LONDON, ONTARIO - Amidst the global insanity of these last nineteen months when panic about a man-made virus has enabled authorities in once-free nations to impose unprecedented levels of coercion, censorship and intimidation on citizens who have no reason to trust their leaders’ motives . . . it can be distressingly easy to set aside one’s deepest convictions for the sake of a little peace and quiet. Even a thoroughly obnoxious contrarian such as myself has mornings when I come to and sigh at the existential burden of being constituted in this way.
Would it really be so objectionable to wear a clammy mask at all times and pump another blurp of Purell on my hands every time I pick something up? To roll up my sleeve every two or three months and take in another injection of spike proteins that haven’t even been fully tested on animals yet? Is there something to be said for deep-sixing my resistance to the reckless manipulations being mandated from above and just going along with the cud-chewing herd?
Whenever I feel a need to top up my own evaporating reservoir of fortitude in this matter, I revisit an interview I did for Challenge magazine in the fall of 2001 with tireless Pro-Life workers and advocates, Phil and Elaine Arnsby. This married couple – Phil died in 2013 at the age of 77 – knew a thing or two about staring down a wall of contempt and derision while standing up for the truth. For decades they played a major role in virtually every march, rally, demonstration, speech, presentation or fund-raising event that took place in Southwestern Ontario.
For the purposes of this interview, we mainly focussed on the most recent instalment of their controversial Show the Truth tours where the Arnsbys organized a small army of picketers to line busy roadsides in various communities for a week where they displayed horrific and upsetting photographic images of the grisly reality of abortion.
GOODDEN: What do you folks do when you're not out there beating the drums for the Pro-Life cause?
PHIL: I work as a retired building consultant for the Huron-Perth Roman Catholic School Board. I have a tennis court in the back yard and I was hoping to play a lot more tennis once I retired, though I've only made it out once so far this year.
ELAINE: I just hang on to Phil's shirt tails, basically. We're on the board of the Right to Life office here in town and we work with Campaign Life as well. So that keeps us really busy.
GOODDEN: Lots of Catholics, and even lots of Catholic parents, don't get involved with Pro-Life work. Phil, you raised four kids with your late wife. Elaine, you've raised two. Here you're heading into your sunset years, your kids have all been launched. Why does the issue of abortion still matter so much to both of you that you're willing to give it so much of your time and energy?
ELAINE: We feel it's a calling from God, actually. We'd both been doing this work long before we met, and just continued from there.
PHIL: It's interesting that we actually met at a Pro-Life potluck dinner. It's something you don't really decide for yourself. A number of circumstances brought me to this point, and I see them now as stepping stones and I see the Lord's hand in that. I continually have to remind myself that the work we're doing is something we're called to do. When we start thinking we're doing this on our own strength, we start failing. This year when we organized the Show-the-Truth tour for Southwestern Ontario, we made sure that an equal part of it was the prayer teams we set up across the province. We had thirty-five religious orders across Ontario and Quebec (where our next tour is) praying for the success of the tour. We know that makes a substantial difference. I know it's essential in my own life. One real danger for me is to become so involved with these sorts of activities, that I don't end up with enough prayer time
GOODDEN: When did your involvement with the Show-the-Truth tours start?
ELAINE: 1998 was the first big tour, where we did eighteen cities in six days, all around Lake Ontario. This month we just finished a twelve-city tour in five days, with three presentations each day.
PHIL: We had forty people with us for the entire tour and we stay in church halls as we make our way around. That group really becomes like a family during these tours. Then when we make our presentation in each community, folks from that community will also turn out to stand with us. I'd say here in London, about thirty people came out. You're up early every day of the tour because the first presentations usually begin at 7:30. Each presentation takes about two hours, then you have a break, and go onto the next one, with a break, and the next one after that. We started in Windsor where we had two presentations, then on to Chatham, Sarnia, London. Father Tony van Hee was with us through the whole tour. He's the priest who protests up on Parliament Hill every day that parliament is in session. And Father Simard from Aylmer was with us for three of the days.
Where we can, we like to set up at a busy intersection with four teams so that you can present your teams to drivers heading in every possible direction. How many directions we can cover will depend on the safety of the actual zone, which we try to determine in advance. We have our own bus to park somewhere nearby. We try to get streets with a stoplight which makes it possible to hand out literature. We don't want to be in front of stores, or schools or homes. We don’t want cars parked in front of us that would block the view. When we get to the site, we determine how many signs we can set up in each of the directions and we communicate with one another by walkie-talkie. If there's a problem on any one of the lines or if the police show up and ask who's in charge, then one of the co-ordinators can get over there immediately.
GOODDEN: How would you rate the success of these tours?
PHIL: One of the difficulties we've found – and I think the Pro-Life movement generally is finding this - is that we all like to be liked. Most people feel that to be effective, they have to be accepted. One of the communities from this last tour, the Pro-Life group there had produced a newspaper supplement that seemed to be accepted very well and they felt that by associating with us, they might tarnish their image. And in a small town, it's harder that way. Those folks would've been recognized. This is one of the big challenges we have and I'm starting to realize that what we're doing just isn't enough. It's not changing people's minds.
