Interview: Sister Andrea Fraile - Campaign Life 2017
Interview FAITH MAGAZINE November - December 2014
Andrea Fraile is a Sister of the Gospel of Life, a Glasgow-based religious community who describe their main apostolate as “the promotion of the dignity of the human being, particularly as regards the role of the family, the sanctity of motherhood, a renewed understanding of the complementarity of the sexes and catechesis”. The Sisters operate the Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative, which was founded in 1997 by the late Archbishop Thomas Winning of Glasgow. Next month they will launch Campaign Life 2017, a three-year initiative leading up to the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act.
Editor: So, Campaign Life 2017. Tell us a bit about it?
Sister Andrea: Campaign Life 2017 is designed to gather together and mobilise people in the cause of life, so that, by the time the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Abortion Act comes along on 27 October 2017, the pro-life movement in Scotland will have a more powerful voice than ever. The campaign will be launched on 22 November at the St Margaret Queen of Scots Ladies’ Lunch, a gathering of around 120 women who, either explicitly or implicitly, live the pro-life message. Throughout the course of the sumptuous lunch there will be a series of short talks given by courageous women, as well as live entertainment, and the event will be an opportunity for women of all walks of life to come together and talk – something women are particularly good at.
The idea is that Campaign Life 2017 will hold an entire series of events over the following three years – on the feast of the Holy Innocents in December, for instance, or a day for men on the feast of St Joseph in March. There will also be information and training days for various groupings of people for whom the pro-life message is deeply relevant, like clerics and religious, teachers, medics, social workers. We invite people everywhere to commit themselves more fully to the great cause of life, through prayer, learning and action.
Editor: How will you judge the success of the campaign? And how confident are you of that success?
Sister Andrea: Success in the pro-life movement is, as you know, hard to quantify. Success, of course, would be an end to the practice of abortion full stop. This is, unashamedly, our aim and ambition. Do we think that particular success likely in the next three years? No, not really. But we are confident of smaller successes that will feed into the ultimate victory. The truth is, we think that a great many people in this country are basically pro-life, but lack the courage of their convictions either because they can’t articulate their thoughts on the subject as they would like, or because they don’t think they have the right to state their opinions in public. There is a groundswell of support, in other words, that just has to be unleashed. Success, for us, will be when young people consider being pro-life as natural to them as breathing; when teachers teach, and preachers preach, with courage and conviction; when medics no longer think that abortion is the solution to a woman’s problems and work in an environment that allows for this. And when everyone makes the connection between truth and compassion. We’re not in a numbers game, but we would certainly be happy with a cast of thousands rather than dozens at a pro-life march in 2017!
Editor: What would you say is more important for the pro-life movement at present: to change the culture or to change political opinion?
Sister Andrea: I would say it’s far more important for the movement to change the culture. The abortion law could be repealed tomorrow, and to what end? As long as we live in a cultural milieu in which the unborn child is seen as something to be feared rather than welcomed, or a financial burden rather than a gift, political opinion will be secondary. In the end, I don’t think the pro-life movement is about converting the masses in dramatic fashion, or in one fell sweep. If I touch the hearts and minds of two people, and they in turn do the same to another four people and so on, well, slowly but surely we’ll convert the whole world. Never underestimate the power of the personal approach.
Editor: What, then, are the biggest cultural trends that undermine the pro-life cause?
Sister Andrea: Alas, there are many, but three loom largest, I think. First, secularism. It is a simple fact, reiterated by the Church time and time again, that when we lose sight of God, we lose sight of Man. If we insist on leaving God out of the picture, it is no wonder that life should become such a disposable commodity, free to be abused and manipulated at will; something to possess and not to cherish.
The second trend, and this is related, is materialism: the idea that we don’t have a soul and therefore, in the final analysis, that our lives have no intrinsic meaning or purpose. We see the consequences of this quite regularly at the Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative when women in crisis pregnancies weigh up the benefits of keeping their unborn child with that of holding on to a second car or a Sky box.
