There is a mention of differences between Protestants and Catholics in this article. I heard from someone who was offended by it, and it’s possible that I shouldn’t have said it. The use of the word “medieval” is not meant to disparage anybody. Rather, I meant to point out that the very vocal presence of very traditional Catholics would be a turn-off for people from other Christian backgrounds. It’s very challenging to attract a lot of churches to pro-life events, and uniquely Catholic practices will make it even more difficult. It’s my opinion that these kinds of pro-life events should do all that’s possible to attract people from many different backgrounds.
–Joe Woodard


This week’s #asiaforlifepodcast is covering stories from the 2019 Japan March for Life. Listen to the podcast here:

LISTEN: Japan March for Life——Will Non-Catholics Join?


I’m Joe Woodard and this is the Asia for Life Podcast. Okay, we’re going to wrap up this series on the Japan March for Life. I have some closing thoughts, and also want to talk about my experience with pro-life events in Hong Kong. So yeah, I was going to point out a few things that were really interesting to me about the Tokyo March for Life–the Japan March for Life this year, here in Tokyo on July 15th.

So the first thing I noticed while I was there was the majority of people there were women–and I don’t know where all the old white men were 😂. But yeah, the pro-life movement gets a rap…a bad rap for having a lot of authoritarian men in charge, which is just weird, because there are so many women who are leaders in the pro-life movement.

But anyway, there were lots of families, including the director. I saw Mr. Ikeda, who runs the March for Life events each year–and he also runs a vegetarian restaurant, which is cool. He’s also like really engaged with environmental issues. And it’s funny–at his restaurant he gives discounts too to pregnant women, because he wants it to be a “pro-life restaurant” which is cool. Anyway, so Mr. Ikeda–it was so great to see him. He’s such an energetic guy–very, just a very happy man. And he was walking with his wife there too, and also carrying his kid–I guess a 3-year old kid, who was sleeping in his arms. While he was walking and kind of running around, running the thing, he was also taking care of his kids, which was just cool to see. So, great guy, Mr. Ikeda, who runs the Japan March for Life now.

Mr. Ikeda Masaaki introducing Pastor Kenzo to share at Tsukiji Catholic church before the Japan March for Life 2019Mr. Ikeda Masaaki introducing Pastor Kenzo to share at Tsukiji Catholic Church, before the start of the Japan March for Life 2019

There were lots of foreigners from around Japan, from different parts of Japan–foreigners who live in Tokyo or other cities. And that includes people from Europe and…I was about to say, “and the UK”. Is the UK still in Europe? I can’t remember where we were…where we are on the timeline with that right now.

Anyway…then [there were also] a bunch of Brazilians who live in Japan. By the way, funny fact: Japan’s largest population, or the country with the most Japanese in the world, is Brazil (outside of Japan). So that’s funny.

But yeah it was cool to hear a lot of people speaking Portuguese. And because they knew Spanish too, I talked with a lot of them in Spanish, which was fun. And then there was a lot of, of course, a lot of Catholics. It was almost entirely Catholic.

I think I met five other Protestants there. There might have been a couple more, I’m not sure. But I think it was maybe 7, probably less than 10 Protestants at the March for Life. So that was sad for me, just because I know the founder–Pastor Kenzo Tsujioka, a Christian pastor–he had worked really hard to engage Christian churches.

And this event has become a very Catholic event. Not only the people participating but also the style. And I’m going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about the uncomfortable issues, including the statues of Mary. But first, I’ll compare a little bit about my experience with the Hong Kong March for Life, and what it was like running that, and my engagement with churches in Hong Kong.

First of all, I should say–the reason I’m not running the March for Life in Hong Kong anymore is that…is largely because of my health. I have some health issues…that my body is unreliable, especially for running big events like the March for Life. So, I’m happy to support and be engaged. And I would even be willing to lead. But my health is…yeah–unreliable. And I just don’t feel that it’s–you know, I’ve prayed a lot about it, and I don’t feel it’s something that God is asking me to do in this season. For example, like this year, I don’t think God is saying like, “Yeah, do it! You need to do the March for Life. And I’ll help you and I’ll be your strength!” I’m not getting that when I pray. I just feel like [the Hong Kong March for Life] is a nice idea, but it’s my idea, and I would be doing it in my own strength. And I don’t think that’s a good idea.

So…but I am praying, and looking for other people to take on the leadership for the Hong Kong March for Life. Most likely, by the way, it will be a Catholic ministry who takes on the leadership. If they can do it, they’re people I love and trust–they’re friends–and I would want to continue to support them as they take on the leadership for that.

Okay. I also want to talk about–I was just remembering a story that I want to share. When I first started trying to do pro-life events in Hong Kong, I started the 40 Days for Life campaign in 2016. And my first conversation, where I sat down with a Christian pastor to share my vision, and the PowerPoint slides, and talk about why I thought 40 Days for Life would be a great thing for Hong Kong–he told me that it wouldn’t work. He just said, like point-blank, “It’s not going to work. Christian churches are not going to respond to this.”

And I know that he cares about the issue of abortion. Like, I know he personally does, and his church does. But at the same time, I don’t think that he would say that he is anti-abortion. So he thinks abortion is wrong in a lot of cases. For example, like, if people are getting an abortion because it’s a girl and they wanted a boy, that’s wrong. Like, he supports Chai Ling and the…I think she runs the All Girls Allowed movement, which addresses that problem of sex-selective abortion in China.

So, he’s supportive of that kind of thing, but he also said he doesn’t see how it’s a good idea for people’s attitudes change on, for example, single girls being pregnant. And he actually said, “What do you expect them to do? Just walk around and tell everybody, ‘Hey, I’m pregnant!’, and just hold their stomach out and say ‘Hey, I’m pregnant!’?”

