Two groups are helping tomorrow's priests become the Church's next pro-life leaders.
The next generation of priests committed to the pro-life cause may be the best trained yet to help Catholics confront the Culture of Death. Two pro-life organizations recently were formed by seminarians for seminarians. Both groups aim to round out pastoral and classroom training with practical training in pro-life issues.
Seminarians for Life and Seminarian Life Link offer information and support ranging from tips on pro-life homilies to organizing effective activities for parish pro-life groups. Using the Internet, these groups also put seminarians from across the United States in touch with one another, broadening the base of pro-life leadership.
"We ask them to use the formation process of each seminary to form their priestly identity on the fundamental truth that all life is created by God in his image and likeness. We encourage them to use their class assignments to do research projects that would strengthen this truth of the Imago Dei [image of God]," explained Eric Bowman, national director of Seminarian Life Link and a student at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary of the West in Cincinnati. Bowman is a member of Beavercreek (Ohio) Council 7981 at St. Luke's Parish, where he is currently a pastoral associate.
"We do encourage the men to be involved with local crisis pregnancy centers to offer them support," Bowman said. "We encourage our brothers to be visibly present at abortion facilities to pray for all of the women and their babies, and especially to pray for the workers and supporters of the abortion industry"
He added, "We really encourage the men to begin to develop strategies to discuss life issues from the pulpit and to have the confidence to boldly proclaim that the Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of Life. So, in one sense, we ask them to use what the seminaries already have present for them to strengthen their pro-life stance. Then, we also ask them to be present and visible for the laity who are working very hard to stop abortion and all attacks on the sacredness of life."
"This is about seminarians serving other seminarians. We hope that makes for an organization of peers, a brother-to-brother approach," said Deacon John Cyr, national director of Seminarians for Life, a member of Bishop McNamara Council 1622 in Frederick, Md., and a Fourth Degree Knight. "We are trying to organize some information that will help seminarians in their pro-life activity. We are trying to keep each other up-to-date and on the same page."
The Knights of Columbus Supreme Council has provided financial assistance to Seminarians for Life for its operations.
A Thirst and a Fervor for Life
Father Frank A. Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, is encouraged by these new organizations. "These two groups have come to me, on their own, because they see that this is a logical progression. We [Priests for Life] work to train priests. If they help on a peer-to-peer level with their brother seminarians, not only to get more training, but also the inspiration to join the pro-life cause, it certainly makes our job easier," he said. "It is also a great satisfaction for us when we speak in seminaries, because we see this thirst and we see this fervor. So there is an integration here that makes a lot of sense among all these different groups."
It is no small task to stay abreast of the most current information regarding the legislative debates, court decisions and biotechnology breakthroughs that surround pro-life issues in the 21st century. But Seminarians for Life and Seminarian Life Link both make information, ideas and the support of like-minded seminarians easily accessible.
"An open response from seminarians is necessary, and a willingness to get involved is crucial," said Steve Pokorny, a student at St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland and member of Immaculata Council 3767 in Euclid. Ohio. "Seminarians need to step up and take a stand. Although we need to be attentive to our studies, sometimes we get caught up in the mentality of society that says, 'The issue is too big; there's too much to be done, so why bother?' It's a mindset that needs to be overcome through education and prayer, as well as by keeping our souls open to the needs of others."
Pro-life education is a part of the curriculum in every Catholic seminary to differing degrees. At Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, for example, it is addressed both in the classroom and outside of it.
"In his apostolic exhortation after the Synod on Priestly Formation in 1992 [Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Give You Shepherds)], the Holy Father talks about apostolic, pastoral, intellectual and spiritual formation for seminarians. I would like to think that we are making an effort to include formation for respect for life in all four of those areas," said Father Patrick E Halfpenny, vice rector and dean of seminarian formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Father Halfpenny is a member of Msgr. A.X.M. Sharpe Council 600 in Keego Harbor, Mich.
"Both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, the students have courses on moral theology which make extensive use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and papal documents, such as the Holy Father's encyclical on the Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). So, intellectually they are being formed," Father Halfpenny explained. "Pastorally, they are being formed in ways that are more overt. We always send a delegation from the student body to the March for Life in Washington every January. We try to make sure that different students get the chance to attend. When they come back, we give them an opportunity to give personal testimony to their respective student communities. Then locally, on a voluntary basis, there are significant numbers of students who participate in the Life Chain, and weekly there is a group who goes to different abortion provider clinics in the metropolitan area to witness and pray. Spiritually, of course, their concern for pro-life issues shows up very frequently at morning and evening prayer and at daily Mass with their many intentions for recovery of respect for life from conception until natural death."
Action, Knowledge and Prayer
Action as well as knowledge is needed to fight the Culture of Death, and Bowman and Deacon Cyr agree that priests need to take an active role in the pro-life movement.
"I believe that in order for the Culture of Death to be defeated, there needs to be a revival of sorts among the people of faith. Until we imitate our Lord and empty ourselves and embrace the cross of victory once again, the Culture of Death will remain a strong influence on society," Bowman said. "I also believe that our priests must speak out against the horrors that are taking place against life directly, such as contraception, abortion and euthanasia. Our priests need to be actively encouraging our faithful. That may mean that our priests be seen at abortion facilities protesting, or helping out at pregnancy centers, and it most assuredly means that they continue to study and learn about the next wave of attacks on life, and that is the bio-tech area."
He continued, "Where I believe that priests will have the biggest impact is the post-abortive age that has begun. There have been roughly 35 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, so that means almost 70 million individuals suffer directly from post-abortive symptoms. Our priests need to work to heal and forgive these individuals. They need to bathe these individuals in the oceans of God's mercy."
Both groups acknowledge that the demanding life of a seminarian and a priest may not allow as much time for pro-fife work as they would like. But both groups put a lot of emphasis on the importance of preaching about pro-life issues to their congregations, no matter what else they are able to do for the cause.
"One of the primary things a priest can do is to preach the pro-life message from the pulpit directly at least twice a year," Deacon Cyr stated, such as near the Roe anniversary in January and on Respect Life Sunday in October. "There are little ways to be constantly pro-life from the pulpit, even preaching at daily Mass and every weekend. When a pro-life theme comes up in Scripture, even if it is not the main focus in every homily, it can be something that is underneath everything we are preaching and everything that we stand for."
A Pro-Life Vocation
Many young men currently studying for the priesthood credit their pro-life activities with helping them to discern their vocation and to answer the call.
"It does seem to me that a significant number of candidates who present themselves for priestly formation these days come with a deep conviction of the importance of respect for life and a willingness to evangelize," said Father Halfpenny.
Father Pavone agrees. "I have found throughout the United States that more and more of the men who go into the priesthood today have found their vocations through the pro-life movement. Many of them have been brought up by parents who had them at their knees while the parents walked back and forth in front of abortion clinics protesting and peacefully praying. A lot of these seminarians today have grown up with this movement and now are going to be even better equipped to lead the next generation into this movement - hopefully a generation that will bring the movement to its intended goal."
There are a lot of seminarians and priests with a passion for pro-life work who would like to devote themselves entirely to prayer and activism for this cause. Some new religious orders of women were founded with pro-life apostolates, such as the Sisters of Life in New York and the Servants of the Gospel of Life in Indianapolis. But due to the shortage of priests in most U.S. dioceses, most priests are not able to do pro-life work full time. Many of them hope that in the future the Church will allow the formation of a religious order of men dedicated to pro-life ministry.
Molly Mulqueen writes regularly for the Catholic press from West Bloomfield, Mich., where she is a wife and mother.