Third, there’s relativism. If ever a trend silenced the pro-life voice, it’s that one. I repeat, many people are more pro-life than you think, but they say nothing because they no longer have the intellectual conviction (and logic) to say: “If this is true for me, it’s true for you.”
Editor: In terms of impending milestones, next year marks the 15th anniversary of the foundation of the Sisters of the Gospel of Life. How are things going?
Sister Andrea: All is well with the Sisters, though much of what goes on in religious life, apart from the fruits of the apostolate, belongs to the inner forum and is hard to relate. Let’s just say that the life of the religious is never dull and never static; that the constant tussle with God, akin to that of Jacob, always brings with it a new joy, a new peace, a new vigour. Never a day goes by that we don’t thank God for the life to which He has called us. We look forward very much to next year and the opportunity that the Year for Religious will give us to renew our commitment and refresh our spirits.
Editor: What’s been your cherished moment or moments from the past 15 years?
Sister Andrea: A cherished moment for me would be an occasion early on in our religious life when Cardinal Winning, who started the Sisters along with Sr Roseann, came to our house. He offered Mass in our oratory and we ate together afterwards. It was a beautiful, intimate evening with the Cardinal in which he exhorted us in the words Novo Millennio Ineunte to “put out into the deep”, and it was one which we came to cherish all the more since he died only a few short months later.
There have been plenty of other moments, though: simpler ones, like when someone approaches me in trust and openness with a genuine desire to encounter God in their lives. I cherish these moments above all else, because I know they approach me not because of who I am, but because of who I represent; and I wonder, yet again, at the privilege we have been given as religious. There can be no greater joy than seeing the faith flourish in those souls.
Editor: How do you balance the contemplative aspect of religious life with the activism of pro-life work?
Sister Andrea: We came to realise, after various trials and errors, that the best way to keep a sane balance between the contemplative and active is to get up early. Before we do anything else, the first few hours of the day are given over to prayer, reading and Mass. The rest of the day is punctuated by the Divine Office and Rosary, although sometimes, depending on what’s going on at the Pro-Life Initiative, the timings vary. But the sheer peace and uninterruptedness of the morning is a fantastic balm that carries you throughout the rest of the day’s work. A word of Scripture, for instance, that struck you at Exposition, accompanies you and lends contour to the encounters you have with others. The work has to flow from the prayer; there’s no two ways about it.
“We came to realise, after various trials and errors, that the best way to keep a sane balance between the contemplative and active is to get up early”
Editor: Are you hopeful of more vocations in the years to come?
Sister Andrea: Yes, we are hopeful. Many people said to us when the Sisters were founded in 2000 that vocations would come by the truckload, but we never really believed that. For a start, there are fewer vocations in the West for reasons that are known and can’t be gone into here; but for us personally, the lack of vocations up to this point makes sense, somehow, in the Providence of God.
We were both very raw when we started, and in need of a solid formation. This involves focusing on various aspects surrounding the spiritual, intellectual and social, but it also requires time and experience. It’s good for us to persevere, and when God thinks we’re good and ready for vocations, He’ll surely send them.
Editor: What next for the Cardinal Winning Pro-Life initiative?
Sister Andrea: Apart from organising events and courses for Campaign Life 2017, I hope to develop the post-abortion work we have begun. So many women in Scotland are affected by abortion, broken by their experience, and I firmly believe Rachel’s Vineyard retreats are a tremendous force for healing that very particular and painful wound. The retreats are firmly established in England – it’s time to establish something more regular in Scotland.
For information on Campaign Life 2017:
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 0798 532 2648
For information on the Sisters of the Gospel of Life:
For information on Rachel’s Vineyard:
See also Sr Andrea’s article “Real Healing for Real Grief”
in the September/October 2013 issue of Faith magazine (available online and in PDF format at www.faith.org.uk)