Like…he thought it was absurd that girls wouldn’t feel ashamed of that. And I think that’s really sad. Because being pregnant is not a sin. Having sex before marriage–it’s…it’s not a good idea. The church teaches that it’s sinful. I think it’s not a good idea to be pregnant before marriage. But being pregnant is not immoral. The state of being pregnant is not something that we should shame anyone about.

So anyway…I didn’t have very high expectations about how Hong Kong Christian pastors would respond to my ideas about pro-life initiatives. Like, you know, I’m a foreigner. I was…I did not speak Cantonese, hardly at all at that time.

And I didn’t want to just be presumptuous about that people would want to engage with me on pro-life issues. But, I did want to keep on trying, and keep inviting, and asking, you know, in each season, as different events come up. Just to, like, keep the lines of communication open. And there are pastors who are supportive.

Anyway, ultimately I really tried to spend a lot of effort inviting non-Catholic churches–like, just general Christian churches and pastors of ministries. And it just didn’t work–it didn’t go very far. And ultimately, about 10 times more Catholics joined. Depending on the event, it might have been 5 or 10 or 12 times more Catholics than Protestants. So, that was really sad.

And I have a lot of ideas about why that happens. But umm…I’m tempted to talk about all of them. But I’m just gonna talk about one, specifically regarding public outdoor prayer events.

So, Catholics have a history with prayer processions, where they, you know, they’ll take a big statue of Mary, or their favorite saint–the patron saint of the town in historically Catholic Europe, or South America. And they’ll walk with the statue down the street, and say different prayers.

They have a history of walking down the street and praying in public. And Protestant churches don’t really do that so much. It’s not that none of them do, but they…first of all, they wouldn’t use the statue. Second, it’s not a lot of churches that do that sort of thing, walking down the street praying, or gathering in a public space to have a big public prayer event on the streets.

So, anyway, I think that Catholics…they’re free to do that. Like, it’s a free country, in Japan, and wherever they do that. So there’s no way that Protestants are going to stop them from doing that. But as far as the pro-life thing–once they start doing that it’s going to make it harder for Protestants to join. And it’s already–as I’ve experienced–it’s very difficult in the general Christian church to engage on pro-life issues in a lot of ways. And so seeing the statue of Mary is going to be a big turnoff, just automatically. And that’s…yeah. That’s the uncomfortable truth. And I don’t know what to do about it.

But I did talk with Pastor Kenzo about this last year. Actually, I went to the [Japan] March for Life in 2018, and we talked afterwards. And he’s very aware of this challenge, that this causes challenges to other churches that might consider joining.

The Japan March for Life is becoming a Catholic event. And there’s a lot of, not only Catholics, but very “traditionalist” Catholics, who really want their big statue of Mary, and really want to chant the rosary in Latin, loudly. So they have a very strong Marian focus, with some very, very traditionalist–I think I can say “medieval”, and they would also say medieval–Catholic ideas. Like, that’s the sort of thing that they really, personally, are fond of. So there’s no way that other Christian churches are going to be okay with that and join.

Yeah, so Pastor Kenzo–he doesn’t know what to do, and he’s not in charge of the event anymore. And I guess he feels that he doesn’t run the events, so he doesn’t have a lot of say in how it’s run.

By the way, I have some very sad news about Pastor Kenzo. He joined the March for Life this year. But by the end of it, he was leaning on his granddaughter to get there. He arrived 30 minutes after everyone else. And he looked like he was going to faint. And he actually went to the hospital after that. He’s been there for almost three weeks. And at the time of this recording, he’s still there. Doctors are still trying to get a diagnosis. So please pray for Pastor Kenzo.

So I know bringing up the subject of Catholic devotion to Mary is a very uncomfortable subject, and I don’t have a solution. But I do hope that Christians–Protestants and Catholics–can keep the lines of communication open. And maybe the best thing that Christian churches can do is to participate in events like this, the March for Life. And…but ask beforehand that Catholics keep the focus on pro-life issues. Like, talk with the leaders and ask that we can just make this a pro-life event and not another kind of event. And that Catholics do the Catholic-style prayer processions separately. I don’t know if that would work. But yeah, my hope is that we…I think we should be able to talk with each other. In the end, though, I don’t know which direction the Japan March for Life will go.

Anyway, I do hope that the March for Life in Japan and whatever events take place in Hong Kong in the future–and also Korea, Taiwan–I hope they grow. And I really hope for the best. I really hope for the best for the small pro-life network–both Catholic and Protestant–that it will grow and bear fruit and save many lives. And ensure that many children are welcomed into loving families. And I hope we can do it in a way that is open to everybody, regardless of their other church beliefs. And I hope that we can gather around our shared pro-life principles.

Japan March for Life 2018 dad holding babyDad carrying baby during the Japan March for Life

By the way, if you’ve joined a March for Life event anywhere in the world, in…in Asia, or Europe, or Australia, or South America–of course, the most popular one is in Washington DC. And by the way, the one in San Francisco is also growing pretty astonishingly. It’s pretty amazing to see what’s happening with the–what is it–Walk for Life West Coast each year in San Francisco. Anyway…oh yeah. I’m also gonna mention the one in Amsterdam. Like, we think of Amsterdam–it’s super, super not friendly to life, on the issues of abortion, and eugenics, and euthanasia, and whatever. But it is growing–it’s pretty awesome to see.

So anyway, if you have thoughts on this, feel free to contact me. That’s all I’ve got for now. Cheers, and God bless you.