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Letter to Canadian Bishops: Regarding Development and Peace

Your Excellences;

MaterCare International (MCI) is an international group of Catholic Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (Obs/Gyns), which began life in 1980 and was suggested in a paper presented to the CCCB plenary meeting at the time of the preparation of the bishop’s for the Synod on the Family. However, its gestation was prolonged, and it was not formally established as a charity until 1997. Our mission is to carry out the work of Evangelium vitae by evangelising and supporting Catholic Ob/Gyns and by improving the lives and health of mothers and babies both born and unborn, through new initiatives of service, training, research, and education, designed to reduce the tragic levels of abortion worldwide as well as maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity in developing countries.

Motherhood has special significance for all Christians as the most important event in human history, the Incarnation, was brought about when “the Angel Gabriel declared unto Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit”. Thus began the most intimate relationship between God and a human being, when the Divine embryo was implanted into the womb of a young woman and was nourished and nurtured through the zygotic and foetal stages of His first 266 days of earthly life until the birth of the Son of God at Bethlehem.

God wonderfully decided that all human beings should be conceived by the union of a woman and a man and should also be nourished and nurtured in their mother’s wombs. Therefore, all our mothers surely have a special share in the mystery of the Incarnation, through their own intimate relationship with God and with all of us. They also have a special understanding with Jesus’ Mother at the foot of the cross, when they too lose their children, through complications of pregnancy, childbirth or die from disease, malnutrition, or are killed during war.

Each year, on March 8th, organizations from around the world come together to celebrate, acknowledge and address issues affecting women for International Women’s Day. We hear words such as equality, inclusiveness and justice, but mothers are the missing women from the women’s movement, for they are women too though their issues are rarely addressed. They are not trained, paid, nor pensioned for what they do. However, they are in many ways the heart and soul of their families and thus are the most important contributors in the support of healthy societies and even the greater environment.

Sadly, however, mothers in developing countries are experiencing unimaginable suffering as 333,000 are dying annually, 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries, in particular sub-Saharan Africa due to a scandalous lack of effective care during pregnancy and childbirth. These deaths are due to direct obstetrical causes during the last trimester of pregnancy, during labor and delivery, and one week afterwards. However, in industrialized countries, which includes Canada, the risk is 1 in 4,300, illustrating the stark contrast between rich and poor countries. Unfortunately, Canada’s foreign assistance policy agenda, termed the “Feminist International Assistance Policy”, has pledged $650 million for abortion and contraception programmes which do nothing to reduce these maternal deaths and really amount to a new form of neo-colonialism, not the claimed liberation.

It is extraordinary and quite regrettable that Canada’s Catholic international aid organization, Development and Peace (D&P), which has no policy on health care, especially for women (mothers are women too who are experiencing unimaginable suffering), “should be petitioning the government of Canada to increase its funding for its International Assistance Policy and should have been partnering with agencies supporting abortion”.

MCI and its consultants have developed a model of comprehensive obstetrical care especially for rural mothers which includes; essential prenatal care, skilled attendants during delivery, trained midwives based in clean well-equipped facilities, essential medications, specialist care for life threatening complications, trained local traditional birth attendants (TBAs) and emergency medical transport.

MCI responded to requests for advice on how to improve the lives and health of mothers by bishops and only works in a diocese at the invitation of the local ordinary. MCI has had projects in Nigeria, Ghana, and carried out needs assessments in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Haiti. Since 2005, we have developed a maternity hospital and rural outreach programmes in the Apostolic Vicariate of Isiolo, Kenya (see inclusions).

MCI has contributed actively to the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, appeared as a witness before the African sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, advised the Senior policy advisor of the Government of Canada, EU MEPS, UK MPs. It has also organised nine conferences for OB/Gyns in Rome since 2001; one each in Warsaw, Zagreb, Dilli, Timor Leste two in Nairobi, which integrated, spirituality, bioethics and current professional issues. MCI responded to a call from the Missionaries of Charity to help in their triage centre following the severe earthquake and then arranged for teams of obstetricians and midwives to provide obstetrics at St. Damian’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

It is nearly 20 years since MCI first presented Development and Peace with the opportunity to partner in projects in providing help for poor mothers but was refused. We tried again in 2010 and then again in 2012 after information was given to D and P’s executive committee by Bishop Henry of Calgary, but somewhat reluctantly, a “one time only” donation was made of $10,000. For an organization that was established in 1967 as a part of the missionary outreach of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada to foster Justice and Integral Human Development of third World Countries, D and P admits to having no interests in maternal health services nor expertise even for one of the greatest tragedies of our time, maternal mortality. At the same time, an appeal to Share Lent was greeted with a sharp “No”. MCI is grateful for the donations we do receive from individual Canadians and church groups, especially the many parish Catholic Women’s Leagues and foundations, as well as from overseas supporters.

During the, The Holy Year of Mercy in 2015, Pope Francis asked that every diocese in the world designate a “Door of Mercy” at their cathedral or another special church or shrine. MCI opened the “Door of Mercy” at its maternity hospital. The door remains open but now needs to be opened wider to meet the needs of additional deliveries, additional out-patient and administrative spaces, equipment and staff. There is also need for “Doors of Mercy” at two additional rural clinics in order to provide safe comprehensive care for poor mothers and existing buildings need renovation and new equipment needs to be purchased. This is a demonstration project that serves to actively embody how the Church and its health care ministry can still be relevant and is gratefully received by mothers and families in the areas it serves. This is a project Canadian Catholics can be proud of, assured that their donations go directly toward upholding the dignity of human life and serving mothers and their children. Perhaps they can consider donating with confidence to MaterCare International this Mother’s Day as a thank you to the women and mothers in their own lives.

For more information on MaterCare and how to help, please visit us at: MaterCare.org

Sincerely,

Dr. Robert Walley