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At 4 1/2 years old, the parish of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus in Corpus Christi, Texas, has only just begun. But, led by Father James Farfaglia, it’s already done some very big things for life.
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
messages and actions are consistent and regular, pro-life fruits are sweet and
abundant. The 4 1/2-year-old parish of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus
Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, is seeing several ripen.
Every Tuesday, in numbers too big to
ignore, parishioners plant themselves in front of the city’s one remaining
abortion business. They pray the Rosary and offer counseling. Led by their
pastor, Father James Farfaglia, they’ve been at it for nearly two years.
Thanks to the work of Bishop
Emeritus Rene Gracida, along with a very active chapter of Operation Rescue,
three of the city’s four abortion businesses had closed by the time the St.
Helena group got a full head of steam. Only one remained. On Jan. 22, 2007,
after Father Farfaglia finished the Rosary during the annual diocesan Roe
v. Wade protest at this lone business, he asked parishioner and
longtime pro-life worker Ray Reeves: What next?
“Be here,” Reeves said assuredly, “every
Father Farfaglia took that suggestion
to heart and brought it to his flock at the still-new parish. With Lent about
to begin, “I told my people rather than giving up desserts and candy, let’s do
something serious. Let’s be at the abortion site Tuesday mornings as our Lenten
sacrifice.” Throughout Lent, up to 100 people showed up every week. When Lent
ended, they continued.
Father Farfaglia and Reeves calculate that, at
the start of these Tuesday vigils, between 40 and 50 abortions — possibly as
many as 75 — were being carried out each week. Now, they estimate, the business
is down to less than 20.
“The single most important thing a
member of the clergy can do is be on the front lines of the sidewalk,” says
Reeves, who from the early 1980s was involved with Project Gabriel and Operation
Rescue with Randall Terry. Now he is chairman of Corpus Christi’s Hope House, a
place for unwed mothers and their children. “The presence of a Roman collar and
rosary beads is probably the single most powerful message that a pastor could
send to his parishioners about his dedication to life.”
Therese Perez seconds that
sentiment. “When I joined St. Helena’s, I didn’t realize the extent Father
James would lead us into an actively pro-life parish,” she says, pointing out
that she had already been active in sidewalk counseling for several years. “It
really is a remarkable difference. When we started two years ago, the parking
lot would be overflowing to the point where customers had to park on the
“Now it’s so different; there are
much less people [coming as customers],” adds Perez. “The only thing we can
attribute our success to is the power of prayer and presence.”
Reeves points out these aren’t the
only amazing results for their small parish of 200 families. Many young couples
are drawn there because of the community’s openness to large families. Several
have four to six children.
“There are different ways of doing
pro-life work,” explains Father Farfaglia, St. Helena’s founding pastor. “What
I’ve always done in parishes is to encourage families to be open to life, to
procreation, to possibilities to have large families. That’s what the Church
teaches. We have a lot of babies and births in the parish.”
“Father is very encouraging from the
pulpit to be open to life and to God’s calling for your family,” says Virginia
Metz. “He never said you have to have 12 kids to be holy, but he just
encourages you to be open to life. That’s the way we’ve lived our vocation as
married people. It’s been a beautiful journey to say we’re open to God’s will.”
She and her husband, John, have six youngsters.
Metz is one of the moms from the
home-schooling group who show up Tuesdays with their children to pray the
Rosary. She says it’s a very powerful witness to see all the children there.
The witness helps convince women
that letting their babies live is the best choice. Perez, who specializes in
sidewalk counseling, tells about a parish group called the Handmaids. They
organize baby showers and offer help and encouragement for mothers who choose
“We’ve gotten to hold their babies
and keep in contact with moms,” says Perez.
Naturally, women are also steered to
Says Father Farfaglia, “This is the
other aspect of our pro-life work: providing an option to take care of mother
Life Changes Lives
While the group was counting, they numbered 30
known “saves” of babies and their mothers. But there are probably many more.
fruit ripened at a time when the crop looked momentarily in doubt late last
winter. Father Farfaglia had led the Rosary and was on his way to his car when
Perez called him back. With her was a young girl with a tiny infant.
girl had scheduled an abortion, but, struck by the people she saw praying at
the business, she decided to have her baby.
picks up the story: “Two weeks after the baby was born, she came to show us her
beautiful baby ‘because you were all here and you saved my life,’ she said.
It’s been a true joy for our parish. I always tell people: ‘Can you imagine
holding a child who was doomed to die, and because you were there, this child
mother’s name is Victoria; she named her baby Liberty Justice. That’s fitting,
says Perez, because “God’s mercy and justice are why we were there. It was an
interesting day, because Father James and I were very discouraged, hoping the
abortion clinic would close. That day God sent us this message: Don’t worry;
don’t give up. There will be victory; there will be liberty; there will be
of us ever spoke to Victoria before,” continues Perez. “She simply saw the
people there. She couldn’t pass us. Just our simple presence there made is
possible for a baby to live.”
Farfaglia says Victoria came out of nowhere to encourage pro-lifers to continue
praying the Rosary, witnessing to life and counseling. She accepted his
invitation to join St. Helena’s and had Father Farfaglia baptize her baby.
to Father James, there’s a lot of good fruit,” says Perez. “As parishioners, we
have seen our lives and our whole attitude toward life change because of the
graces we’ve received in this ministry.”
writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.