Historically, changes happen when people can really see what's going on - when they're confronted with the shocking, visual truth. Think of the American slavery debate, the Vietnamese war, or Martin Luther King leading his people into the old south where they absolutely knew they'd be attacked and jailed and so on. That is the only way. The sacrifice of people's comfort has to be there if you're going to change public opinion. It won't happen by e-mail. It won't happen with a gentle newspaper supplement. People need to visually see the injustices that are occurring, and that is precisely what we seek to present in the Show the Truth tours, and it's the same with the folks behind the GAP presentations – the Genocide Awareness Program – which has generated so much awareness and resentment, out at the University of British Columbia, among other places.
GOODDEN: So what exactly are the pictures you show in these tours?
PHIL: Our photos start off with a LIFE sign, featuring an eight week old baby. Then we go into a seven week abortion - the first trimester; then second trimester and third trimester which is the full head of Samuel. Then it goes to "God's gift of life," again a live baby and finally "Adoption is the loving option," showing a family as the alternative. When we get complaints, people often tell us they liked the adoption sign and the live babies but this other stuff . . . those are the pictures that really get to them. What we're starting to realize is that the positive images are frankly a waste of time. Everyone's seen babies and they have babies in their albums. The whole point of Show the Truth is to confront people with something they don't know about, that they aren’t facing up to.
GOODDEN: Who's Samuel?
ELAINE: Samuel is the third trimester image, which is the dismembered head of a child held in forceps. We've named all the babies in the photos. Christian is the seven-week aborted baby. Malachy is the second trimester baby, and Samuel is the third. Those two are named after prophets. Malachy was found by some pro-lifers who went into an abortuary in Texas and brought him out and a pro-life doctor pieced him together. Little Samuel was found in a dumpster.
PHIL: A great majority of people, perhaps 80% to 90%, are already against partial birth abortion. It's just too gross for anyone to imagine. It so happens that 90% of the abortions committed are first trimester, so we're starting to emphasize that in our signs. The signs that we're just now getting show a full, small, first trimester baby. We're taking off some of our Samuels. We're taking off the LIFE sign for the first time ever. We'll still have an adoption sign at the end but we're taking off some of the positive ones and putting more of the first trimesters on to say, “You know what? This is what it's about.” Every newspaper that takes our picture, zeros in on the positive LIFE signs at the beginning of the procession. Well, we're going to take that out as an option.
GOODDEN: On a typical shift on one of these tours, standing behind these upsetting images, what kind of responses can you expect from people? And what does it take out of you?
ELAINE: The first time I held a sign (has to stop to compose herself), I cried for an hour. It was incredibly difficult but I've always felt these are such important pictures because they show these little ones are being martyred for no good cause. In this last tour one father stopped with his three kids - he just stopped in the middle of the street. He didn't have a stop sign or a light or anything. And he stopped opposite Malachy, put his four way flashers on and started to instruct his children: "This is an abortion, this is wrong, this is what it looks like, don't ever go there."
And he asked Cheryl who was holding that sign a couple of questions, thanked her very much for what she was doing, and then he went on his way. Needless to say, it doesn't always go that way. Some people get very angry, will throw things at us and tell us that what we're doing is horrible. Quite often, these are the people who've had abortions themselves and haven't really started to deal with it. The most difficult to deal with are the ones with children who say we've upset them, and you realize they've never talked over this issue with their kids.
PHIL: The biggest problem now is that so many of us accept abortion as if it's not such a big deal. We're reaching a point where the offensive thing isn't abortion itself, but is people like us trying to show people what abortion really means. The Pope said a number of years ago that equal to the slaughter of the innocents, is the fact that the faithful no longer can discern what's right and wrong in relation to abortion. These are the people in our churches today.
GOODDEN: Here's a loaded question for you: Is the Church uniformly and solidly behind you in this work? Or is it pockets?
PHIL: I don't know that I care for the term "pockets." We've certainly never encountered a pro-choice priest, if that's what you mean. While the Church is solidly Pro-Life, we know that some of the Bishops and priests can vary in their stances to that. Again, I think it gets back to that issue of wanting to be liked. We know that some parishioners will complain if their priest rides them too hard on issues like abortion and contraception. The Holy Father is so steadfast on this score that I suspect it's disconcerting sometimes to those who have to carry those things out.
GOODDEN: I would think that heading out on one of these tours must be an intensely spiritual time for the participants.
ELAINE: Oh, yes, absolutely. For one thing you're praying all the time. And you're with these people all week and they quickly become family. You're on the bus together, on the line, in the church halls every evening where sometimes there's only one toilet for all the men and all the women. You learn to pull together.
PHIL: The end of the first one of these tours I ever took part in – I sort of sat back and looked over it all and thought, "I'll never forget this. I mean, this must be what missionaries go through." So often when you read about missionaries, you wonder how they ever put up with it. Could I even deal with that for a day? I'm not sure a missionary's lot is that much more stringent than what we go through. But something's given to you when you're really involved like that. You just don't think about the sacrifice or the deprivation or whatever unpleasantness you might confront on the line. Once you get your own personal baggage out of the way, the charity of the Lord takes over and you find new reserves of energy and commitment. It becomes the most meaningful week of the entire year.
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