First of two parts
Every day is "Respect Life Sunday" for Father Frank Pavone of Staten Island, N.Y., the founder and director of Priests for Life, who tirelessly works for an end to abortion by preaching and teaching the Gospel of Life.
"Our pro-life work is not done, but it's getting done," Father Pavone told Saint Meinrad seminarians and other pro-life supporters during a series of educational talks about life issues on Sept. 12-13 at the Benedictine school of theology in southern Indiana.
The director of the international pro-life organization for Catholic clergy encourages priests to speak out from the pulpit against abortion, artificial birth control, infanticide, euthanasia, capital punishment, embryonic stem cell research and cloning.
Father Pavone knows that priests don't like to preach about abortion because they don't want to upset any of the women in the pews who have aborted babies.
But women never forget about their abortion, he said, and it's better to preach about it in a firm but compassionate way and to remind them that the Church offers post-abortion reconciliation.
"We should be doing more, we should be saying more," Father Pavone said about the need for priests to speak out against abortion.
Priests for Life "calls with equal vigor on the Church and on our clergy, when we do our clergy seminars, to address all kinds of issues of social justice," he said, "and also all kinds of issues that are even less popular to preach about than abortion, such as contraception.
"There's a lot of hesitation [on the part of priests] for all kinds of reasons," Father Pavone said. "We did a survey in 2000 of American Catholic priests to find out what are some of these hesitations, and basically it involves our emotional sensitivity. We're very careful. We don't want to be disliked because we're trained to shepherd the flock. A shepherd doesn't want his sheep growling at him. I don't know if sheep can growl, but people can."
Father Pavone also urges lay people to pray for an end to abortion and to join the pro-life movement to help reverse the culture of death prevalent in modern society.
More than 43 million unborn babies have died in surgical abortions in the United States, he said, since the medical procedures to terminate pregnancy during all nine months of gestation were legalized by the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton decisions in 1973.
There is no way to accurately count all of the other unborn babies destroyed in chemical abortions, he said, during the past 30 years.
About 4,000 babies are aborted each day in the U.S., Father Pavone said, and that is why priests and pro-life supporters must continually work for an end to abortion.
His three-day visit to Saint Meinrad to present the series of pro-life programs was arranged by seminarians who have formed a pro-life group there and pray on Saturday mornings outside an abortion clinic in downtown Louisville, Ky.
At Saint Meinrad, Father Pavone emphasized that he is committed to staying on the front lines in the struggle against abortion until the day when no more defenseless babies are killed in the womb.
Father Pavone said he also is concerned about the harmful long-term physical, mental, emotional and spiritual effects of abortion on women, and he praised ministries that provide post-abortion counseling to help women find healing and reconciliation with God.
Through a Web site, videos, audio tapes, publications and personal appearances by Father Pavone, Priests for Life promotes education and prayer to increase public opposition to the destruction of babies in a variety of gruesome abortion procedures.
Abortion is a direct attack on God because it kills his children, Father Pavone frequently tells pro-life supporters in his talks and homilies.
Christians must form an army of prayer warriors and peaceful activists, he said, to work to end this slaughter of innocents and help save women from making this tragic and irreversible mistake.
"As we do this, not only are we concretely serving those in need, we're also revealing the true face of the Church and of the pro-life movement," Father Pavone said, "and that we are, in fact, ready to help [women experiencing crisis pregnancies].
"The U.S. bishops have repeated this promise and have indicated that the Church is at the service of these individuals [in need]," he said, "whether it's through Catholic Charities or through pregnancy services that are coordinated through the diocese or through the many networks of pregnancy services that are run by Catholics or other Christians working outside of or in collaboration with the Church. The [pro-life] resources are there. The good news is that there are, depending on how you count them and how you categorize them, about 3,000 pregnancy resource centers in the United States."
There were two confirmed "saves" by pro-life sidewalk counselors on Sept. 13, when first one and then another expectant mother turned away from the Louisville abortion clinic and went to a pregnancy resource center across the street for help and counseling, while Father Pavone and more than 170 pro-life supporters prayed in front of the clinic.
Speaking through a bullhorn, Father Pavone told the women escorted along the sidewalk by abortion clinic staff members that they could still change their minds and that help is available for them and for their babies.
He continued to pray for the women as they walked into the clinic, and even offered prayers that the abortion clinic escorts and other staff members would experience a spiritual conversion and become pro-life.
A woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy has "a terrible desire to be 'unpregnant' and to somehow make this whole situation go away," Father Pavone said later. "She ends up going to the abortion mill if someone has been able to convince her that that's what abortion is going to accomplish for her. In other words, it's just a big eraser. It's going to make her 'unpregnant.' She thinks it's going to make her whole problem go away, and then she can go back to her life as it was before."
But after a woman has an abortion, he said, she must face the reality that she has chosen to kill her child and she eventually realizes that her life will never be the way it was before.
That's when priests and the Church's post-abortion reconciliation ministries need to help her turn to God for forgiveness and healing, he said, and to support her as she grieves for her aborted baby.
Seminarian Brian O'Brien, a first-year theology student from the Diocese of Tulsa, Okla., helped coordinate Father Pavone's visit and said about 150 people attended the pro-life educational sessions open to the public.
"Father Frank [Pavone] is a wonderful example for us seminarians," O'Brien said. "There are so many wonderful priests here at Saint Meinrad and in our dioceses that we look to as role models, and Father Frank is at the top of that list in terms of someone that we would want to emulate in the way that he is, his prayer, the way that he relates to people and the way that he cares about life. I think having him speak here says a lot about Saint Meinrad, and there was a great turnout by the seminarians, the faculty and the public."