AMARILLO, Texas — Four months ago, Priests for Life announced the formation of the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, a pro-life society of priests in the Diocese of Amarillo.
Now the organization has announced the creation of an association that will allow lay people to join in the organization's work materially and spiritually.
That's welcome news for people such as homemaker Godelieve Bartolucci. She's long been active in the pro-life movement. Twelve years ago she and six other women began a chapter of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants in Birmingham, Ala. The women gather layette items for expectant mothers, counsel women, help at the local crisis pregnancy center and pray the rosary outside an abortion business once a month.
Bartolucci has long wanted to combine her pro-life work with involvement in a lay association.
“I've looked at lay third orders,” she said. “I've looked into the Franciscans and Opus Dei, but this order is made for me. It combines the apostolic work I've already been doing.”
Priests for Life is confident many others will follow suit.
“I think this will be one of the largest moves regarding the laity and the sanctity of human life in the history of the Church,” said Jim Pinto, pastoral associate with Priests for Life. “I expect that we will have individuals and whole groups coming in. There has been a void that has been there for a long time that is going to be filled.”
Pinto said he's already heard from interested individuals and groups in Alabama, Florida and Michigan.
While Priests for Life Director Father Frank Pavone announced the new society of apostolic life in an e-mail to supporters June 17, Pinto said the desire to create such an association has been part of Priests for Life from the very beginning.
“When the announcement was made regarding the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life, the documents stated that there would be a lay association,” Pinto said. “It's been there from the get-go.”
Pinto began the work preparing for and developing the lay association three years ago.
Reaction to the news was positive.
“I am thrilled that the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, is leading Father Pavone and his beautiful vision of having priests who are prepared for pro-life ministry,” Amarillo Bishop John Yanta said. “Father Pavone has in mind that Priests for Life will be at the forefront, but always at the same time being joined with the non-ordained in this common and important ministry.”
Leaders of other pro-life apostolates were supportive as well.
“I think it is wonderful,” said Mary Ann Kuharski, director of Pro-Life Across America, a nonprofit organization that gets pro-life billboards placed nationally. “I applaud Father Pavone for doing this.”
Kuharski is no stranger to lay movements. She belongs to a third-order Carmelite lay association.
“I don't dare set foot in my office without first going to daily Mass,” Kuharski said. “I think the pro-life movement lost something when we called the pro-life movement a civil-rights movement and tried to tackle it from an intellectual position. Those of us who already have a faith base will benefit from the lay association. All of our brothers and sisters in the pro-life movement will benefit from it.”
Off to a Good Start
If the early interest in and success of the priestly order is any indication, the lay association might have a flood of interest. Priests for Life held its first discernment retreat for priests interested in the order June 24-26 in Amarillo; 35 priests attended. Father Pavone said they have had a few hundred inquiries to date.
“We had an exciting and excellent retreat,” Father Pavone said. “Over half of these men are ready now to begin the formal process of application, which will take place over the next three months.”
The first group of candidates will begin in Amarillo in late September, starting a year of spiritual and community life as well as full immersion in the vision and mission of the society.
“Experts in the pro-life movement from around the world will come to address them, and they will participate in various pro-life ministries and events around the country,” Father Pavone added.
Bishop Yanta participated in the retreat as well.
“I was very impressed with the commitment of the men who came to find out more about the missionaries,” Bishop Yanta said. “They came from all over — California, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota and Texas.”
In order to handle the additional inquiries, Priests for Life has planned two additional discernment retreats. One was held July 19-22 in Amarillo. The second, specifically for seminarians and those considering the seminary, will be held Aug. 16-21 in Newark, N.J.
While Priests for Life does not yet have the specific prayers and spirituality worked out for the lay association, they are inviting those interested to contact them. According to Father Pavone, there will be two types of membership.
The first is for those who are free of other obligations and want to join the society to do pro-life work on a full-time basis.
“They will be able to apply for our formation program and receive the specialized pro-life training we will offer,” Father Pavone said.
The second is for those who are married or who have employment commitments incompatible with full-time, pro-life work.
“They would make certain commitments to prayer, personal study and pro-life work to the extent that one's duties permit,” Father Pavone said.
He added that involvement in the society would not be something additional but simply an extension of the work many are already doing.
“Whatever pro-life work you are already doing can be done in the context of the spiritual commitment to belong to this society and with the special blessing of the Church that such membership brings,” Father Pavone said.
That is what is attractive to Bartolucci. She doesn't know whether the other women she works with will have an interest, but she recognizes that the lay association is right for her.
“I don't expect all of them to have that calling,” she said. “It's a religious call from Our Lord. A third order is a means to grow in holiness.”
Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.