WEST ORANGE - Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, and pro-life advocates here delivered a strong, unequivocal message to Catholics concerned with defending the sanctity of human life - wake up and put your vote where your values are.
"This is not the time to sleep," said Father Pavone. He spoke at a luncheon for priests, religious and laity from around the Garden State, including many from the Paterson Diocese, on May 17 at Mayfair Farms here. Held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Priests for Life, which helps clergy spread the Gospel of Life, the luncheon was sponsored by the Catholic Alliance, an independent, non-partisan, issue-focused Catholic citizens' movement that promotes Catholic issues. "We have a window of opportunity with primaries and elections coming up," said Father Pavone.
As followers of Jesus, Catholics must make his Gospel a public Gospel" as they carry those biblical principles into public life. "There is no such thing as a secret discipleship," said Father Pavone during the luncheon guided by the theme "Prayer in the Public Square." He said Catholics should be advocating on behalf of many issues of concern to the Church, including abortion, euthanasia, the family, poverty and homelessness. "Catholics worry about the time it will take or what other people will say. 'What will happen to me if I stir up trouble?' They should be asking, 'What will happen to the unborn who will pay for our silence?' No matter the cost, human life will be defended."
Also here on hand to rally Christian soldiers were Raymond Flynn, Catholic Alliance president, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and former Boston mayor, and Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, who is seeking the nomination to become the Republican's candidate for governor.
Unlike Catholics, most African-American and Jewish voters cast their ballots squarely behind candidates in a block to secure their political power, said Flynn, a lifelong Democrat. The 62 million Catholics in the United States could do the same thing, he said.
"As a result of our not getting involved, other people have more power and influence than we do," said Flynn who added that Catholics need to unite behind candidates who espouse their concerns. Regrettably, in the past, the Catholic vote has been evenly split between Democratic and Republican candidates. "People say 'I don't want anyone to tell me how to vote.' We Catholics don't know how to vote. We need someone to tell us how to vote. If you believe in something, let's get involved. Let's not take a back seat and apologize. Don't ask the Church to do what you're supposed to do," he told the audience.
Often, politicians maintain a pro-life stance when vying for local seats. But feeling the pressure from pro-abortion groups, they switch to pro-choice when running for state or national offices, Flynn said.
Sometimes staying true to the principles of their faith requires Catholics to switch their vote to a candidate of what they may consider the opposing political party. For the 2001 presidential election, Flynn backed George W. Bush, a Republican.
"I thought it was more important to be good American and Catholic than be a good Democrat," said Flynn.
The political and philosophical underpinnings of the pro-life message find their origins in the writings of the Founding Fathers, Schundler said. They believed that God - whose power is more mighty than that of human will - granted us "unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," as set down in the Declaration of Independence, he said.
"Each human life has value," said Schundler, a practicing Presbyterian. "We must call on our country to fulfill that mission."
Reinforcing this point, the program quoted Pope John Paul II's address in Baltimore in 1995: "Democracy serves what is true and right when it safeguards the dignity of every human person, when it respects inviolable and inalienable human rights, when it makes the common good the end and criterion regulating all public and social life. I say to you again, America, in the light of your own tradition: Love life, cherish life, defend life, from conception to natural death."
In their commitment to defend human life, pro-lifers have much work to do, said Father Pavone. According to polls, most Americans think abortion is wrong even to the point of believing it's murder - but they believe it is a private wrong. With this kind of thinking, no one should be surprised at the spate of school shootings that have terrorized America, such as the Columbine High School massacre, he said.
"Roe vs. Wade (the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion) harms people. Children are taught that lives are disposable," Father Pavone said. "Children are not always wanted because they don't meet somebody else's particular needs or expectations. But they should all be welcome, whether or not they meet those needs or expectations. Children will not stop killing children until parents stop killing children."
Mary Ann Castiglia, a married mother of three and a parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle, Oak Ridge, said she is motivated to promote the pro-life message by getting involved in social and moral teaching on the local level. Uncertain yet of her specific ministry, Castiglia said she believes God is leading her in that direction.
"I want my kids and other kids to be leaders," she said. "I want them to lead other kids out (into the light of Christ). I don't want them to be followers, who follow other kids in (to the darkness of sin)."
At the end of his talk, Pavone told Castiglia and other pro-life advocates not to worry about the ultimate outcome of pro-life efforts. God's plan and law will reign supreme one day.
"We not working for victory. We are working from victory," said Father Pavone, referring to Jesus' victory over sin and death in his resurrection. "God will prevail."