How the newest Canadian bishop helped a 13-year-old say no to abortion

Canada’s newest Catholic bishop wowed participants at the National March for Life last week with a stirring homily at the morning Mass.
John-Henry Westen By John-Henry Westen

John-Henry Westen By John-Henry Westen

OTTAWA, May 13, 2014 ( – Canada’s newest Catholic bishop wowed participants at the National March for Life last week, delivering a stirring homily in which he shared the story of how he once convinced a 13-year-old girl to keep her child rather than abort.

The stunning Gothic-style Cathedral of Notre Dame in Ottawa, with its stark blue vaulted ceilings, was packed to overflowing at the main morning Mass for the March for Life on Thursday.  With a nearly 40-voice choir, the Mass was celebrated by Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast with his new Auxiliary Bishop Christian Riesbeck delivering the homily. Also present were Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Peterborough Bishop William McGratten, Eastern Catholic Bishop John Pazak, Valleyfield Bishop Noël Simard, and Kingston Archbishop Brendan O'Brien.

Riesbeck, born February 7, 1970 and ordained bishop March 19 at the age of 44, opened his homily with an immediate attention grabber in which he castigated the previous day’s comment by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

“Every person is called to stand for life. Although now we are told, as we heard in the news yesterday, that if you want to be an MP in the next election and you are pro-life you will be screened out and won’t be allowed to run. So much for democracy!” the bishop said.

But perhaps the most poignant part of the homily was Bishop Riesbeck’s recollection of his being confronted with a child pregnant at “barely 13” and his encouraging her to embrace life despite the difficult circumstances. 

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“Shortly after I became pastor of Queen of Peace Parish in Houston, TX, I was approached by a young girl, her mother and her aunt. She was barely 13 and she was pregnant,” said the bishop. 

The situation was so troubling that he admitted he wanted to cry.

“They asked if an exception could be made in her case because of her age – they wanted to abort the child,” he recalled.

Faced with this most difficult of cases, the same type used by pro-abortion groups to push for abortion all over the world, the bishop remained true to life.  “I tried to be as compassionate as I could – helping her acknowledge the child in her womb and encouraging her to love that child and allow the child to see the light of day,” he said. “I promised her the help she needed in her situation. Since I was new to the diocese, I had to scramble to find out what was available so I could direct her to the right place for help.”

Rather than leading him to question his stand for life, the experience urged him on to greater effort in defending and nurturing life. “This experience made me realize that we, as a parish, needed to do something for these young women in difficult situations,” he said.

“We discerned that we were going to start a Project Gabriel outreach – a parish outreach program to women and families facing crisis pregnancies,” he explained. “We installed two big signs (one in English and one in Spanish) on the Church property with a contact number. Thanks be to God we received a lot of ‘business.’ And the whole parish got on board. We had many drives for baby food, diapers, cribs – there was always a generous response from the parishioners and we were doing our part to help pregnant women in need.”

Alternating seamlessly between French and English, Bishop Riesbeck thanked the pro-life groups present for all their hard work. He also noted that while there were many life issues and attacks on human dignity such as “poverty, racism, the violence of war and injustice … abortion is the key foundational issue when it comes to talking about life issues because as the U.S. Bishops stated a number of years ago, ‘a society which destroys human life by abortion under the mantle of law unavoidably undermines respect for life in all other contexts.’”

See Bishop Riesbeck's full homily here.

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