Here's a little-known fact: Every abortion mill in the country has at least one Catholic parish praying for it.
That's because, this past June, Priests for Life "matched" each of the nation's 17,000 parishes with an abortion facility and began asking parish members to pray for the closing of the abortion business and the Christian conversion of its staff.
Calling the parish-matching program a "countdown to victory," Father Frank Pavone, Priests for Life's national director, is confident the prayers will be heard and the 700-plus freestanding abortion mills operating in the country "will all eventually be closed."
Abortion facilities are the abortion industry's weakest link, he adds, and parishes are the Church's strongest - so a spiritual face-off between the two favors the eventual triumph of the Church.
"The Church is the only institution that has the divine guarantee that it will prevail over the culture of death," says Father Pavone. "It is up to us to use the tools of grace that the giver of that guarantee has provided us."
There were more than 2,000 freestanding abortion mills in operation in the early 1990s, according to Life Dynamics Inc., which maintains a list. Today only 728 remain, but an estimated 1 million lives are aborted at these abortion sites every year. This does not include hospitals or doctors' offices where abortions are performed, often in secret.
Father Pavone says he has learned through interaction with pro-life people and parishes that abortion is a "local phenomenon," and everyone needs to take responsibility to stop the killing in their communities. He adds that a pastor has spiritual responsibility for his flock and Church law specifies that responsibility geographically.
"If, then, there is an abortion mill within the parish, a special bond of responsibility is already there," he says. "The same is true in the relationship of a bishop with his diocese."
The project's approach - orchestrated nationally but implemented locally has helped energize Catholics, says Deacon Jim Stahlnecker, coordinator of the Respect Life Vicariate of Staten Island, N.Y. It's making people aware that the killing of innocents is going on practically in their own backyards. And it's helping them focus on the problem at a human scale, thus countering the perception that the idea of "ending abortion" is an overwhelming challenge.
"It's like taking a light bulb and focusing the rays in one area, shining right on the clinic," says Father Pavone. "Even here in New York, marvelous things can be done."
Of the 34 parishes in Staten Island, where Priests for Life's headquarters is based, 17 have already adopted the project since it was introduced in June, and more parishes will be added as Deacon Stahlnecker follows up with them.
While Priests for Life offers many suggestions, it is up to the individual parish and its pastor to fashion a response. In Staten Island, some parishes are promoting the program in the bulletin and naming the abortion business to pray for. Others are distributing information about the abortion site on wallet-size cards to pray at home and praying the intentions after daily Mass.
Deacon Stahlnecker is also distributing an end-abortion prayer to various Catholic associations in the diocese, including the Knights of Columbus, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Blue Army and the Legion of Mary.
For 10 years, Deacon Stahlnecker has done sidewalk counseling with Msgr. Philip Reilly, founder of Helpers of God's Precious Infants. The deacon is convinced the key to ending abortion is a combination of prayer and action.
"I've seen, on some days, up to 30% of the girls who go into the clinic come out and decide not to have an abortion," he says. "They thanked us for being there. But prayer is so key. From prayer follows activism."
Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher has worked with many former abortion-business employees who have told him that, when people are outside the abortion site praying, there's a "tenseness inside the facility and an angst that they can't describe."
Some didn't want to come to work if "those people" were there.
"There are certain human behaviors in the human experience that are repugnant whether they are legal or illegal," he says. "The abortion clinics don't close down because of lack of business; they close because they can't get people to work in those places. They have not been able to remove the stigma of abortion even through legality. We know that prayer has an effect and to think that it doesn't is to deny your Christian belief system."
By praying at home, Charliene Damone feels she can contribute to ending abortion without cramping her schedule. As a single mother of three young children, she doesn't have time to pray in front of abortion businesses nor much money to donate to pro-life organizations. So when she first heard about the match program, she went to the Priests for Life Web site and found an abortion site in her area. She has posted the prayer on her wall next to a crucifix and a picture of the Blessed Mother.
"Planned Parenthood, Sunrise Avenue, Roseville, California, she says of the abortion mill nearest her. "I didn't know that one even existed before."
Damone sympathizes with young girls who find themselves in crisis pregnancies. When she found herself in this situation, she never considered abortion but knows first hand the struggles young girls have to face.
"They can't possibly understand what they've been given," says Damone. "It makes me mad at Planned Parenthood for misleading so many people about this great gift of life. All of the ideas and passions I have about what needs to be done will be passed on to my children, and maybe they will be the ones to fulfill them."
The Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Chicago has fully implemented the "match" program into a wider effort called the Mother Teresa Project, says Mary Louise Kurey, project director. In addition to contacting each parish and matching them to one of 17 abortion mills in the archdiocese and two outside the archdiocese, it is partnering with Helpers of God's Precious Infants to organize prayer vigils outside of abortion businesses and train sidewalk counselors.
The diocese is also encouraging Catholics to pray the rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet daily, distribute leaflets to abortion workers written by former abortionists and get more involved with pregnancy resource centers.
At the political level, Illinois is "hostile territory for pro-lifers," says Kurey, but the combination of prayer and action is helping the pro-life movement make headway.
"Prayer is the center of all that we do, but it's also important to bring that prayer into action," she says. "People are really getting energized here politically, even though it can be discouraging. The pro-abortion culture is so powerful, but the pro-life movement is getting younger and younger, and that is very encouraging."
Information: Priests For Life www.priestsforlife.org (888) PFL-3448
Prayer for Life
Eternal God, You have revealed Yourself as the Father of all Life. We praise You for the Fatherly care which You extend to all creation, and especially to us, made in Your image and likeness.
Father, extend Your hand of protection to those threatened by abortion, and save them from its destructive power. Give Your strength to all fathers, that they may never give in to the fears that may tempt them to facilitate abortions.
Bless our families and bless our land, that we may have the joy of welcoming and nurturing the life of which You are the source and the Eternal Father. Amen.
Barb Ernster writes from Fridley, Minnesota