Father Frank Pavone, executive director of Priests for Life, is arguably the most influential pro-life advocate in the world.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with him about his introduction to the movement and his advice for how concerned individuals can make a difference in ending abortion.
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“I was a teenager and I hadn’t really thought much about the abortion issue,” he said, “but in 1976, I ended up going on the third annual March for Life in Washington, [D.C.] That event – because of its size, the diversity of the crowd, their palpable, intense focus on praying and working for the protection of the unborn – awakened me to the abortion issue and to the pro-life movement in a way that changed the course of my life.”
Indeed, Father Pavone has spent the majority of the last four decades as a fearless advocate for the unborn. He said his biggest opportunity to stand up for the unborn came in 1993. “I was very happily ordained as a priest and serving in a parish in New York City,” he recalled. “The alarm went off in my mind, so to speak, and my conscience, to dedicate myself to this. What I had to do at that point was to ask the permission of my bishop, who at that time was Cardinal John O’Connor.”
His superior was “very passionate about the pro-life issue himself,” Pavone said. “He was at that time the leading voice in the Catholic church on that issue, so going to him to ask for permission to do this ended up being a very easy road. He said ‘Yes,’ and set me out on this path…as the first full-time director of Priests for Life.”
Through his capacity in that organization, Pavone said he delights in the ability to reach a large audience in support of the sanctity of life. “The most rewarding thing is when I’m out on the road as I am 80 percent of the time, traveling to communities large and small, and run into people who say, ‘Father Frank, I got involved in the pro-life movement because of your programs on TV or hearing you on the radio,’ or the priest who says to me, ‘I started teaching about abortion more.’ We see the fruits constantly right there at the local level and that’s what tells the most.”
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One of his primary missions, he explained, is to localize the abortion issue and help individuals become more involved in the pro-life movement. “The gratifying thing above all, and what we are aiming for above all, is that the ordinary person sitting in his or her living room, working at his or her own job, feels that they can do something to stop abortion,” he said. The real work, he noted, begins close to home.” All abortion is local,” he said. “We have to work on Washington…but abortions aren’t taking place in the halls of Congress. The first thing is to become informed about what is happening in one’s community. Is there an abortion facility nearby? Is there a pregnancy center nearby? For most people, the answer to those questions is going to be, ‘Yes.'”
Some examples of what concerned citizens can do, he suggested, include increasing the visibility of crisis pregnancy centers offering abortion alternatives and sharing the resources provided by pro-life organizations such as Priests for Life. “It may just take a few moments each week to read an email or a newsletter to keep on top of things,” he said.
Pavone spoke candidly about the growing support – or at least toleration – of abortion among many self-identified Christians. “I’m convinced that a lot of that comes from [the fact that] the word ‘abortion’ has really lost all or most of it’s meaning to a lot of people,” he said. “They know in a generic way it’s the ending of a pregnancy. Well, okay, but have they ever heard the description of an abortion procedure as it is described in the medical textbooks that abortionists themselves write? If they did, they would be disgusted.”
There exists in some Christian churches Bible study courses aimed specifically at the pro-choice crowd. “This is absolutely offensive to the faith and it’s offensive to reason,” he said. “It’s easy to abuse Scripture and twist it and abuse the faith, but what is not easy is when you actually look at what an abortion is or you read the words of those that do them. Then you’re faced with the reality…abortion is an act of violence.”
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