Thomas L. McDonald has been a writer and editor for the past 25 years, covering technology, history, archaeology, games, and religion. He has degrees in English, Film, and Theology with a concentration in Church History. He’s been a certified catechist for twelve years, and taught Church History for eight. His other writing can be found at Weird Catholic.
Pro-life leaders gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center during the World Meeting of Families to discuss the current landscape in the fight to protect the unborn. EWTN host Teresa Tomeo acted as master of ceremonies for the Pro-Life International Symposium, which took place before a standing-room-only crowd of pro-life activists in the Terrace Ballroom on Wenesday evening.
The symposium was organized by Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, whose charismatic opening had the audience on their feet and singing.
“At the heart of this World Meeting of Families is the concern for the unborn, is the abortion issue,” Father Pavone told the Register. “The family cannot be fully alive unless all its members are protected. The people here are doing that on a daily basis, and we wanted to encourage them to keep doing it.”
Aside from Father Pavone and Teresa Tomeo, the list of speakers included Alveda King, director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life and the niece of Martin Luther King; Astrid Bennett Gutierrez, leader of Hispanics for Life and an EWTN host; Kathy DiFiore, founder of Several Sources Shelters, which was recently depicted in the film Gimme Shelter; and Kevin Burke, co-founder of Rachel's Vineyard Ministries.
Award-winning Mexican actress and pro-life advocate Karyme Lozano was a last-minute replacement for Eduardo Verástegui, actor and producer of Bella, who was unable to attend due to a funeral.
As many as 2,000 people packed the ballroom. The talks ranged from inspirational to practical, punctuated by videos and song. King recalled the pro-life convictions of her father (A.D. King) and uncle, while Kevin Burke introduced a new initiative called “Healing the Shockwaves of Abortion” from the Silent No More campaign.
“Shockwaves” highlights one of the trends in pro-life activism: the “other victims” of abortion and the need to heal them. People who helped procure an abortion or failed to stop one, those who lost a sibling to abortion and others touched by the tragedy of a lost life were mentioned throughout the evening as people in need of healing.
Indeed, the subject of healing was one of the two pressing issues of the evening, driven in part by events of the year: the Pope’s permission to all priests to forgive abortions (most have been able to for years in the U.S.) and the Planned Parenthood videos by The Center for Medical Progress.
“They help the pro-life movement a lot,” Father Pavone remarked, “and implement a strategy those of us in the movement have been advocating for. First, we have to expose the reality of what the abortion industry is, and we do that by ripping the veil off what goes on there. When the American people see what actually goes on inside these abortion clinics, they have enough of a conscience to reject it. Second, part of ending abortion is healing those who have had abortions. As the Church opens wider the doors of mercy, those who’ve had that mercy, as John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae, themselves become the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life.”
A highlight of the evening was the central role afforded to Latinos in the pro-life movement. Astrid Bennett Gutierrez, leader of Hispanics for Life, and Karyme Lozano, actress and pro-life advocate, both gave moving and eye-opening perspectives on the role of the pro-life movement in the Latin-American community.
“It’s a reality that the Hispanic population is growing,” said Gutierrez, “and it’s an opportunity for the pro-life movement to capture their hearts. Hispanics are instinctually pro-life. We say that we’re pro-life and we value the family, but, sadly, we’re not acting pro-life when we go to abortion clinics. There’s a tremendous chasm between the Hispanic community and the pro-life movement, and they really should be together. Sadly, whether it’s because of the language barrier or cultural considerations, that’s just not happening. It’s natural for the leaders who emerge from the community to then build a bridge to show the Hispanic community all the beauty we have in the Church and the pro-life movement.”
Gutierrez had practical advice for engaging Hispanics, who, she explained, respond differently and need to see the results of abortions.
Techniques such as graphic abortion videos and photographs, which are more controversial in English-speaking communities, are essential for reaching the Spanish-speaking community, according to Gutierrez. “I know it’s very painful to watch, but we need to see that because we’re being lied to. I had a woman complain to me, asking why she’d never seen that footage before. If I’d seen that video in time, maybe I’d have my child today. I feel that showing them the truth is the way to help them.”
The event reached an emotional crescendo when Kathy DiFiore took the stage and introduced three mothers with beautiful babies saved by Several Sources Shelters. In the background, a video played showing the many other children, some adults, whose mothers were about to abort, but chose life instead. Their stories highlighted the tangible accomplishments of good pro-life ministries.
At the end of the event, Father Pavone was asked if having this event at the World Meeting of Families was preaching to the choir. “Even the choir needs practice,” he said.
Teresa Tomeo added, “We did this to raise awareness of everything that’s happening in the movement and to encourage people. Even though there’s a greater awareness of what’s going on in abortion, people are still overwhelmed by the evil of abortion. What Priests for Life does so well is give people a detail: Where do I go; what can I do? And I’ve never seen abortion discussed as much, ever, as it is right now. Even if we’re not seeing the action we want in Congress, they’re talking about it, and we’re going to make sure they keep talking about it.”
Father Pavone said: “One of the things we wanted to convey tonight was that sense of confidence: Let’s move forward, because the victory is in our hands.”
Thomas L. McDonald is covering the World Meeting of Families for the Register.