Priests for Life moves into new office in NY City

Priests for Life

 (The following article appeared on the front page of the Religion section of the Staten Island Advance on November 8, 1997)

By LESLIE PALMA-SIMONCEK ADVANCE RELIGION EDITOR

In the basement of a Bay Terrace home on a particularly beautiful autumn day, James Campitelli is addressing a package bound for a priest in Tanzania, while James Galloway is packing materials for a conference in Louisiana.

Richard Morana, who owns the home, and Anne Higgins are likewise busy in the basement, where thousands of pamphlets and brochures are stacked neatly on three or four tables, and videotapes and books line a row of shelves against the wall.

They are part of a small army of volunteers working for Priests for Life, an international Catholic, pro-life organization that recently moved its headquarters to Staten Island.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, a former parish priest on the Island who has led Priests for Life for just over four years, said the organization's goal is to "infuse the structure of the church with a greater pro-life fervor."

While Catholic priests are, by definition, pro-life, Father Pavone said Priests for Life seeks to give them the tools they need to better spread the message that 'it's never OK to destroy a human life."

Priests for Life was founded by the Rev. Lee Kaylor in California in 1991. Father Pavone, a former parochial vicar at St. Charles R.C. Church in Oakwood, had been active in pro-life issues since attending a March for Life as a teenager in 1976.

In 1993, when Father Kaylor was preparing to step down from Priests for Life, Father Pavone asked Cardinal John J. O'Connor to release him from his diocesan obligations.

"He said OK and Priests for Life said OK, and in September 1993, I became the first full-time director," said Father Pavone, 38.

Monsignor Joseph C. Ansaldi, vicar of Staten Island, last week blessed Priests for Life's new office and offered words of encouragement to the ministry.

"It's not just anti-abortion," Monsignor Ansaldi told the Advance. "It's really pro - life in the full sense of the word, from birth to a natural death."

Father Pavone's successes so far, the monsignor said, show 'he's caught on to something."

A native of Port Chester' N.Y., Father Pavone moved the organization's headquarters there from California to be on familiar ground as he began to expand the ministry's outreach. The group's mailing address has always been on Staten Island, and Morana's basement has been its warehouse for four years. Morana's wife, Janet, is Priests for Life's chief of staff.

The move to Staten Island was good news for Anthony DeStefano, the executive director. The Dongan Hills resident was spending four or more hours a day commuting to Port Chester. Now he crosses the street to get to the new office.

Father Pavone, meanwhile, lives in Rome, where he is an Official of the Pontifical Council for the Family, while the organization's senior vice president, Jerry Horn, lives in Virginia.

Technology makes it possible to keep this far-flung group, which totals 21 full - time employees and scores more volunteers, in close contact. And the same technology allows the group to reach a worldwide audience.

"Father Frank believes if you want to end abortion, you have to make use of the latest technology," DeStefano said.

Priests for Life also opposes the death penalty, physician assisted suicide and euthanasia.

"Our teaching on abortion is an aspect of a much broader teaching on all human life," Father Pavone said of the Catholic Church. "Priests for Life promotes a consistent ethic of human life - against the death penalty, against warfare, against violence of any kind. As a matter of focus, abortion is what we deal with. We have to give a little more voice to those who are being legally annihilated. These are the most defenseless."

The priest believes there is even more at stake in the abortion war than the lives of unborn children.

"Either pro-life wins, or nobody wins," he said. "If you have a society where an innocent life can be taken at will, who loses out? Everybody. Everybody loses out when a particular category of people - those still in the womb - have been declared not worthy of full protection. "

Priests for Life aims more at changing hearts than changing laws. By providing priests and deacons with information, statistics, audio and videotapes and referral resources, the organization hopes to spread its message across the globe. Father Pavone leads seminars and retreats for clergy and pro-life leaders. and is a regular on Eternal Word Television Network, which soon will be carried by Staten Island Cable.

"When you get one priest who peaks about pro-life, you influence thousands of people." DeStefano said "You build up an army of priests who lead the fight for life. Priests for Life serves as a unifying force."

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, endorses the work of Priests for Life, DeStefano said.

"He oversees the life issues for the whole world, and he's given us the mandate that we are to spread Priests for Life all over the world. The Vatican has given us a mandate to expand."

"We rely solely on the generous contributions of private individuals," DeStefano said.

While the organization has a global view, it also offers suggestions to ordinary people who would like to play a part in ending abortion. A four-page brochure, which includes a picture of Father Pavone talking with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, suggests that people wear pink or blue ribbons to show their support for the pre-born, lists phone numbers for places where pro-life pins, decals, checks, envelopes, bumper stickers, t-shirts and greeting cards can be purchased, and recommends taking an active role in community events.

Noting that Staten Island is home to numerous pro-life organizations and has "a lot of strongly pro-life priests," DeStefano said history may one day look back at the borough for its famous ferry, its infamous landfill, and its successful fight to protect the unborn.

In the meantime, Father Pavone has a message for any women on the Island who might now be considering an abortion: "We are here to refer them to all the help they need. They can come to us."

Anyone interested in finding out more about Priests for Life, or in volunteering or contributing, is welcome to call 718-980-4400.