Thursday, 15 March 2012

The redhead shattering Belgium's taboo


Katy Robinson may only be 22, but she is one of our more self-sacrificing and pioneering pro-life activists. She was born in Oxford to an Irish dad and an English mum and is the eldest of six children. She has Celtic good looks and is living up to the reputation that redheads have for being determined. Having done pro-life work in Ireland for three and a half years, she was invited to Brussels to spearhead and run Génération Pour La Vie. This is the first pro-life group of its kind in Belgium.
Since September 2011, Katy and her group of young collaborators have been taking to the streets of Brussels with display tables and huge posters of growing babies in the womb. They have the full support of the police to set up their exhibitions on the main thoroughfare. There, they hand out leaflets and engage in hot-topic conversations about abortion with the passers-by, the locals and the tourists. 

What makes Katy’s undertaking so revolutionary is that, as she puts it, “before we came, no one did  pro-life work like this here”.
“Until now, no one has gone out on to the streets of Brussels to speak to the public about the humanity of the unborn,” she explains.
It all started when 23- year-old Anthony Burckhardt met Katy in Dublin. On discovering that Katy had an excellent command of French, he asked her to join him and his collaborator, the 23-year-old Michel du Keukelaere, in setting up Génération Pour La Vie.
Their first priority has been to break down the wall of silence surrounding the issues. “Abortion is a completely taboo subject in Belgium,” she says, even though one in seven pregnancies ends in abortion there. Abortion is allowed up to birth if the baby has a disability.
“Abortion is a very hush-hush subject in Belgium, nobody speaks about the unborn,” Katy says: “It’s very different to Ireland where everyone has an opinion and where there is open debate on abortion”.
To remedy this dire need in Belgium society for pro-life dialogue, Katy left her life and her many friends in Dublin. She does pine for Dublin, but wants to give her youthful energy to building a culture of life in Belgium and informing the public. She says: “the abortion lobby works on the basis that people are uninformed,” she explains, “the work of informing people can be life-saving”.
Katy has a busy schedule; alongside doing full time pro-life work she is pursuing a degree in French from the Open University by correspondence. Both Katy’s parents are French teachers and, Katy says, “being in Brussels is a great opportunity to speak French all the time”. Katy supports herself by working part-time in a café. Hearing a description of her busy days of activism is enough to tire me, and I ask her what drives her to make so many sacrifices.
“My parents were absolutely brilliant. And when I was about 12, they showed me books about pro-life matters as well as the Catechism. But pro-life work had never been at the forefront of my mind until I was an older teenager and began activism on the streets of Dublin. I knew abortion was completely wrong, but out on the streets when I was confronted with questions, that’s when I decided to become fully informed so that I could speak convincingly to young men and women.”
The experience that Katy got in Dublin is being put to good use in Brussels.  There are usually eight pro-lifers running a street session and inviting the general public to have discussions on why abortion is wrong. On an average day, Katy can speak to up to 50 people and has found that members of the public are very receptive and have a thirst for pro-life knowledge. Before Génération Pour La Vie’s inception there was exceedingly little pro-life material written in French and Katy concludes that “a lot of it was out-of-date”. So, Katy’s group have busied themselves by translating the best of pro-life texts into French, and making it freely available to everyone in Brussels.
A great surge of encouragement came early on, when a woman approached Katy and said: “Please continue your fantastic work. Please. I had an abortion and I regret it every day of my life. If you tell other people that a pregnancy means a real baby, you will spare someone from abortion.”
Katy has also been approached by a woman who works full-time in an abortion clinic. She said: “The clinic worker said that she had never in her life thought of a pregnancy as being a baby and certainly not human. And she was shocked that young people would come out on to the street and advocate the rights of an unborn baby. But she was really open and interested. I pray every day that this clinic worker will have a change of heart and quit her job.”

Calling to mind the high number of abortions in Belgium, there must be several women who pass Katy’s pro-life stand who have had an abortion(s) or are even planning one. Katy is upfront that, “I’ve never done any crisis pregnancy counselling. And I’ve never had a friend who has been in a crisis pregnancy.”
It is enlightening that Katy does get consistent support from young women. Others begrudge her work of educating the public. One day during the street session a motley group of thugs, calling themselves socialists, drew near and destroyed three of the huge ultrasound posters and started ripping up the leaflets. All the while, they shouted about the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and ranted: “you are connected with the Church”. Katy responded calmly, and contacted the police, who stopped the militants in their tracks. The angry young men automatically bracketed pro-life work with Catholicism, even though Katy runs secular information sessions that aim to reach out to everyone of every colour and creed, religious pro-life information sessions often being counterproductive. Katy took the decision to keep Catholic evangelism separate because “there is a time and a place for everything. At this point in time, Belgium has a very bitter relationship with the Church. Trying to talk about the Church at the same time as doing pro-life street work would get a hostile reaction. But our goal is always to show the dignity of God’s precious innocents: that’s part of everything we do”.
Katy herself has a strong faith and often offers up prayer when she is handing out leaflets. At the beginning of each day she consecrates herself to Our Lady, and readily admits that “faith is the backbone” and “daily Mass is essential”. Katy goes to Mass in the Ordinary Form from Monday to Saturday and goes to Mass in the Extraordinary Form on Sunday.
All the founding members of Génération Pour La Vie share a small flat together in central Brussels. Each morning, they gather to say the Rosary because; “we all get along much better when we pray together”. In January they offered a novena to St Joseph for the success of their work.
Katy learned pro-life apologetics in Dublin and knows what it’s like to live in a country where abortion is illegal. Katy does, however, find the Belgium media a refreshing change to the Irish media.
“The Irish media has ignored all the Dublin marches for life. Pro-life success stories are overlooked. But there have been very positive stories about us in the Belgium media. The newspaper Le Soir carried a very supportive article and someone has started a documentary about our work.”
While it is based in Brussels, the group has a global remit. Katy represented Génération Pour La Vie on January 21 during the March for Life in Paris. Anthony travelled to Washington DC for the March for Life there. They have set up a Facebook page which allows a possible audience of millions around the world to follow their mission. 


Foremost among their supporters is Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard who has taken part in the two previous marches for life in Brussels. The Archbishop of Brussels has a great fondness for Génération Pour La Vie, and has even come for a dinner of pasta, red wine. The archbishop described their work in glowing terms, “The incredible activism of the young people involved in Génération Pour La Vie forces us to admire them. This is because they work to promote respect for the unborn child... They support the unborn child with a non-aggressive attitude, but in a positive and constructive way, not condemning anyone.” 
 

On March 25, Archbishop Léonard, along with Rabbi Albert Guigui and Iman Kastit will be speakers at the third Brussels March for Life. Katy extends an open invitation to every pro-lifer in Britain to join them there. 
I wrote this for The Catholic Herald. 

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