When pro-life 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 week.”
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 street.”
“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 life.
“We’ve gotten to hold their babies and keep in contact with moms,” says Perez.
Naturally, women are also steered to Hope House.
Says Father Farfaglia, “This is the other aspect of our pro-life work: providing an option to take care of mother and baby.”
Life Changes Lives
While the group was counting, they numbered 30 known “saves” of babies and their mothers. But there are probably many more.
One 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.
The girl had scheduled an abortion, but, struck by the people she saw praying at the business, she decided to have her baby.
Perez 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 lived?’”
The 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 justice.”
“None 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.”
Father 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.
“Thanks 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.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.