To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
Project Defending Life is taking a bite out of the culture of death in New Mexico. By Joseph Pronechen.
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
Defending Life was only formed in early 2006 in Albuquerque, N.M. — but it’s
already taken giant strides in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Project Defending Life’s
secretary, Phil Sevilla, credits this new vigor and
direction in the area’s pro-life work to Father Stephen Imbarrato,
who took the helm and is steering several pro-life ministries to work more
effectively under the single “PDL” umbrella.
For all its newness, PDL is really
no new kid on the block. Nor is Father Imbarrato a
newcomer to pro-life work. While attending Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn. (he was
ordained in May 2005 for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe), he helped start St.
Gerard’s Center for Life in Hartford,
a crisis pregnancy center across the street from an abortion business.
“The significance of St. Gerard’s
being across from the abortion mill showed me how important it is to have
ministries of life directly across from the gates of death,” says the priest.
That lesson was underlined when
Father Imbarrato came to Albuquerque and learned the
Blessed Sacrament was reserved for adoration 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through
Saturday in a small chapel directly across the street from a Planned Parenthood
facility. The chapel was in the offices of the Catholic Knights, a fraternal
organization unaffiliated with the Knights of Columbus.
It was there he began celebrating
the one-day-a-week Thursday noon Mass.
Although busy as a parish priest in the 5,000-family St. Thomas Aquinas Church,
his pastor, Msgr. Douglas Raun, encouraged him to do
pro-life work one morning a week.
“After eight months, the Holy
Spirit created circumstances that made me realize it was time to start a
comprehensive pro-life ministry,” explains Father Imbarrato.
The idea is to “supplement the pro-life efforts already going on in the diocese
and to fill some gaps that existed.”
Using the chapel as a focal point,
and prompted by the Holy Spirit to rejuvenate the existing Project Life — which
was doing prayer vigils and sidewalk counseling across the street — he gathered
a group of laypeople into the new Project Defending Life. He used the
defendinglife.org website, to which he already had rights.
“God seems to have given me the
ability to organize and energize,” explains Father Imbarrato.
Officially, he’s PDL’s spiritual and organizational
“We had enough people to cover
adoration, and we had this other group saving babies,” says Our Lady of Fatima
branch Catholic Knights president Mike Esquibel. “But
we were growing at a very slow pace. When Father Imbarrato
came here, he spoke and the world started coming. He was able to attract a lot
of people I had never seen before.”
Then the priest opened the Project
Defending Life umbrella. Gathering under it as one for the area’s pro-life
efforts came other ministries like Rachel
Ministries and Helpers of
God’s Precious Infants.
There are now more than a dozen
ministries and functional areas, one being a monthly pledge program, under
Project Defending Life.
“We saw the wisdom of bringing
everyone under the same umbrella,” says Sevilla. He
explains that sidewalk counselors such as Phil Leahy, who’s done pro-life work
in the area for 30 years, once had to do “everything — and were a bit
overwhelmed” trying to get all the needed help after rescuing a woman and her
baby from the brink of abortion. Now other PDL ministries attempt to provide
resources such as housing, doctors and counseling.
PDL plans to develop even more
ministries, including a mother-mentor program, a pro-life teen ministry, an
adoption-awareness group, a speakers’ bureau and, hopefully, a group of priests
to help so that a noon Mass can be celebrated in the chapel every weekday (plus
one early Saturday Mass before people process for that day’s prayer vigil at
two abortion doctors’ offices).
Right now Project Defending Life is renovating
the chapel to seat 60 people and to house its offices. The nine hours of
adoration begun on St. Joseph’s
feast day in 2000 will continue six days a week, from dawn to dusk.
One reason the chapel is now named
the Holy Innocents Chapel, says Father Imbarrato, is
because Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan has celebrated Masses there on two
Feasts of the Holy Innocents as well as on the Annunciation. The archbishop
originally gave permission for the Blessed Sacrament to be reserved in the
None of this would be happening if
the archbishop did not give his approval, notes Father Imbarrato.
“If he didn’t allow that several years ago,” says a thankful Father Imbarrato, “we would not have the graces built up now for
The graces flow for PDL’s active and contemplative aspects. People adore the
Blessed Sacrament daily, while others are holding vigils or counseling in front
of the Planned Parenthood or doctors’ abortion businesses. Meanwhile PDL’s Intercessors for Life ministry has people praying in
private homes, nursing homes, monasteries and convents around the world.
Incredibly, all this happens even
though this priest-catalyst only devotes less than one day a week to this
pro-life ministry. Father Imbarrato has recently been
named pastor of three Catholic parishes: Holy Family in Roy,
St Joseph in Mosquero,
and Santa Clara
in Wagon Mound — along with the local missions.
“I love being a country priest and
I love the people of Northern New Mexico,” he
says. “My duties as a pastor always take precedence over my pro-life mission
work. I’m a parish priest first and a pro-life activist second.”
The multifaceted life-saving rays
of Project Defending Life prove what the Holy Spirit can do with regular folks
who are ready, willing and able to get behind an inspired pro-life organizer.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes