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Potential priests got their first taste this weekend of a life devoted to opposing abortion, and Planned Parenthood got its first taste of what having them in Amarillo will be like.
This weekend marked the first discernment retreat for men considering joining Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, the national religious society being founded in Amarillo by the Rev. Frank Pavone to focus full time on ending abortion. The group took time out of the planned seminars to join the weekly protest at Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle, where they heard a short speech from Pavone and recited the rosary.
"This great nation has its flaws," Pavone told the 70 or so assembled in front of the clinic. "But it always gives us the right to protest those flaws. We come out, first of all, because we are human beings. When another human being is in danger, whenever another human being's life is being threatened, then decent human beings go."
Claudia Stravato, executive director of the local Planned Parenthood, said the protest was larger and included more men than the clinic usually sees. As a result, she said, many of the patients chose to drive around the block several times, waiting for the group to break up before coming in, even though the clinic had men waiting to escort patients to and from their car.
"Those were people who depend on us for health care," she said. "I saw one lady drive around four times."
Even though the clinic doesn't offer abortions, the protesters made it no secret that they'd rather women didn't go in at all. Rita Diller, family life director for the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo, said as much in one prayer.
"May this facility be permanently closed," she prayed.
And Stravato is wondering just how far the new group will go to see that happen. After talking with Pavone she's not worried about violence from him, or anyone currently in the diocese. But she's not so sure about the pro-life activists the society is bringing in from all over the country.
"This is not going to end," Stravato said. "(Pavone) is the head of all this stuff in the U.S., and now he's headquartered in Amarillo, and Amarillo hasn't quite figured that out yet."
But Pavone said Stravato shouldn't have any special cause for concern - the local Planned Parenthood wasn't going to be singled out.
"She's looking at us and the fact that we're coming to Amarillo," he said. "But whether it's Amarillo or Anchorage, this is a national movement, and every Planned Parenthood in the country has reason to be afraid - not of violence, but of the message that we're giving. (The members of the society) will be praying here to a certain extent, but we're going to send these guys out. Claudia should start talking to her friends."
As for the new priests coming to town, Pavone said they'll go through the same interviews and psychological evaluations that all potential priests go through. He doesn't believe anyone violent would make it through the process.
And at least one of the men at the discernment retreat said he wouldn't join any group that was violent.
"Blowing things up, acts of violence have no place in the pro-life movement," said Matt Cushing, who came from Overland Park, Kan., for the retreat. "It destroys what we're fighting for. We're trying to show that every person has value. What about the people you blow up? They have a value, too."
But he's not shy about his devotion to defeating abortion. Cushing said he was already considering the priesthood and had wished there was a way he could devote his ministry to pro-life work. Now that there is, he is seriously considering doing so.
"There's nothing more important than human life," Cushing said. "If they're not around, we can't baptize them."