Pro-life Movement's Signs of Confidence
A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Pro-life Movement's Signs of Confidence
Father Frank Pavone on the Power of Its Message
NEW YORK, 19 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)
Father Frank Pavone sees a dead-end to the pro-abortion movement, as it contains the seeds of its own destruction.
On the eve of major pro-life marches, the director of Priests for Life shared with ZENIT how he sees the movement. Part 2 of this interview will appear Thursday.
Q: A Walk for Life is scheduled this January in San Francisco, where until recently there were more abortions than live births. Last spring, pro-lifers were a big presence at the pro-abortion March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C. Is the pro-life movement taking a different direction, by going into "unfriendly territory" and reaching out to the many women who have had abortions?
Father Pavone: To go into unfriendly territory is, in fact, an essential element of the pro-life movement from the beginning because it is an essential element of evangelization. The message of respect for life means we respect even the lives of those who hate us, disagree with us and support what we detest.
The fact that the Walk for Life is expanding into areas such as San Francisco, and that pro-life people are going into the heart of pro-abortion marches, is a sign of the movement's continued confidence in the power of its message.
While standing with a pro-life sign at the March for Women's Lives, Janet Morana, our associate director at Priests for Life, had a pro-abortion woman come up to her and say, "I can't march with these people anymore — I want to join with you." The woman tore up the pro-abortion sign she had been carrying and started holding one of our pro-life signs.
These events are also a sign of the youth of the movement, because many of the participants in both events are young people, carrying a new awareness of how abortion harms women and harms them.
The outreach to those who have had abortions is particularly strong these days, because the evidence of the harmful effects of abortion is more plentiful than ever.
Q: The attention given to high-profile pickets outside clinics in years past seems to have subsided a bit. What has been happening with the clinic protests? What tactics are being used? What is their success in recent times?
Father Pavone: Physical presence at the clinics continues, and two of the most successful forms of that activity presently are the Helpers of God's Precious Infants and the Face the Truth tours.
The Helpers, founded by my colleague Monsignor Phil Reilly of Brooklyn, bring hundreds of people at a time out to abortion clinics. Usually led by a bishop, these vigils provide people a sense of safety and comfort because they start in church with Mass, are escorted by police, consist of the recitation of the rosary and lead back to church.
The presence of a bishop, of course, also assures people that there is nothing about this activity that is contrary to the Church's teaching. The carefully outlined series of rosary prayers also makes practicing Catholics feel at home. They know what to expect.
The Face the Truth tours are also becoming more popular. Sometimes held in front of clinics, but often on other streets as well, these tours consist of people prayerfully holding large signs that show what aborted babies actually look like.
This is becoming more popular as people understand that there are principles of social reform that are not hard to discern from the history of past social movements that worked to uproot injustice by visually portraying the victims of that injustice.
The civil rights movement, the child-labor reform movement and the abolitionist movement are just three examples of movements that have achieved their goals by forcing society to see the violence that those who permit it want to hide.
We at Priests for Life sponsored a 10-day Face the Truth tour in all five boroughs of New York City in 2003. Women came up to us on a daily basis, saying that they were planning to have an abortion, but the signs changed their minds right then and there.
Q: When has the movement been most successful in helping to limit and end abortion? Has the movement changed the culture, or simply achieved piecemeal limitation aimed at limiting access to the procedure?
Father Pavone: Actually, abortion itself has done more to turn people away from abortion than the pro-life movement has done. What I mean is that it contains the seeds of its own destruction, as all evil does.
I believe in the "dead-end rule," which is that if you go down a dead-end road and ignore the signs that say it's a dead end, you will soon learn by personal experience that it's a dead end.
Many have ignored the signs that the pro-life movement has set up, telling society that abortion is not a solution. But having gone down that road, they learned for themselves how devastating it is. Now they are coming back, repentant and healed, and they become the sign.
That is why Priests for Life co-founded the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, to give women wounded by abortion the opportunity to bear witness to that pain and to that healing. The voices of these women are having a profound impact, undermining the stance of the pro-abortion groups, who all claim to be "pro-woman" and in favor of women's lives and health.
The culture is changing in favor of life. The legislative and political victories have also been real, but are by definition incremental and gradual. The pro-life legislation signed by President George W. Bush has laid significant foundations in the law for the eventual restoration of protection to the unborn. ZE05011924
Father Frank Pavone on the Role of the Church
NEW YORK, 20 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)
The pro-life movement is much more than a response to Roe vs. Wade; it is a response to Jesus Christ.
So says Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life.
He shared with ZENIT the role that Christ's Church and its faithful have in the pro-life movement, and what the movement's allies are doing to promote the dignity of human life.
Part 1 of this interview appeared Wednesday.
