It was early 1994. I had been national director of Priests for Life for several months and was sitting with my first full-time employee, Sue Finn. I had one small office, a few donated computers, a fax machine and a few thousand dollars.
“What is the vision you want Priests for Life to accomplish?” she asked me.
I explained to her that ending abortion required spiritual renewal among God’s people, and a readiness to sacrifice a lot of personal comfort to battle this evil — just as was true in the abolitionist movement and the civil rights movement.
Therefore, we have to renew the clergy to lead us in this battle. Then they will fan the flames of God’s Spirit in their people. And once the people of life are spiritually renewed, they will take to the streets in numbers so massive and continuous that neither the media nor the government will be able to ignore their demands for justice for the unborn.
That is the vision. I repeated to Sue what I had said to Cardinal O’Connor when I requested permission from him to do this work full time: “Your Eminence, I don’t want to move papers; I want to move people!”
And that’s just what Priests for Life has been doing. Priests and bishops are speaking up more than ever. Catholics are mobilizing. We have won elections for pro-life candidates and will do so again in November. Activists are mobilizing at the mills through efforts we have pushed hard, like the 40 Days for Life and the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. The vision is being realized. We are winning.
There hasn’t been a day that I have looked back. There hasn’t been a day that I have not felt the enthusiasm of the very first day of this mission.
The pro-life movement has entered a new chapter of this battle. It is time to redouble every effort and to push over the finish line. Now is the time to cut off any “dead wood,” any projects that aren’t bearing fruit, any expenditures and efforts that are not actually moving us toward the goal of ending abortion, and any bureaucracy in our structures that is hindering rather than advancing the mission.
A few years ago I announced that we were starting a community and accepting our own seminarians. I had discussed this with Cardinal O’Connor back in 1995. The reasons we waited so long to start it, however, are the same ones that now lead us to the conclusion that it is best for Priests for Life to remain an association of the faithful, open to priests, deacons, seminarians and laity everywhere, rather than become a society of apostolic life with its own community. These reasons include:
Our mission has met with significant success within the bounds of its current structure, activities and assets.
Priests for Life makes extensive use of media, therefore making a specific geographical locale less necessary.
Priests for Life pastoral team members are itinerant missionaries, also making a centralized location less necessary.
The specialty of this ministry is the pro-life cause, and energies and resources should be placed on that rather than on formation of men toward ordination.
Forming a community and training men for ordination is a long-term process, and there is an inherent urgency to the mission of defending the unborn and vulnerable, and that goal is within reach now.
Therefore, the one association, Priests for Life, which will also be called Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, will remain focused exclusively on the pro-life work itself — and leave to dioceses and religious communities the specific task of forming men for the priesthood.
We are also going to vastly scale down the building projects that we have in the works. We don’t need big buildings, and I don’t want to divert all kinds of attention and resources to building anything that may prove superfluous.
The ministry of Priests for Life / Missionaries of the Gospel of Life will continue to train, equip and encourage the faithful — clergy and laity — to build the culture of life. Both laity and clergy may work full time for the association. Moreover, lay persons can make promises to live out that spirituality and mission as missionaries of the gospel of life. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of our Bishop Patrick Zurek, the new bishop of Amarillo, Texas.
We’re closer to victory than ever before. The focus now needs to be getting the job done, not setting up more structures for plans to get it done in the next generation.
The time is now.
Now is the time to stop all the cautious dancing with language and plainly challenge our citizens to elect pro-life candidates.
Now is the time to stop lamenting that we’re not reaching abortion-minded women, and instead, simply go to the places where they obviously are — the abortion clinics — and be present at those killing centers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, until the killing stops.
Now is the time to stop worrying about those who aren’t doing their jobs, and partnering more closely with those who are. It doesn’t take a majority to get the job done; it takes a minority that risks everything and does whatever it can.
We have entered a new phase of the pro-life movement. Come with us. It’s time for victory.
Father Frank Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life.