Standing beneath a crucifix in the Marian College Chapel in Indianapolis, Father Frank Pavone told students, faculty members and guests on Oct. 4 that electing pro-life candidates on the local, state and national levels in the Nov. 2 election is vitally important to the future of the country.
The founder and director of Priests for Life, an international pro-life organization based in Staten Island, N.Y., reminded the gathering that the fate of important prolife issues hangs in the balance depending on the results of the 2004 election.
"Obviously, for us as a nation and for us as a pro-life group, this is a critically important moment in our history" Father Pavone said. "That is not to say that politics is the only activity that the pro-life movement may be engaged in, nor is it to say that it is necessarily the way that we will end this tragedy of abortion."
However, he said, "as I've been saying in these days and weeks across the country, while politics is not our salvation, Jesus Christ is. Nevertheless, our response to him demands that we be politically active, that we respond to his call to actually do something to make a change in the laws, the policies and the leaders that we live with here on Earth as we organize ourselves politically."
On Sept. 23, Priests for Life and a coalition of other religious and pro-life organizations announced a national month-long $1 million pre-election educational campaign that Father Pavone said is intended to defeat political candidates who support keeping abortion legal.
This pro-life campaign includes a television series titled "Election 2004: The Catholic Vote" broadcast on Eternal Word Television Network to an estimated 80 million U.S. households as well as pro-life advertisements and voter registration drives at churches.
Priests for Life also organized a nine-week pro-life novena on Aug. 31 as a "spiritual bouquet for America" leading up to the Nov. 2 election.
Father Pavone said "the Second Vatican Council, in its key document, The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, told us decades ago that human activity should never be confused with the progress of the kingdom of God, but at the same time they should never be disconnected.
"Human activity and anything we can do to bring about a measure of peace, justice and righteousness in our society, building ... a culture of life, is of vital importance to the kingdom of God," he said. "And anything that we are able to do by our efforts in and through God's grace, to advance truth and life and justice and peace, is used by God himself as building blocks for the eternal Jerusalem. Christ comes back again, in other words, to bring human history to its completion."
God uses the good that we have done in life, however limited and imperfect, Father Pavone said, to build upon the things that he has brought about through us for the culture of life.
"This is some of the theology behind our political activism," he said. "The Eucharist itself that we celebrate here on this altar, and on altars throughout the world, tells us something about our political activity."
At Mass, Father Pavone said, the priest says in the Eucharistic prayer, "Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness, we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life."
Just as human hands made the bread that the priest consecrates as the Body of Christ, he said, human hands must defend the sanctity of life created in the image and likeness of God.
"Brothers and sisters, the work of human hands includes political work," Father Pavone said. "It includes educating and mobilizing and registering and assisting voters to have an impact, and this is the work in which so many are engaged very intensely now ... until the election."
People need to understand what is at stake in this election, he said, because "who is in office, including the office of the President of the United States, really makes a difference to the [pro-life] cause."
Every baby in the womb can be legally aborted at any stage of pregnancy in the United States, he emphasized, but pro-life supporters can and do affect changes for the better in the war against the culture of death in society.
"We can change minds and hearts through pulpits," he said, "and preaching and proclamation of the truth in the Word of God."
In negative ways, Father Pavone said, "Does it not affect the minds and hearts of our children when they learn that abortion is legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy? Doesn't it affect people's minds and hearts when institutions that are so respected in our society like the Supreme Court itself say that this activity is legal and constitutional? Of course it does. Laws and policies and court decisions affect minds and hearts. Who is in the White House, who is in the Congress, who is sitting as justices on the Court, affect minds and hearts, and if they're going in the wrong direction it impedes and confuses and darkens minds and hearts, not only in the United States but throughout the world."
When America's leadership changes, he said, "the way that we in the United States treat children changes, not only on our soil but elsewhere by exporting abortion, by making the assistance we give to other nations dependent upon their permitting abortions in their countries and by other things that we do at the United Nations and other international agencies. A lot of that is determined directly and immediately by who sits in the White House."
Father Pavone said Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton, the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion during all nine months of pregnancy, have forged a separation between the choice of the mother and the independent value of the life of the child.
"Roe vs. Wade does not speak of an absolute right to privacy," he said, "the way the pro-abortion propaganda talks about."
But pro-life efforts have achieved major legal breakthroughs in recent years.
"Back in 2002, when the Born Alive Infants Protection Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President," Father Pavone said, "...it said that, at any stage of pregnancy, if the child is born alive, even if the birth of that child is the result of a failed abortion, that child is to be regarded as a person and treated accordingly."
Passage of the partial-birth abortion ban into law, although challenged in court, is critical in a number of ways, he said, because "this is the first time since Roe vs. Wade that the Congress has acted, in fact, two branches of government - the legislative and the executive branch - have acted to actually ban an abortion procedure. What does that say? That says that they can."
Another new law, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, significantly increases the status of the child in the womb.
"The Unborn Victims of Violence Act declares, for the purposes of federal law, that children injured or killed during the commission of a federal crime while still in the womb are, in fact, regarded as victims," he said. "What this law is doing on a psychological level is increasing what we call cognitive dissonance ... people see a contradiction."
He said common sense asks the question of how an abortion can be legal when this new law makes the death of a preborn child illegal.
"What's at stake here in this [presidential] election is the Supreme Court itself," he said. "There will be changes in the next few years."
If Americans vote to support the sanctity and dignity of life in this election, Father Pavone said, they will help to elect pro-life judges on the nation's highest court who will make judicial decisions on key policies that will affect us, our children and our children's children for years to come.