October 31, 2012

Rewarding courage

The values Canadians most cherish include democracy, peace, equality and freedom. So if the purpose of awarding Diamond Jubilee Medals is to honour significant contributions to Canada, then Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner have every right to wear their medals proudly.

The pro-life crusaders are among 60,000 Canadians being honoured under a program to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Their names were submitted by Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott and approved by the Chancellery of Honours in the Governor General’s office. As Governor General David Johnston said last February in announcing the program, nominees were sought who “have dedicated themselves to the well-being of family, community and country.”

By that definition, Wagner and Gibbons are worthy winners. Canada currently lacks both an abortion law of any kind and a mainstream political party willing to discuss drafting one even though polls show that most Canadians support some type of legislation. Gibbons and Wagner, despite court orders and injunctions against them, and despite much public vilification, have been relentless in their peaceful, prayerful protest against what Pope Benedict has called a crime against society.

For this, both women have been repeatedly jailed. Gibbons has spent almost 10 of the past 20 years behind bars for maintaining her sidewalk vigils. Wagner has spent less time imprisoned but is currently jailed for trespassing after taking her cause inside a private clinic.

The two women are serial dissenters and, due to their criminal convictions for what amounts to civil disobedience, their inclusion on the honours list was widely criticized. The objections, mainly from those intent on silencing pro-life voices, ignore the long and important history of civil disobedience and peaceful protest in Canada. Equality rights for racial and religious minorities, women and the disabled all have roots in peaceful protest.

Gibbons and Wagner are pro-life crusaders first but they are also unwitting defenders of the fundamental Canadian rights of lawful assembly, peaceful protest and religious freedom. For that, they have been repeatedly imprisoned when their courage and resilience should warrant gratitude from not only pro-life advocates but from all Canadians.

When someone like Gibbons asserts a democratic right to pray and protest peacefully for the unborn, and then is arrested for it, all of society should be indignant. Canadians are guaranteed the freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. When one person confronts authority to peaceably express those rights, regardless of their particular cause, they’re advancing a fundamental right important to all Canadians.

Bravely, Gibbons and Wagner have been doing exactly that for years, and that’s why they’ve earned a Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Published in Editorial
October 5, 2012

Risk and reward

One year ago, life was completely different. I was a high school student involved in few extra-curricular activities and I had a lot of free time. As the year went by, my involvement tripled and I found myself taking advantage of more opportunities and meeting more people. So, I can’t help but wonder if my life, as it is right now, would be different had I not taken certain chances.

In 2008, I was asked if I wanted to participate in an upcoming youth retreat. Hesitant, it was my parents’ encouragement that led me to experience my first retreat of many. I spent a weekend at Circle Square Ranch with the EDGE Youth Ministry program that I had been involved with since 2005. After the event, I learned that going to church or kneeling down to pray weren’t the only ways to experience God in my life. Soon enough, I became actively involved in my church and met many people who showed me that Catholicism isn’t only about my relationship with God, but also the relationship that I build with others in order to strengthen my relationship with Him. This, however, meant being open to taking chances in order to meet even more people.

When it came to trying new things, I suffered from indecisiveness. I was afraid to take risks for many reasons, the most obvious being the fear of looking silly. But I also did not want to be disappointed. Then, one day, I had a revelation: every chance is really a chance of a lifetime, and the only way I’d be disappointed is if I didn’t take risks at all.

Taking risks requires a great deal of courage and an even greater deal of faith. I have to trust that the Lord is guiding me and opening doors for me, so that I may learn, experience, wonder and understand that faith is much more than saying that I trust. Faith is proving that I trust by doing something I’m afraid of because, deep down, I know that what I’m about to do will only benefit the relationship I have with the Lord.

Instead of thinking of risks as potentially dangerous acts, think of them as opportunities to strengthen your faith. Had I not taken the chance to go on that retreat, I would have missed out on meeting talented, spiritual and honest people, and I probably wouldn’t have understood the impact that one weekend can make on one’s spiritual journey. Within just two days, my faith had increased to the point where I felt so uplifted and inspired to meet more people who understood what it was like to be a Catholic youth in today’s society.

Looking back, I see that every person and event placed in my life has challenged both me and my faith. For instance, coming to university and moving to a new city alone has been a test from God. I don’t have anyone to “take” me to Mass. When it comes to praying during a packed week, I remind myself that making time for God should be so engraved in me that it’s not something that should be put on my “to-do” list.

Every moment in life is an opportunity to grow closer to God, whether it be good or bad, for even the toughest moments are placed in my life by God to teach me a lesson and to help me, a child of God, grow in faith.

(Joanes, 17, is a Concurrent Education student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.)

Published in YSN: Speaking Out