SAN ANTONIO. Two driving forces in the pro-life movement came together in San Antonio on June 29 when the Majella Society, in partnership with the archdiocesan Office of Social Concerns, brought in Father Frank Pavone to speak to a packed house at Church of the Holy Spirit.
Active in the pro-life movement since 1976, Father Pavone is national director for Priests for Life, president of the National Pro-Life Religious Council and pastoral director for Rachel’s Vineyard [A Ministry of Priests for Life], an international retreat program for post-abortion healing. In 1999 he was named one of the “Top 100 Catholics of the Century.”
He has traveled to all 50 states and to five continents, speaking out against abortion, including addressing the clergy of India on life issues at the request of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “Jane Roe” of the famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision came to call him “the catalyst that brought me to the Catholic Church,” and he was present with Terri Schiavo in her final moments and an outspoken advocate for her life.
Opening the evening was Luke Doyle, executive director of the Majella Society, an organization which uses the mass media to change attitudes on abortion.
Named after St. Gerard Majella, the patron saint of motherhood and difficult pregnancies, the Austin-based Majella Society entered the San Antonio market last December with a series of pro-life television commercials and billboards. They also make use of the Internet through http://www.teenbreaks.com/.
“Our goal,” said Doyle, “is to make sure that the bottom line is we reduce the abortion rate in the state of Texas and that the vast majority of Texans view abortion as absolutely unthinkable.”
A similar advertising program in Wisconsin, whose population is around five million, reduced their abortion rate by 23 percent over a 10 year period, Doyle stated, saving an estimated 60,000 lives that would have otherwise been aborted. “We have just over 20 million people here in the state of Texas,” he said. “Imagine, if we’re saving 60,000 lives in Wisconsin over that period of time, what we can do here in Texas.”
The Majella Society makes use of two types of advertising — one aimed at changing attitude, the other offering a number (1-800-395-HELP) that can connect the caller to pro-life pregnancy counseling in their area. Doyle noted that in the Majella Society’s first campaign there was a 93 percent increase in calls to the 1-800 number and, during their second campaign, a 147 percent increase in calls.
“So we are able to not only change attitudes and beliefs on the issue of abortions,” he said, “we are also extending a helping hand to get women into the centers, into the counseling that they need to make a decision for life.” He noted a very high percentage of women who had an abortion, when interviewed, said, “If I had had information on alternatives, I most likely would have made a different choice.”
Father Pavone has founded a community of priests permanently dedicated to full-time pro-life work, based in the Diocese of Amarillo, and spoke glowingly of this historic step. “Never before in the history of the church,” he said, “has there been a community — technically, it’s called a Society of Apostolic Life — an opportunity for young men to become priests, not simply to do the many marvelous ministries that a priest can do, but specifically to fight for the unborn.”
These priests, he said, will be able to help their fellow priests “speak more clearly and courageously, minister more compassionately, mobilize more effectively and do what Christ says we have to do for our brothers and sisters when he defines the meaning of love.”
Love, Father Pavone noted, means laying down one’s life for others — the exact opposite of abortion, which is actually sacrificing another person for the good of one’s self.
Praising the Majella Society for their efforts, he said, “What a marvelous goal it would be to get these commercials on constantly, not only throughout Texas, but throughout the country.” He added that the support given to the society’s efforts will help achieve this goal. “We have to keep putting this message before the minds and hearts of the American people,” he said.
Despite the media being filled with pro-abortion messages, Father Pavone believes wholeheartedly in the words of Pope John Paul II: “Error may sometimes have a bigger pulpit, but there is a grace that comes with the word of truth, a grace that the words of falsehood can never have, a grace that is more powerful to transform minds and hearts than any amount of error.”
“We don’t have to be distracted by the fact that falsehood has such a big pulpit,” said Father Pavone. “We’ve got to be focused on the fact that now we have a pulpit for the word of truth and for the word of life, and we have a concrete way of advancing that effort to connect with so many more minds and hearts.”
Emphasizing the importance of the Majella Society’s campaign, he pointed out there are three distinct ways their media messages connect with people. The first is through “cognitive dissonance,” which occurs when a person believes something to be true but then hears new information that creates a conflict in their mind, forcing them to reconsider what they truly believe.
He gave as example the state and federal laws that protect unborn children from attacks and acts of violence other than abortion. This means, he observed, that a pregnant woman who is driving herself to a clinic for an abortion could have her car struck by a drunken driver, killing the unborn child, and the driver would be charged with the death of the child the woman was about to have legally killed.
He noted this cognitive dissonance took place when the physician who ran the largest abortion facility in the Western world came to doubt the validity of abortion after being struck by the incongruity of working in a building where babies were being aborted on one floor, while on another, heroic efforts were being used to save babies at the same gestational age.
Father Pavone also recalled the instance of a woman who spoke to him following one of his talks at a parish. She had considered herself 100 percent pro-abortion until she heard him preach, but totally reversed her views following his talk.
Two things he had said changed her mind. The first was learning that more lives are lost to abortions in one year than all the lives lost in all the wars our nation has been involved in since its beginning. The second was the story he told of the sea turtles at a beach he had visited one day while preaching on abortion in Florida.
A sign on the beach stated that the sea turtles and their eggs were protected by local, state and federal laws. “And I asked the question in the homily,” said Father Pavone, “‘If we don’t have the right to choose to smash the egg of a sea turtle, how and why do we have the right to choose to smash a baby?’”
“Imagine the power of having ads that raise this cognitive dissonance constantly airing, constantly making people think about it,” he said to his San Antonio audience.
In addition to the use of cognitive dissonance, the Majella Society’s ads provide outreach to those tempted to abort, Father Pavone noted. Though we all fight abortion and want to protect unborn children, he said, we don’t actually come in contact with them. “What we see walking down the street,” he said, “is a young woman who is so desperate and afraid and feels so ashamed and terrified that she experiences the terrible temptation to kill her own child.”
We can reach out to this woman by telling her she has a choice, he added, and this is what the Majella Society ads offer in the 1-800 number. “We don’t stand up before the world and point a finger of condemnation,” he said. “No. We extend a hand of mercy and of help to lift them up out of despair.”
“Abortion is not only a sin against life,” he continued. “It is a sin against hope, an act of despair.” Thus the third focus of the Majella Society’s advertising campaign is extending hope to those who have already had an abortion and reaching out to “the woman and the man who have been enveloped in the despair that comes after abortion.”
Father Pavone noted that Priests for Life is privileged to be coordinating and operating the world’s largest abortion healing ministry, Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats. Many dioceses around the country use this as their Project Rachel program.
Priests for Life is also involved in the Silent No More Campaign, in which men and women who have personally experienced the pain of abortion, are speaking out to express their regrets. “And they are becoming the new sign,” he said. “They are becoming the new source of hope to others who have also fallen into that abyss.”
In conclusion, Father Pavone stated that the abortion industry is, even now, collapsing from within. “Abortion destroys itself,” he said. “They cannot sustain the lies and the falsehoods that are behind this greatest of all evils. They can’t even get doctors to do the procedure, no matter how legal it is.”
Instead, he noted, the abortion industry is falling back, as a last stand, on the argument that abortion is a decision between a woman and her God. This means, he said, that they have run out of arguments and their only hope of succeeding is if the pro-life message fails to get out.
“Brothers and sisters,” he said, “don’t have any doubt that the message that you’re helping to get out to the people of Texas, to the people of San Antonio, to the people of America, is converting and consoling and changing people.” “That’s not what we have to fear,” he said. “There is only one thing that we have to fear and that is that they won’t get out at all.”