Fr. Pavone Visit

(April 18-19, 2009; St. Michael, Olympia & Holy Family, Seattle)

Fr. Frank Pavone, Nacional Director of Priests for Life, visited Olympia and Seattle on April 18 & 19. I had the privilege of hosting him for most of his visit. While the visit is still fresh in mind, I would like to share a few impressions. First, the time-line:

Saturday, April 18:

3 p.m., Prayer Service at Olympia Planned Parenthood
5 p.m., Mass at St. Michael's (Fr. Jim Lee, main celebrant)
7 p.m., Conference in church vestibule
10 p.m., Drive to Holy Family, Seattle (arrive about 11:15)

Sunday, April 19:

7 a.m., breakfast (with parish administrator Gary Samaniego & parochial vicar, Fr. Armando Red)
8 a.m., 9;30 a.m. (Spanish) and 11 a.m. Masses - Homily by Fr. Pavone
Noon, reception at Holy Family (Toni Halsey, Coordinator of Holy Family Respect Life Committee)
3 p.m., Prayer Service at Madison Street Planned Parenthood (with gratitude to Matt & Georgine Ulrich, Helpers of God's Precious Infants)
5 p.m., Conference at Knights of Columbus Hall (Organized by Jim Toth & other Washington State Knights)
8 p.m., Drive to airport

As you can see, Fr. Pavone had a packed schedule. At each point he gave a talk or homily emphasizing various aspects of the pro-life struggle. Since his homilies and writings are readily available through the Internet, CD's, videos, pamphlets and books, I did not feel any urgency about taking notes. Still, for the sake of my memory and as a possible help to others, here are the main points that stick in my mind:

At the Olympia Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, before taking a picture with the children, Fr. Pavone addressed whether they should take part in prayer vigils. While we must always be sensitive to a child's level of development and the importance of open communication between parent and child, the experience can be beneficial. At an early stage, children begin to realize they are survivors - that there was a time when they did not have legal protection. Their prayers for unborn brothers and sisters have great power. And the prayers help heal the wound for the months when they were considered non-persons.

Divine Mercy Sunday means that we not only receive God's mercy, but extend it to others. We have the example from the Acts of the Apostles: No one was in need because the early Christians sold what they had and brought the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to the needy. We do that today when when we reach out to the homeless, the imprisoned, AIDS victims and others in need. Christians are the largest providers of assistance to women in crisis pregnancies. (Fr. Pavone gave out a flier with twenty-four-hour-a-day hotlines.)

Many people fear that we are trying to take away a woman's "freedom to choose." This is false. A woman who seeks an abortion, often feels trapped. She feels she has no choice, no other option. We devote resources to pregnancy centers so a woman can have access to medical care, housings, job training, legal aid and counseling to help keep her baby or develop an adoption plan.

Freedom does not mean doing the easiest thing. Freedom is the ability to do what is right. Our goal is to empower women to be able to make a genuine choice. We are the real pro-choice people. We are pro-woman.

It is important to focus on the fact of abortion, to keep asking the simple question, What is abortion? We have sworn testimony from abortionists testifying to what the procedure involves: pulling off arms and legs, crushing skulls, then reassembling tiny body parts.

Fr. Pavone and others have used that testimony to ask, Is this what you mean by abortion? They went to congressional offices, asking to speak with senators, representatives or top aides. They presented the sworn testimony from abortionists and asked, Is this what you mean when you say "abortion"? The legislators tried to change the subject. Most would not answer the question. However, one top aide did admit, "I never realized that."

Polls show that most Americans do not realize what abortion is. When they do hear an actual description of abortion, they are shocked that the procedure is allowed during all nine months of a pregnancy.

Fr. Pavone told about giving a homily in Florida, then later that day taking a walk by the beach. He saw a sign stating that turtle eggs are protected by local, state and federal laws. Good, but why is it wrong to crush a turtle egg and OK to crush the head of an unborn child?

There are two tiers in the abortion industry: Those who work directly with patients (medical staff, receptionists, counselors, etc.) and those on the upper levels who are propagandists for abortion. Ironically, we have seen more conversion among those on the first tier - they know the reality of abortion. Many have left the practice and have joined with. There is now a group of former abortionists: the Centurions.

In spite of recent elections, we are winning the battle. This can be seen in the fact that pro-aborts have run out of arguments. They once denied the fetus is a child. With increased knowledge of pre-natal development, few make that argument. The used to say it was a matter between a woman and her doctor. With growing evidence of the harm caused by abortion, however, most doctors shun identification with the procedure. So, now they say, "abortion is between a woman and her god." It sounds vaguely pious, but it does not refer to prayer, but to the exalted, autonomous self. In other words, none of your business, shut up, I don't want to talk about it. When someone says that, they have run out of arguments.

No one says: If you are against child abuse, then don't abuse your child. Or that if a man batters his wife, it's their business. No, we recognize that we have a responsibility for others. The 4,000 babies killed each day by abortion are our brothers and sisters.

Some have made this legal argument: Regarding abortion we must ask whose property the baby is? The answer, they say, can only be the mother. Declaring one human being the property of another evokes a sad chapter from our nation's history.

President Clinton said that pro-lifers want to send a woman to prison if she has an abortion. We say that a woman who has an abortion is already in prison. We want to free her.

Our goal is not to simply reduce or restrict abortion. Our goal is to end abortion. We want abortion to not just be illegal, but unthinkable.

Even more than Fr. Pavone's powerful message, I was deeply impressed with his person. Throughout a rather grueling (and sometimes disorganized) weekend, he kept his patience, focus and sense of humor. He adapted beautifully to the time constraints of our morning Mass schedule and he showed resilience when things did not go as smoothly as hoped. Off-the-wall comments didn't seem faze him or throw him off. He took genuine interest in what locals groups are doing and was anxious to talk about new approaches. We had a good conversation about practical things that could be done on a parish level. Below are some pictures from Fr. Frank's visit:

Fr. Frank Pavone, Planned Parenthood, Olympia, WA, April 18, 2009 (Organized by Ed Sauley of Show the Truth Washington)

With servers, David & James French, Aaron Hance, April 19, 2009

Renard Bansale, Cliff Macaraeg, Deacon Abel MagaƱa, at Madison Street Planned Parenthood

Fr. Stephen Ukumu, Pastor of St. Therese, Seattle, Christine De Goede, 40 Days for Life

Fr. Pavone, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Fr. Stephen Okumu, Mark Shea

S.O.L.T. Sisters from St. Alphonsus, Seattle


2009 March for Life

2009 Pilgrimage to St. James Cathedral

Prayer Vigil at West Seattle Planned Parenthood