STILL RIVER-The national director of Priests For Life, Rev. Frank A. Pavone, offered help and a challenge for local priests, praised pro-lifers and said they thirst for specialized retreats and foster ecumenism. He spoke with The Catholic Free Press at St. Benedict's Abbey last Friday just before giving a retreat there to local pro-lifers.
Priests For Life was started on the West Coast by Rev. Lee Kaylor of San Francisco, and after a couple years gained official Church approval in 1991, Fr. Pavone said.
He said it focuses on the issues of abortion and euthanasia, does not endorse violence, and does not plan or sponsor activities which break the law. But it does not condemn those who peacefully block abortion clinics, he said. He said they are morally in the right because they are saving lives by moral, peaceful means, and the law is prosecuting them because it does not recognize as persons those they are saving.
The main work of Priests For Life is to train priests to understand the abortion issue, preach about it, assist women who are considering one or have had one, and to help them assist their people in understanding the issue and getting involved, he said. It also helps priests meet and support each other, he said.
He said he would want to tell priests in the Worcester Diocese that "We exist for them," and are ready to help them however they need it. Fighting abortion is not optional for priests, he said.
He said he would also challenge them to help their people see the urgency, that abortion is the "fundamental issue of our time" because it takes 4,400 human lives a day and is sanctioned by the government and because of what it says about life. While other issues are important, they stem from the right to life, he explained, noting that people have the right to food, clothes and other things because they have the right to life.
He said he finds clergy open to him and supportive of the pro-life movement and that people are looking for their leadership in it.
Priests For Life also has a booklet which offers a rationale for doing different kinds of street activities such as prayer vigils, pickets and life chains and tells how to do them, he said. It is a service to prolifers to give them as much training as possible, he said, adding that they need to be acquainted with the issue, understand the mind-set of those promoting abortion and know the resources available to them.
"Defending Life," a 13-week series of half-hour shows about abortion, by Fr. Pavone, is to be aired starting May 1 on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). The series covers the abortion procedure, laws, alternatives, post abortion healing and forgiveness, "how to answer pro-choice slogans," Scriptural teaching about abortion, and a discussion between a former abortion provider, a survivor of abortion and her mother, according to a press release about it.
Priests For Life also works with lay people, doing things such as last weekend's retreat, Fr. Pavone said.
People in the pro-life movement thirst for a retreat "that will specifically nourish their pro-life activities," he said, adding that being in the movement has its particular challenges and also can draw a person close to God.
"Being pro-life is very simply because God is life," he said. "We are pro-life because we want to be like Him. In Christ we find out what love means." He said abortion is the opposite of love-Christ sacrificed Himself for the good of others, while abortion sacrifices another for the good of self. The pro-life movement demands love for those its members cannot see, those who cannot love them back, he said.
And pro-lifers face court challenges and get accused of having bad motives and being against women, he said, so a retreat allows them to ask why they are doing work. He indicated they do it for love of both mother and baby because "love is indivisible," and they challenge society, "Why does love of the mother have to require sacrifice of the other?"
A retreat allows them to come closer to God, the source of love, which will help them in their work, he said.
Fr. Pavone said he thinks there will be more pro-life retreats in future, and that in addition to ones he gives, Rev. Michael Mannion, now in Washington D.C., oversees "Come Aside and Rest Awhile" Retreats.
Last weekend's retreat was to focus on how the gifts of the Holy Spirit help the pro-life work and, organizers' requests, was to be silent between talks to allow for prayer, Fr. Pavone said. It was to provide spiritual foundations rather than practical guidelines for how to work in pro-life activities, he said.
Asked what the fruits of such a retreat are, he replied, "It keeps people going--we want to see more progress than we often see." And it helps people do their pro-life work with peace and joy, he said, adding that when fighting such a great evil they have to be careful not to let evil overtake them and get angry or cynical.
"People lose friends at times over their pro-life work," and it takes an emotional, mental and financial toll on them, he said.
"I think it fosters the unity of the movement too," he said. "If people are centered on God and strong in their spiritual life, they will have less of a tendency to be selfish, divisive or overly critical."
Asked about some people, including Catholics, being turned off by the pro-life movement, Fr. Pavone said they should look at the source of their knowledge about it. He said the movement does a lot that the media does not cover. He indicated that when something "stupid," such as violence, happens, the media ask him if it will have a negative effect on the movement and he responds that it will not if they cover the good the movement does.
"The people in the pro-life movement are some of the greatest in the world," he said.
He said he works a lot with ministers of other denominations and that in the pro-life movement he has found the ecumenism he had been longing and praying for. There are few, if any, things that foster practical day to day ecumenism like the pro-life movement does, because people are "in the trenches together," seeing together the emergency taking place out there, he said.
This does not minimize their differences, which are important to be look at, he said, but differences do not have to keep them from working together.