Father Pavone on Looking Ahead in the US Abortion Battle

Founder of Priests for Life Readying for Roe v. Wade at 40

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By Ann Schneible

WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 23, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Today’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., marks the 39th year since abortion was made legal in the United States. As the pro-life movement enters its 40th year, however, there are reasons for hope: new pro-life initiatives, a crucial presidential election, and thousands of young people who are committed to fighting a law that has permitted the killing of one third of their generation. 

Father Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life, mentioned these issues when he spoke with ZENIT on Friday about the 2012 March for Life, and the pro-life initiatives for the upcoming year. 

ZENIT: This is the 39th March for Life since abortion was made legal in the United States. Does this year’s March for Life hold any particular significance? 

Father Pavone: A couple of things. We at Priests for Life are launching a special series of observances leading up to the 40th [anniversary of Roe vs. Wade], which of course next year will be very big, very significant. And among those observances we’re going to start with a special emphasis on the youth. We are leading the youth rally this weekend. In fact, tomorrow night, to kick off the March for Life weekend, [we’re having] a big youth rally. Our youth director of youth outreach is doing that there, and has lined up a special conference that will take place in the evening. And the theme that he will emphasize is this beginning of the 40th year. 

Now 40, of course, has a lot of Biblical significance. And so, we are intensifying our prayer campaign, which involves all the churches — Catholic and Protestant alike — with special prayer campaigns during the course of the year. We’ve been doing that, but we will intensify that as special preparation for this year. 

Secondly, a special effort to create abortion-free states. There are several states here in the U.S., which have only one remaining abortion mill. And in conjunction with various other organizations, we are participating in an effort to focus on those abortion mills and those abortionists, and the work going on in those particular states, to bring about the victory of having a state — or two, or three — that we can point to and say: “There are no longer any functioning abortion facilities in this state.” That would be largely a psychological victory, but significant nevertheless, and we hope to be able to achieve that this year. 

So these and other things will be launched in a particular way this week, as we have special services and special opportunities there in Washington to rally people, and help them focus on things like this.

ZENIT: You mentioned working with other Christian groups. During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, could you elaborate on the importance of collaborating with other Christian groups in the fight against abortion?

Father Pavone: When Pope John Paul II issued Evangelium Vitae (that was in 1995 in March), two months later, his encyclical on Christian Unity came out. I’ve always seen that as significant, that these two major encyclicals came out so closely together, practically simultaneously. That has always been very meaningful to us because, in both of those documents, he talks about Christians working together for the cause of justice, for the rights of the oppressed and the weak. This has been our theme constantly, and to echo the message of those documents together. 

One of the ways that we’ll do that in these coming days is that Priests for Life is a major co-sponsor of a prayer service that is held the morning of the March for Life. And we hold it in the U.S. Capitol building, so it’s a significant location. Christians coming together, we have about two dozen denominations that are represented at that morning prayer service. This will be the 18th annual prayer service started the same year that I began my position with Priests for Life. That service is a very strong symbolic moment during the annual March for Life of the truth that’s being expressed here in these papal documents and by the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: namely, that Christians are called to be a unified witness for justice in the world. When we pray for unity, [we should pray] that “the world may believe, Father, that you sent me.” And he sent you exactly to raise you up to life, and to bring human beings to the throne of God. So the pro-life work signifies that in a very appropriate way.

I will also be there at that service, so one of the other groups co-sponsoring it is the National Pro-Life Religious Council (I’m currently serving as president of that council), and that is another body that works throughout the year, to bring Christians together in the fight for pro-life.

ZENIT: You spoke about involving the youth. Could you speak about the role that the youth can play in the pro-life movement?

Father Pavone: The reason that’s so critical is that, first of all, the whole pro-life movement is a fight for the youngest of the young. The youth involvement in the movement is, in a particular way, something that highlights what the movement’s all about in the first place. 

Secondly, what’s happening is that more and more young people are involved in the fight for life, precisely because they realize that they could’ve been the victims of abortion. And even in the world of psychology and psychiatry, people are studying now what is called “abortion survivor syndrome,” and this is the effect on young people of realizing that their own right to life was not secure when they were in the womb. And that has multiple effects, very similar to survivor syndrome of soldiers that come back from a war. 

So when we lead young people in this fight, we’re very sensitive to that, and we know what their motivation is, because most of them will say, when you ask them why they are involved, they’ll say, “it could have been me.” They’re aware of what they’ve lost, in terms of siblings, other family members, classmates, potential spouses: a third of their generation has literally been slaughtered, and they know that. They realize that. They feel that. So their witness of commitment to this movement has a particular significance, even above and beyond what the rest of us can give, because we are not in the category of survivors in the U.S.. We were conceived before Roe vs. Wade was passed. And then of course, the youth are, in this generation, very talented at utilizing the latest means of social communications, and we utilize that to the maximum with their direct involvement. This is globalizing people as never before, for the cause of life, both for education, and also this being an election year, which is part of the focus here. 

Our youth program [that] sponsored this rally tomorrow is launching something called the Be My Vote campaign, and it’s where young people who are not yet old enough to vote approach adults and say, “I can’t vote. If I could, I would vote for pro-life candidates. Will you be my vote instead?” And so they educate, mobilize, and activate older people to do what they should be doing anyway, which is to elect pro-life public officials. 

So these are some of the roles the young people play now in this movement. 

ZENIT: What should people keep in mind as they try to vote for pro-life candidates during this upcoming presidential election?

Father Pavone: What they should keep in mind is, first of all, we want to vote for pro-life candidates, not just as a statement, but as an actual transfer of power. We don’t want to simply make it an idealistic statement; we want to actually get people into office. People should gather around those electable pro-life candidates that there are. That is point number one.

Point number two is that, nobody says there’s just one issue. There are multiple issues always that need to be considere
d, and of course the Catholic teaching is very much focused on that, and rightly so. But the reason that any issue is an issue to begin with, is life. If an issue didn’t impact human lives, it wouldn’t be an issue to start with. And so, what we’re trying to show people is that, when we talk about pro-life candidates, we’re talking about people who understand what’s at the heart and core of every issue. John Paul II made a very strong statement, I always quote it when I talk about elections, in his 1988 document, Christifideles Laici (The Role of the Lay Faithful), he said: “the common outcry” for the rights of work and health care, and education — the outcry for these things is “false and illusory” — he uses those two words — if the right to life is not protected. The reason it’s “false and illusory” is that if you’re denying the right to life as a government, then you’re also denying the right to health care and education; those children can’t be educated or cared for if they’re dead. So you’re really undermining every right when you deny the most fundamental one that is the condition for all the rest. That’s what people need to keep in mind when they’re looking at their electoral choices. We will be reminding them of that, and we will also be urging churches to do voter registration. 

This year, we’ve designated several weekends as “voter registration Sundays.” And we’ve formed a coalition of pro-life groups that are promoting this and other activities. It’s called the “Vote Pro-Life Coalition.” You can see some information about it at voteprolifecoalition.com, and you’ll also see there that the dates of the voter registration weekends are the weekend of Pentecost (which comes this year at the end of May), the weekend closest to the 4th of July (our Independence Day), and then the weekend closest to Sept. 11 (which is Patriot’s Day). Those three days provide a special impetus and motivation for getting involved in the political process. So, those are some of the things that we’ll be talking about, including in these next few days, regarding the election. 

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