He endures long fasts, works tirelessly and, after 33 years of pro-life ministry, is long-suffering.

But his practice of spending eight hours every day in prayer in front of abortion clinics has caught the attention of people in high places. Cardinal Francis George and other bishops have participated in the peaceful prayer vigils of Helpers of God's Precious Infants, which he founded. A June 30 Chicago Sun-Times editorial compared the apostolate to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s peaceful marches.

Msgr. Reilly spoke recently with Register staff writer Brian McGuire.

McGuire: When you approach the abortion clinics each day, what is your first order of business?

Msgr. Reilly: We go our there for the conversion of the heart of the mother and the abortionist. In other words, our first order of business is not to save the physical life of the baby. You see, before the baby is physically aborted, it is spiritually aborted. So our purpose is to pray for conversions of heart. You have to change the spirit of the mother and the doctor, and this change does come about through our fasting and our prayer.

Msgr. Philip Reilly Founder, St. Joseph's Helpers of God's Precious Infants

How is it that so many of us, and so many mothers, have become convinced of the worthlessness of unborn babies?

In Evangelium Vitae the Holy Father says that the root cause of the culture of death is the loss of the sense of God and with that comes a loss of the sense of who we are. The creature cannot understand himself apart from the creator. The infants are precious because they belong to God.

So, the first thing we are out at the clinics witnessing to is the presence and the reality of God.

You see, once you restore God to the discussion, the reality of the child as one of his creatures becomes more apparent. The infants are precious because they belong to God, not because they belong to the mother or the state. This whole discussion of the body and our rights to control it is horizontal and, in the end, fruitless. It doesn't take God into consid eration.

Once we can convince the woman that both she and her baby are precious to God, then we have circled around court decisions that ignore this reality — we have gotten to the reality that precedes court decisions.

Who is the “enemy” to the culture of life — abortion doctors?

God wants the salvation of the doctor, the child and the mother. They are not his enemies. It is we who turn away from God, not him from us. When we go to pray in front of the clinic our goal is to view the situation with the mind of God. We must make present his unconditional and everlasting love.

You can't lash out at people or condemn them and expect them to be converted. How could you ever sell your product by being nasty? We are called to be faithful witnesses to the truth, that's all. And so we must do it in a peaceful and prayerful manner. Again, to see with the eyes of God dictates that we be concerned primarily with the conversion of souls.

How would God treat those who kill?

God died for the conversion of those who put him to death. In the same manner, God's providence allows for the physical evil of the deaths of the unborn if that's what it takes to convert those who put them to death. If God permits abortion, it is to pave the way for greater conversions. And if those who today support abortion turn their hearts toward God tomorrow, then the victory is ours. God never forces us to love him. He had to hang on the cross there for awhile, and so do those in the pro-life movement.

People argue that it is important to save the lives of babies who are being killed right now.

Even if you feel justified in attacking the oppressor, if there is hatred in your heart, you are both destroyed by the evil. We have to practice the love of Christ if we want to be saved and help bring about the salvation of others. As Christians, we don't have the right to hate or even to be uncharitable.

This is called Christian love, and it's very demanding. I stress to people that God is calling them to holiness. You can't win the battle and lose your own soul. This struggle is a real source of sanctification for us.