The first society in the church devoted exclusively to ending abortion and euthanasia has a lay association with a chapter in Knoxville, the first group of its kind in the state and one that has the full support of Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz.
Priests for Life, directed by Father Frank Pavone and active in pro-life issues for many years, established a society of apostolic life in 2005. The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, now sanctioned by the Vatican, has an aim to “train priests, deacons, and laity for pro-life ministry.” Two men are already studying for the priesthood in the new order, and the lay association has grown to 10 “life cells,” or chapters, around the country.
A total of 750 men and women are in discernment nationwide as inquirers in the lay program. They are in the midst of at least a year in prayer and study to determine whether they will commit to a number of years, or even the rest of their lives, in pro-life ministry as lay associates. Ten additional people around the country have made such a commitment, including Jim Pinto of Birmingham, Ala., an Episcopal priest–turned–Catholic and coordinator of the lay affiliates program.
“That’s a lot for a year and a half,” Mr. Pinto said of the 760 lay members.
Bishop Kurtz has provided a letter of introduction to the faithful who are considering joining a life cell. “Priests for Life has contributed significantly to the promotion of a culture of life by helping to save lives, strengthening families, and bringing countless people to a deeper appreciation of the great gift of life and the dignity of each and every human being,” he wrote.
Mr. Pinto said the bishop’s letter “is absolutely incredible.”
“He has wholeheartedly embraced this. He knows Father Frank. He’s read over the constitution of the society. He’s captured the essence of the society and sees the benefit of it and how he wants this to move throughout a number of cities there in Tennessee, beginning with the life cell we now have.”
Mike Colicchio of Holy Trinity Parish in Jefferson City and Lisa Morris of Sacred Heart Cathedral are inquirers in the Knoxville lay chapter. They plan to start life cells in Chattanooga and Johnson City as well.
Mr. Colicchio, a parishioner of Holy Trinity in Jefferson City, has successfully lobbied to bring EWTN to cable-TV lineups in Knoxville and Morristown. Watching EWTN’s coverage of the Terry Schiavo story exposed him to Priests for Life and its director. Father Pavone ministered to the brain-damaged woman and her family in her final days.
“That whole case got me turned on to pro-life,” said Mr. Colicchio.
Mrs. Schiavo died March 31, 2005, after her husband won his legal battle to have food and water withheld from her.
“About six months after that, word started coming out in the press that Priests for Life was thinking about a new organization that would include laypeople,” said Mr. Colicchio. “I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, God is leading me to this.’”
Those interested must fill out an assessment form for Priests for Life, which can be done on the organization’s website, and obtain a letter of recommendation from their pastor. Those accepted as inquirers begin a year of prayer and study, the last focusing especially on the Scriptures and Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae (“The Gospel of Life”).
“As the Holy Father says in this encyclical, defend, protect, love, and serve every human life, and that’s our goal,” said Mr. Pinto.
The commitment to serve as a lay associate is made before a priest and allows one to use the initials “MEV,” for Missionarii Evangelii Vitae (“Missionaries of the Gospel of Life”). Lay associates promise to commit to defending the right to life and to be in union with the society’s mission, goals, and spirituality.
Mr. Colicchio said that he and Mrs. Morris want to get the Knoxville life cell “to take off” before starting new ones elsewhere. “Lisa and I are constantly recruiting people.”
Potential lay associates need to realize one thing, said Mr. Colicchio. “As Father Pavone says, pro-life is not a hobby or a coffee klatch. It’s a vocation. There’s a lot to be done. It’s a big commitment.”
The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life is based in the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, under Bishop John Yanta. The community “makes it possible to raise up priests and deacons who’ll be full-time . . . itinerant preachers of the Gospel of Life,” said Mr. Pinto. “That’s not been done before in the history of the church. This is a whole new society of apostolic life, totally dedicated to being preachers and teachers and priests and deacons who will travel the world.”
For more information, call Mr. Colicchio at 865-397-5153 or Priests for Life toll-free at 888-735-3448, or visit www.priestsforlife.org/missionary.
Mr. Pinto emphasized that the lay association “won’t pull anybody from any pro-life work.”
“We hope that the missionaries will help to foster what’s being done in your diocese,” he said.
He has high hopes for the diocese’s first life cell.
“We’re thrilled about what’s happening in Knoxville, and I see what’s happening and Bishop Kurtz’s support as being a model not only for that diocese but for the entire country.”