Q: What role does the Church play within the coalition of the pro-life movement? Catholic laity?
Father Pavone: The Church plays, first of all, a prophetic role, preserving and announcing the message that every human person belongs to God, and therefore cannot be owned or oppressed by any other human being. Moreover, human life has been joined to divine life by the Incarnation, and is called to share that life in glory forever.
These powerful truths form the basis of the pro-life movement, which is much more than a response to Roe vs. Wade. It is, rather, a response to Jesus Christ.
The pro-life movement is the same movement, ultimately, as that which inspired Christians to rescue abandoned children in the Roman Empire, to establish hospitals to care for the sick and to carry out all the works of social justice.
At the core of social justice is the sanctity of human life, and at the foundation of all our rights is the right to life itself. The best formulation of the Church's prophetic mission for life is the Holy Father's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," and this March we observe the 10th anniversary of that document, an event that should be observed by us all.
By carrying out this prophetic role, the Church becomes the conscience of the state. Earthly government has a basic autonomy from the Church, but not from the moral law which the Church teaches. Both Church and state have fundamental duties to human life. Were the Church not present to remind the state of God's law, then the state would have absolute power and not be answerable to anybody.
The Church, furthermore, is the Body of Christ actually carrying out the service to life which its prophetic message demands. Therefore, the Church, through the mission of the laity, are providing alternatives to abortion each day, healing after abortion and concrete projects that constitute so much of the pro-life movement: lobbying groups, educational initiatives, etc.
There is, in this regard, an important challenge of leadership, namely, that the Church and her pastors are called to discern and encourage the gifts God gives to the laity. It is not required that a pastor like what God is calling people in his parish or diocese to do; what is required is that he, as well as the laity, obey the God who calls.
The pastors of the Church are asked, in the words of Blessed Mother Teresa, to "Give God permission," and to pray each day, "Lord, let me not prevent anyone today from doing some good."
Q: What groups or persons comprise the "pro-life movement"?
Father Pavone: The pro-life movement has various major facets: educational efforts; lobbying and political activity; providing alternatives to abortion; fostering healing and forgiveness after abortion; researching the medical, sociological, legal, philosophical and theological aspects of the problem; getting the message out in the media; providing direct public witness through peaceful protest and other First Amendment activities, and much more.
We who are in charge of national organizations in the United States have regular meetings with each other to strategize, share information and explore ways of coordinating and cooperating.
We also have opportunities to interact with groups in the international arena, particularly through events at the United Nations — where we often have to be present to lobby — or various international agencies within the Church, such as the Pontifical Council for the Family, for which I worked for a number of years and which fosters international collaboration for pro-life efforts.
Q: How are disagreements about strategy and policy worked out among various groups within the movement?
Father Pavone: Sometimes, at our regular gatherings, national leaders are able to come to agreements on approaches and strategies where there were not agreements previously.
However, the existence of different strategies and policies is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, nobody has discovered a magic formula to end abortion, and the wisest approach is to allow various methods and strategies to flourish, while tracking their progress, having the humility to learn from each other and having the flexibility to adapt those strategies to the demands of changing circumstances.
One of the most important teachings of "Evangelium Vitae" is that in which the Pope declares that no one person or group has a monopoly on the defense of life. Everyone should be eager to collaborate and learn from one another, especially from those with whom we disagree.
Q: What has attracted such formerly high-profile abortion supporters such as Bernard Nathanson and Norma McCorvey — "Jane Roe" — to the pro-life movement?
Father Pavone: What attracted them was the care and concern of pro-life people, as they both relate in their testimonies. They saw that pro-life people, and the pro-life movement, simply did not fit the stereotype that the pro-abortion movement paints of them.
Q: In the future, will the pro-life movement focus more on meeting the needs of women in crisis pregnancies as well as educational initiatives, or will litigation and legislation remain priorities?
Father Pavone: Both dimensions are priorities, and activity in both arenas will increase. One of the areas of momentum for the pregnancy assistance efforts is that many of the centers are becoming medical clinics. In this way they attract more abortion-minded women and have a higher success rate in helping them choose life.
In legislation and litigation, the momentum lies in the recent election of so many pro-life candidates, who will in turn shape the nature of the courts in the United States for the next generation and more.
Q: Looking ahead, what are other plans for the pro-life movement?
Father Pavone: Understanding and ministering to the survivors of abortion, and the phenomenon of "survivor syndrome," is something we will hear more and more about.
Our young people are deeply affected by the fact that they were regarded by the law as non-persons when they were unborn children. Youth ministers, clergy, pro-life leaders, parents, teachers, and all of us need to understand what this does to our young people, and need to respond accordingly. ZE05012022
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