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Pro-life giant John Smeaton receives first-ever Father Paul Marx pro-life award

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The award includes a specially commissioned bronze medallion of Fr. Paul Marx crafted by the distinguished sculptor Hamilton Reed Armstrong, who resides in Front Royal, Virginia.
Father Paul Marx.

FATIMA, Portugal, October 7, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Human Life International (HLI) honored a veteran international pro-life advocate this week with its first ever Father Paul Marx Pro-Life Award, presented at the Seventh World-Prayer-Congress for Life in Fatima.

John Smeaton, president of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn (SPUC), with a 40-plus year history in pro-life work, received the inaugural award at a banquet for the international pro-life event.

"John Smeaton has a wonderful zeal in the promotion of the culture of life, in the tradition of Fr. Marx," HLI said in a statement provided to LifeSiteNews.

"John Smeaton represents the height of pro-life and pro-family courage as a Catholic layman," stated HLI president Father Shenan Boquet when presenting the award to Smeaton. "He is a wonderful, passionate leader who works tirelessly to defend human life and the family."

"May God bless him and raise up more fervent witnesses to the Gospel of Life," Father Boquet said.

A native of London, Smeaton first became associated with SPUC, the first major pro-life group established in the world and the largest in Europe, after graduating from Oxford, when in 1974 he established a new branch in south London. Smeaton began working full-time for the Society four years later in 1978, when he was appointed general secretary, and since 1996 he has served as SPUC's chief executive.

Smeaton has extensive experience defending life and family on the international stage, playing a critical role in organizing a global coalition of more than 150 pro-life and pro-family groups to act as non-governmental (NGO) delegates during the major U.N. world conferences in Cairo, Copenhagen, Beijing, Istanbul, and Rome during the 1990s.

His work also helped to produce the 1994 pro-life victory at the Cairo population and development conference, where the proclamation of an international right to abortion was roundly defeated. He also helped achieve pushback against forceful promotion of so-called "reproductive health" and "sexual rights" at the 1996 Istanbul and Rome world conferences.

In 2005, Smeaton was elected vice president of the International Right to Life Federation, and he was invited to address the Nigerian Bishops Conference in 2014 and the Ghanaian Bishops Conference in 2015.

He has also worked directly with the Holy See at U.N. conferences and had a close working relationship with the late Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo when the cardinal was president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

In 2014, when he won the John Cardinal O'Connor Pro-Life Award, presented by the Catholic business leaders' group Legatus, he used his speech to call on the world's bishops to deny Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians.

In 2014, Smeaton co-founded Voice of the Family, an international coalition bringing together pro-life organizations from across the world to defend Catholic teaching on the family, with particular regard for the Vatican's Synod on the Family.

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He told LifeSiteNews that he and his SPUC colleagues were inspired to co-found and fund Voice of the Family for two reasons: because the pro-life movement will not defeat the culture of death without the Catholic Church and her teaching, and it was clear to them that Catholics have an obligation to oppose the direction being taken at the Synod, where some Synod fathers have unfortunately worked against Church teaching on marriage and the family.

"We wanted to put our support, experience, and expertise at the service of our sacred pastors in the Church, not least those pastors, of whom there are many, thank God, who are determined to defend life and the family at the synod," Smeaton said.

The Father Paul Marx Pro-Life Award both recognizes the commitment of an outstanding pro-life leader and honors HLI's founder, Father Paul Marx, who established the Human Life Institute in 1972, which became Human Life International in 1981.

Father Marx, whom Pope Saint John Paul II called "The Apostle of Life," said that human life cannot be effectively defended without a strong belief in God as Creator and source of life. He is credited with saving many children through his direct involvement, and many others resulting from his work equipping and motivating leaders worldwide.

Smeaton told LifeSiteNews it was an extraordinary privilege for him to receive the award, named for Father Marx, 40 years after meeting "the pro-life prophet against the evil of contraception."

Smeaton spoke in his address at the Fatima event about SPUC's pro-life work in Britain and its recent success in Britain in defeating assisted suicide legislation.

He told LifeSiteNews that there is still immense work to be done in achieving sufficient awareness today of how the issues of life and family are interconnected.

"That's why the work of Fr. Paul Marx was so important," Smeaton said. "He was the great prophet who understood that human life could only be protected when the truth and meaning of human sexuality are understood and respected: that is, openness to life, to the foundation of a new family within marriage, the union between one man and one woman for life."

Smeaton said the major difference between the pro-life movement today and 40 years ago is the maturity, commitment, and knowledge of young people joining the movement, and that this is a sign of great hope.

Pro-life groups like SPUC are nearly 50 years old, he said, but they really are only just beginning their work.

"We have developed experience and expertise from which those joining can benefit enormously, but above all, we need new blood, new gifts, new commitment from brand new members and supporters," Smeaton stated. "The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few, so no one should feel that their contribution is not needed. It's urgently needed. The stakes for unborn children have never been higher."

Anyone wishing to become active should study the life and family issues carefully, he said, and make sure that whatever group he joins believes in unequivocal respect for every innocent human life without exception and that this belief can be seen and tested in the policies the group pursues.

Prayer is also key, Smeaton said.

"This happens to be the most important thing any of us can do whether we're the busiest pro-life activist in our town or country, or whether we're elderly, disabled, or housebound for some reason or another," he stated. "We need to beg God to save us from those who are seeking to destroy the moral law in the hearts of men and women. And Catholics must pray for their sacred pastors that they will be true shepherds to their flocks and not abandon them to powerful bodies and individuals who care nothing about humanity and about the moral law."

Smeaton's hands-on recommendation for anyone looking to become involved in pro-life work is to study what's happening at the Synod on the Family, and informed through Voice of the Family and pro-life media.

"The heart of the crisis about respect for human life is what's happening now in Rome," Smeaton told LifeSiteNews. "That's true for people of all faiths and none."

"That's why top United Nations officials have been such a constant presence at Vatican meetings recently – officials who are determined to spread contraception and abortion to every corner of the world," he said. "Our top opponents understand the importance of what's going on. We ignore what's happening in Rome this month at our peril no matter what religious faith we may espouse."

Why does he do what he does, and continue to do it after more than 40 years?

"I am married to Josephine. She and our children are the center and anchor of my life," said Smeaton. "All my work is done to protect them. I also want to help others and to save my soul."

Editor's note: LifeSiteNews is a Voice of the Family member and an organizer of the World-Prayer-Congress for Life in Fatima.

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