectiveness, she herself has told me that several have been influenced by what she’s done and have not gone for abortion. Now that, straight away, it shows fruits, it means it’s working and it was worth it. Even if she saved one life, it was worth it.”

The Cardinal also said he was struck by Mary’s personal witness and her apostolic efforts in the prison.

“She’s such a peaceful person and so content with herself. There was no sign of any distress,” he explained. “I’m so happy to have met her. She leaves everything in the hands of the Lord, a person of deep faith and commitment and sure of what she’s doing.”

“Her very presence is ambient,” he continued. “Possibly it is also therapeutic for some people, the way she deals with them, the way she is confident.”

Westen also spoke with Fr. Paul Hrynczyszyn, who organized the Cardinal’s visit to the prison and frequently meets with inmates there. He said the event happened because the Cardinal “had a desire to visit Mary Wagner.”

“It was nice to have the Cardinal, one of the Pope’s right-hand men, to come celebrate Mass for them,” said Fr. Hrynczyszyn, who serves as associate pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Burlington. He said it was “a beautiful Mass” and that “some of them were crying.”

Fr. Hrynczyszyn said he visits Mary at the prison a couple times a month. “I’ve gotten to know her really well, and it’s actually a blessing for me to visit her because I think she’s a saint,” he said. “I really do. I don’t think people recognize that, but what she does is very heroic.”

“What struck me most about her is her deep piety, her holiness, and her deep humility,” he continued. “A lot of people might not understand and criticize her for what she’s doing, wasting taxpayer’s money for nothing. But what she feels like she’s doing is the Lord’s work and that the Lord is calling her to do this, to witness to the gift and sanctity of human life in this radical way.”

“Not everybody’s called to witness in this radical way, to go and sit in prison, but she feels called to do this,” he added. “I truly feel that she is called to do this as well. She’s doing more, I think, than we think by being here in this prison. She’s helping a lot of the women as well to come back to the faith.”

John Bulsza, a friend of Wagner and Gibbons, also said the inmates "were moved by their contact" with the Cardinal and Archbishop.

"I asked one of the inmates, 'Why are you crying?' And she said, 'I just felt healed. I just felt like I needed forgiveness and his presence made me feel like I was forgiven.' I asked another inmate, and she said basically the same thing. They just felt like there was a healing process going on."

The Cardinal is visiting Canada celebrate the golden anniversary (50 years) of ordination to the priesthood of Fr. Ray O'Toole, his Secretary at the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences.  His journey was coordinated by the Cardinal's childhood friend Kevin Coelho who was also celebrating an anniversary - his 40th wedding anniversary with his wife Judy.

A close friend to the Coelhos Tennessee native Ronald Barnes also accompanied the group to the prison.

Barnes said he was moved "just to watch [the women's] faces and see how thrilled they were about being there, how happy."

"I mean they really were happy. Those were tears of joy, very much joy," he continued. "You could tell they were touched. You could tell they were glad we came. I just felt myself moved, to be honest with you, being in there."