Roman Catholics on Staten Island are going to be asked to get directly involved in helping to stop abortion.
Priests for Life, a national pro-life organization headquartered in Dongan Hills, is promoting a nine-year old program called the Gabriel Project that encourages parishes to "become havens for women who might otherwise seek abortions," said the Rev. Frank Pavone, national director.
"The local church should be the first place she can turn to for this type of help," said Father Pavone, who returned to the Island recently after spending two years in Rome with the Pontifical Council for the Family.
"One of the big things Priests for Life is doing is pushing for the growth of the project on the local level."
The Gabriel Project began about nine years ago in Corpus Christi, Texas, Father Pavone said, and has since spread to parts of Maryland, California end Rhode Island and to Philadelphia.
Through the project, parish priests become well-versed in all the resources, that exist for women facing unplanned pregnancies. But the project also challenges parishioners to get involved in helping the women who come forward.
"Maybe there is a doctor who can help with medical care, or people who can open their homes to her, or a lawyer who can offer legal services," Father Pavone said. "This kind of approach lets people respond to a specific need and it makes the church what it is meant to be, a community of people helping each other. We find people to be very responsive to this kind of approach."
Father Pavone said he has not yet presented the project to Island priests but plans to do so either in informal gatherings or at clergy association or diocesan meetings.
Priests for Life has gone through a growth spurt since moving its headquarters from Port Chester, N.Y., to the Island two years ago. It now employs four priests, including Father Pavone, who have been released from their dioceses or orders to devote themselves full-time to the anti-abortion effort. Before being released with the blessings of Cardinal John J. O'Connor, Father Pavone was a parochial vicar at St. Charles R.C. Church in Oakwood.
The Rev. Richard Hogan of St. Paul, Minn., is now the associate director of Priests Life. Also on board are the Rev. Peter West, who came from the Archdiocese of Newark, and the Rev. Denis G. Wilde, O.S.A., an Augustinian who teaches at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
The organization also employs 21 lay people, including eight who work in the Island office on Richmond Road. The Priests for Life newsletter reaches 45,000 priests and the website, www.priestsforlife.org, receives 7,000 hits a day.
While his office and residence are in Dongan Hills, Father Pavone spends most of his time traveling across the country, and lately, across the Atlantic.
He and his executive director, Anthony DeStefano of Dongan Hills, returned recently from a trip to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and a separate trip to Poland.
"I've been traveling pretty constantly," said Father Pavone, who also is a regular on the Eternal Word Television Network, based in Alabama, and is still associated with the Pontifical Council.
In Ireland and Poland, where abortion is not legalized but is clandestinely performed, Father Pavone said clergy are concerned that "things can only worsen.."
"A lot of the discussion was on 'how do we prevent things from getting worse,' " he said.
In England and Scotland, where abortion is legal, he said "My main purpose was to encourage people to get involved in the prolife movement."
In a memo to staffers, DeStefano noted that he and Father Pavone met with "one cardinal, one archbishop, two bishops, at least one hundred priests and the leaders of several European pro-life organizations" in the United Kingdom, and in Poland, spoke with "five bishops, many priests, the leadership of the Solidarity movement, many members of the government and hundreds of lay people.
In an interview with the Advance DeStefano said, "the door is very open right now to this becoming a worldwide organization."
Father Pavone also attended the annual meeting of the Society of Centurions, an organization of former abortion providers who have joined the pro-life cause.
In addition to providing pro-life materials and strategies to parish priests and traveling to speaking engagements, Father Pavone and Priests for Life also support a number of efforts to convince doctors who perform abortions to stop.
One is encouraging women who have had abortions and subsequently suffered physical or emotional consequences to file lawsuits against the doctors.
"As Father Frank often says in his talks," said DeStefano, "the two most frightening words to those who perform abortions, the two words that strike terror into their hearts, are malpractice litigation."
As the organization expands, it's feeling the growing pains in Dongan Hills, where office workers "are climbing on top of each other," DeStefano said.
Noting that some efforts have been made to find bigger quarters, he said, "We're centered right here on Staten Island and we don't want to leave. We want our international headquarters to be based here. We have volunteers here. Father Frank is here."
Father Pavone and the staff of Priests for Life are hopeful that the war against abortion can be won.
"You can't say God doesn't have the power to turn this around if he wants to," Destefano said. "It’s up to us to do whatever is humanly possible."