NEWARK— Archdiocesan priests heard from a panel of experts on how to more effectively convey the pro-life position of the Church at the first in a series of life-issues seminars March 25.
Held at the Archdiocesan Center, the three-hour program was sponsored by the Respect Life Office and the Office of Continuing Education for Priests. Topics for subsequent seminars will be selected based on evaluations forms filled out at the initial gathering.
Declaring in his opening remarks that “our lives are in God’s hands,” Most Rev. Manuel A. Cruz, Auxiliary Bishop of Newark, told his brother priests intense, end-of-lives issues and decisions confronting the faithful are situations that must be addressed. Bishop Cruz, who spent 14 years as a hospital chaplain, assured the priests they would leave the seminar with an enhanced knowledge of such issues-information that will reinforce their ministries to better serve parishioners.
Keynote speaker Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life in Staten Island, NY, stressed the need to overcome the “culture of death.” Noting that preaching is a “liturgical act of worship,” Fr. Pavone said because Christ conquered death “we’re not working for victory, we’re working from victory.” He recommended a basic thrust of preaching should be to acknowledge that death has been conquered.
Turning to abortion specifically, Fr. Pavone explained that “God’s choice is more important than ours” and that fact is what should give a person the courage to fight abortion. Fr. Pavone felt one way of doing that is for pregnancy centers to hold open houses for the clergy. With all of the available resources, Fr. Pavone stressed, “no abortion is necessary.” He told the priests to let that information get to those who need it and “show the true face of the Church.”
The most visible national protest against abortion is the “March for Life,” held in mid-January each year in Washington DC (see The Catholic Advocate, Jan. 12). Those who organize and work to end abortion, he continued, are not interested in taking away the rights of women, but rather in taking away their despair. “We are pro-woman,” he said. Fr. Pavone was of the opinion too that it is important to “expose the reality of what abortion is and what it does.”
Emphasizing the need to communicate the “message of healing” to the faithful, Fr. Pavone said a post-abortion experience has a profound effect on marriage for women and men. Expanding on that point, he highlighted the work done by the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat program.
The Archdiocese of Newark is in the forefront of the Rachel’s Vineyard effort with 55 such sessions since its inception locally in 1997. Over 550 men and women have attended over the years. The archdiocese will hold its first Spanish-speaking Rachel’s Vineyard, in cooperation with the Diocese of Metuchen, April 29 to May 1 in Union City. Call Michelle Krystofik, associate director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office (based at Saint John the Apostle Parish, Linden) at (732) 388-8211 for registration information. Father Joseph A. Meagher is the director of the Respect Life Office.
J. Kevin Burke, a licensed social worker and co-founder of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministry in King of Prussia, PA, also addressed archdiocesan priests. Citing the “expediential growth” of Rachel’s Vineyard on a worldwide scale, Burke told the priests that, following an abortion, an “internal war” is waged within both women and men.
Burke spoke of the “dynamics” of denial and repression in the aftermath of an abortion. Burke mentioned too potential “traumatic triggers” following an abortion, such as the antiseptic smell of a doctor’s office and the birth of a couple’s first child.
He turned next to that popular “sound bite” that abortion is a private, personnel decision. It is anything but, he pointed out. Some 95 percent of men play a major role in a woman’s decision to have an abortion Burke said.
During a question and answer session, Fr. Pavone was asked by a priest what to do when a letter is received complaining about a homily on abortion. “You have to have attitude coupled with compassion and a positive approach,” Fr. Pavone advised. He urged his fellow priests to invite such letter writers to visit their respective parishes to talk and ask questions.