LIVERPOOL - Father Peter West didn't need to convince his audience at Christ the King Church on Sept. 30 of the evils of abortion. Many of the approximately 40 people who gathered to hear him speak have been pro-life advocates for years. Instead, he used the opportunity to encourage those listening by telling them that their efforts are changing minds and hearts, and saving the lives of the unborn.
Father West, a staff member of Priests for Life, came at the invitation of Christ the King's Respect Life Committee. In addition to his presentation on Sept. 30, he also spoke at Bishop Grimes Junior Senior High School in East Syracuse, to the parish's religious education teachers, and at all weekend masses at Christ the King.
Charles Venus, chair of Christ the King's Respect Life Committee, said the committee was formed two years ago at the request of his pastor, Father Jon Werner. Their main goal is to raise awareness about the dignity of human life. They have sponsored pancake breakfasts, brought in speakers, and are in the midst of constructing a Respect Life Garden on the parish grounds.
Venus said that to his knowledge, the committee's efforts have helped save at least two children from being aborted.
"There is no question in my mind that our grandchildren, and our children, are in jeopardy," Venus said. "Unless things are taken to heart, our grandchildren will inherit a culture much worse."
Father West said he has been a pro-life advocate since 1986. While he has been a Catholic since birth he said he feels more like a convert to the faith. "I was away from the Church until my early 20's" he said, "I was never clearly taught the things I am teaching now… I was basically pro-life but questioned a lot of Church teaching. Now I am able to see the beauty and wisdom of it."
Attempts to clear up some of the misconceptions he had led him to read a book on Our Lady of Fatima. That, in turn, led him to pray the rosary. He then went to confession, which led to attending daily Mass, and that led to more involvement
in the pro-life movement. He then decided to answer God's call to the priesthood. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., in 1991.
Father West served in parish ministry for seven years, but said he felt called to continue his pro life work on a higher level. On March 25, 1998, the Feast of the Annunciation, he was released by the Newark Archdiocese to join Priests for
In his new ministry, he travels around the county with a three-fold purpose: to support other priests and give them the resources necessary to defend life; to reach out to clergy who are not vocal on the pro-life issue and encourage them to be; and to reach out to the whole pro-life movement, to people working to put an end to abortion and euthanasia.
"We believe that life is precious at all stages," he said . "This is a fundamental issue. Without the right to life, we have no rights at all". Father West said that encouragement is one of the most important keys to the pro-life movement.
"Discouragement is the greatest enemy" ,he said. He pointed out signs of encouragement. Thirty-seven states are currently embroiled in some kind of debate about partial birth abortion and another was upheld in Virginia.
One of the greatest signs of encouragement, Father West said, was the conversion of Norma McCorvey, "Jane Roe" in the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand in the United States.
Father West spoke of how McCorvey, who was working as a counselor in an abortion clinic, was befriended by a 7-year-old girl named Emily. Through Emily's friendship, and invitations to attend her church, McCorvey accepted Jesus Christ. Since her conversion, she has been received into the Catholic Church by Priests for Life director Fr. Frank Pavone. McCorvey now speaks out on abortion.
The statistics are on the encouraging side as well, Father West said. A recent study showed that a record number of college freshmen oppose abortion, and there is a marked decrease in people who call themselves "pro-choice." Education and awareness about the reality of partial-birth abortion have helped people on the fence about the issue of abortion come down on the pro-life side.
Father West said that there are fewer abortion clinics today than in recent years, and that the abortion industry is having trouble retaining doctors who will perform abortions. Vigils outside abortion clinics are making a difference, because if there are fewer clients, the clinic may have to close its doors.
"Abortion tends to be a marginal decision. Most women are looking for an excuse not to have one," Father West said. If a woman has to drive a long distance to obtain an abortion, chances are she will not, he said.
Father West also spoke on several pro-life projects currently underway. Due to a generous benefactor, Priests for Life has been able to generate placards and billboards with a toll free number that will direct women to the nearest crisis pregnancy center.
With the Gabriel Project, developed in the Archdiocese of Houston, Texas, a sign is placed outside a participating church rectory, letting a woman in crisis know it is a place she can receive help. The pastor directs her to a "Gabriel Angel," who acts as her confidant and help is facilitated at the parish level. It is a way for people to be personally involved, Father West said.
"It is one thing to send money off," he said. "It is another to know that a woman came to your church looking for help. ... It helps people take personal ownership."
Cindy Falise, director of the diocesan Respect Life Office, said she has received information on the Gabriel Project and is currently reviewing it. In the pro-life movement, post abortion healing programs, such as Project Rachel, are also important.
"Forty percent of abortions are repeats," he said. "If we can help women find healing and peace we will save babies.
He urged the advocates to spread the word that forgiveness and healing can be found and counseling is available.
In conclusion, Father West talked about Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father talked about the dignity of human life during his first trip to the United States in 1979, and on his most recent trip, to St, Louis in January.
"He said the nation also needs a soul," Father West said. "By your work, you are restoring the nation's soul."