Breakthrough for Russian priest’s pro-life campaign

Groundbreaking plans are under way in a remote corner of Russia to open three pro-life centres for pregnant women under pressure to have an abortion.

In a complete U-turn by the Russian authorities whose pro-abortion stance dates back to Soviet times, the advice centres have received the backing of state doctors.

Concerned by Russia’s low birth-rate and changing demographics, the government medics have given their support in principle to the three pro-life centres in and around the east Siberian town of Magadan made infamous by the Soviet gulag camps.

The main pro-life centre being pioneered by Catholic priest Father Michael Shields would be opened at the state-run Magadan Women’s Consultation Centre used for pregnancy tests and child-care advice.

If Fr Sheilds’ centre in Magadan opens as planned in June, it means he and his volunteers will have direct access to women at the point they discover they are pregnant when they decide about having an abortion.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, which has supported his pro-life work for many years, Fr Shields spelled out his hopes for the scheme.

He said: “What is amazing is that the state doctor who works at the Women’s Consultation Centre in Magadan approached us to see if we would be willing to develop a project there.”

Fr Shields, a member of the order of the Little Brothers of Jesus, continued: “It has been wonderful because Russia is really turning a corner and wants to see more births.

“The Russian government knows that the country’s demographics do not look good and that’s why the birthing doctors have asked us to work with and encourage pregnant mothers.”

The two other pro-life centres are planned for villages about 20 miles outside Magadan including one called Ola.

There, last June Fr Shields opened the Nativity Inn, a scheme backed by Aid to the Church in Need for parents and new-born babies desperately in need of short-term accommodation.

The need for the house arose after reports that the women – most of whom come to the area for studies – were being dismissed from college dormitories as soon as the authorities discover they are pregnant.

In his ACN interview, Fr Shields underlined that support for the three pro-life centres has followed increasingly glowing reports of his existing pro-life work in Magadan which dates back more than a decade.

Reporting on the success of the Nativity Inn, Fr Shields said: “What has surprised us is how much the Nativity Inn project and our centre at the Church in Magadan have grown through word of mouth.

“We find again and again that women come along having heard about us from other women in the same situation.”

He continued: “We hold regular meetings for women on our programmes and it is really beautiful to see how good they are with children. This is remarkable when you think that they almost certainly didn’t have very good childhoods with poor parenting.”

Fr Shields underlined the ecumenical importance of the scheme given the strong pro-life support of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The priest went on to highlight the success of his publication Martyrs of Magadan, produced in association with Aid to the Church in Need, in which survivors of the infamous Soviet Gulag prison camps in Siberia tell their stories of persecution and survival.

He said that sales of the book continued to do well with another print order under-way for the US market.

He added: “Recent work to promote the book has generated a huge reaction. I am very grateful for people’s thoughts. They recognise that the people who went through these experiences give us inspiration. Their prayers are amazing.”