By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
[Ottawa – CCN] – Ottawa’s Catholic Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has been a key figure and participant at every National March for Life since he took on the mantle of leadership of the Catholic Church in the nation’s capital.
And this year will be no exception, even though almost everything else about the National March for Life in 2020 will be different than it has been in the past.
The annual pilgrimage to Ottawa by pro-life Canadians, which would normally culminate with thousands gathering in a rally and march on Parliament Hill in the nation’s capital, will instead be a shared experience across the country over the Internet.
Archbishop Prendergast will oversee the National March for Life Mass on Thursday, May 14 from noon to 1 p.m. eastern time (10 a.m. to 11 a.m. in Saskatchewan), but this year the Mass will take place in an empty church since all Catholic churches in Ottawa are closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as is the case for most other places of worship across Canada.
“A ‘virtual Mass’ from Ottawa’s Notre Dame Cathedral is being prepared. Year in and year out, this Mass and others have been a springtime highlight of Catholic life in the capital,” Prendergast said.
The Campaign Life Coalition, which has organized the largest annual pro-life event held in Canada each year since 1998, starts a week-long online program Sunday, May 10, 2020 that will continue through the day of the 23rd National March for Life, which marks the passing of the omnibus bill on May 14, 1969, which opened the floodgates to abortion on demand in Canada.
“This initiative will also bring awareness to the killing occurring at the other end of the spectrum, near the end of life, with a focus on the proposed expansions to Canada’s euthanasia law,” according to a statement from the National March for Life organizing committee.
The online activities will all be available through MarchForLife.ca, starting May 10 with a pro-life film festival running May 10-12 at 8 p.m. ET (6 p.m. in Saskatchewan) each night, including the film “Fatal Flaws: Legalizing Assisted Death” that on May 12 will feature a conversation with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s executive director Alex Schadenberg.
The film festival will be followed by a virtual candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 13 and online Masses and religious services on Thursday, May 14 that will include a live-streamed virtual rally with guests from Canada and around the world from 2:30-4:30 p.m. ET (12:30-2:30 p.m. in Saskatchewan).
There will also be pro-life special titled “Be Not Afraid” broadcast May 14 from 1-2:30 p.m. ET (11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Saskatchewan) that will be available on the Eternal Word Television Network. It will be hosted by international pro-life speakers Kevin Dunn and Stephanie Gray and will focus on the most important life issues facing Canadians at this time and what can be done to rebuild a culture of life in Canada.
The online events will conclude on Friday, May 15 with a virtual pro-life webinar geared towards youth from 12:30-3 p.m. ET (10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. in Saskatchewan) that is being touted as “an educational seminar run by youth for youth, with fellowship and practical steps to getting more involved in the pro-life movement.”
One of the main organizers of the online version of the National March for Life this year told the Canadian Catholic News that this year’s event may offer a template on how the March for Life can maintain an online presence in the future. But for now, by going online this year, the event may be able to reach even more people than it has in the past.
“For all those who have always wanted to attend in the past but couldn’t, now they can participate,” said Debbie Duval, national capital organizer for the Campaign Life Coalition. “And for those who were going to attend, they can still participate this year.”
The National March for Life may be different this year, but for supporters of the event the pro-life message it shares it has become even more important as Canada becomes an increasingly secular country in the public sphere.
Archbishop Prendergast recently tweeted out a column that ran in the United States-based National Catholic Register entitled “A Letter from Canada” that extolled the need for pro-life Canadians to keep speaking out.
“Although it’s easy to feel discouraged by the hostility of what passes for the great and the good in a now deeply secular Canada, the pro-life community is remarkably resilient, even in the face of the added challenges posed by this season of pandemic. Perhaps they know something that others don’t,” wrote David Mulroney, former president and vice-chancellor of the University of St. Michael’s College from 2015-2018 and Canada’s ambassador to China 2009-12. “In the 17th century, French Recollet missionaries named St. Joseph the patron saint of Canada. As I prepare to participate, even if only virtually, in this year’s March for Life, I am struck by how apt this is, and of how much my beloved but increasingly hard-hearted country needs the patronage of the quiet, humble and ever-faithful protector of the infant Jesus,” he said.