Monday, 10 October 2011

The few but worthy comparisons between Padre Pio and Fr Frank Pavone


Other than the fact that they were both christened Francis. And that the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit was inscribed on their souls on their ordination to the priesthood.



Padre Pio lived in a time of great change and confusion; a generation of Catholics in the 60s were asking if abortion was becoming more acceptable. There was a creeping idea that ‘it’s a matter of conscience’.
Right throughout his priestly ministry, Padre Pio never shirked revealing the vileness of abortion. When Padre Pio was enlightening Padre Pellegrino why he had not given absolution to a woman whose sin was abortion he said; “The day, in which people, frightened by the economic boom, from physical damages or from economic sacrifices, will lose the horror of the abortion, it will be the most terrible day for humanity. Abortion is not only homicide but also suicide.”
Padre Pio was thought to be very harsh with post-abortive women; but I took an eye-witness account from Dónal Enright who knew a woman who was initially declined absolution from Padre Pio; after which the lady reformed her life and when she returned to Padre Pio, he granted her absolution. Afterwards, Dónal (LEFT) said that ‘she smiled; looking like the happiest person alive’ and that she was certain that her life was changed for the better.

While Padre Pio was not a pro-life activist like Fr Frank; he did write an incredibly influential letter of support to Paul VI in the aftermath of Humanae Vitae. That a saint commended and endorsed the most contested encyclical of modern times was remarkable then, but for all times Padre Pio will stand out as the mystic, reader of souls, who was published in L’Osservatore Romano as having written: ‘I thank Your Holiness for the clear and decisive words You have spoken in the recent encyclical, "Humanae Vitae".’
The humble friar, who bore the wounds of Christ, said that Humanae Vitae was a ‘defense of those eternal truths which can never change with the times.’ One little know fact is that Padre Pio hung a picture of Paul VI in his cell, alongside the cherished photos of his parents.
I was not privileged to live during the time when Padre Pio walked this earth. But for my generation of twenty-something Catholics, no other priest is as synonymous with the pro-life cause for us as Fr Frank Pavone. He hails from New York and was ordained in 1988 by Cardinal John O’Connor. For eighteen years, since 1993, Fr Frank has led Priests For Life.
Like the absolute majority of the world’s population, Fr Frank does not have the vast array of spiritual gifts that Padre Pio had (including the ability to read the souls of penitents), but Fr Frank has nonetheless upheld the teachings of Humanae Vitae in his two books, Ending Abortion, Not Just Fighting It, and Pro-life Reflections for Every Day. If Padre Pio said the truths of Humanae Vitae are for all time; then Fr Frank has inherited the mission of defending them in this age. Abby Johnson credits Fr Frank in having had a vital role in her conversion; in her ‘pro-choice’ days she was an avid viewer of his TV show and he came to pray outside the clinic where she was a director.
In his time Padre Pio insisted on giving post-abortive women the best spiritual, in our age Fr Frank has been at the forefront of pioneering developments for women hurt by abortion. He has held the role of pastoral director for the US of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and of Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry facilitating healing after an abortion.
And now we come to the key parallels between Padre Pio and Fr Frank: how they reacted (and coped) with their priestly ministries being curtailed.
On June 11 1931, Padre Raffaele called Pio to the friary parlour and read this decree; "Padre Pio is to be stripped of all faculties of his priestly ministry except the faculty to celebrate the Holy Mass, which he may continue to do provided it is done in private, within the walls of the friary, in the inner chapel, and not publicly in church".
Padre Pio answered; “God's will be done." Then he covered his eyes with his hands, bowed his head, and was emphatic that; "The will of the authorities is the will of God."

During the time of this ‘imprisonment’, Padre Pio was devoted his time to praying, studying and joking with his fellow friars. But the two year period when Padre Pio was ‘stripped of all faculties of his priestly ministry’ except a daily private Mass, caused Padre Pio great suffering. Padre Pio did not wear a frown and grumble; but in confidence he unburdened his heart to Padre Agostino.
In March 1933, When Pope Pius XI ordered representatives to see Padre Pio, they (Mgr Pasetto and Mgr Bevilaqua) found Padre Pio to be a good tempered, humorous and an entirely devout friar.
Like Padre Pio, Fr Frank has obeyed the Church hierarchy in every single regard.
As of last month, Fr Frank was recalled to his home diocese of Amarillo and has been staying in a modest, cramped convent room. When he was called to Amarillo, Fr Frank requested to return to New York for 24 hours to attend an appointment with his doctor, collect some personal items and speak with his parents. This request has been postponed and Fr Frank was told to stay in Amarillo. Bishop Zurek has since stated that he called Fr Pavone to Amarillo partly out of concern for his health and wellbeing. It is the opinion of some people closest to Fr Frank that he may need this time of rest and retreat; as he has been ‘burning the candle at both ends’ and working tirelessly in pro-life for almost two decades.  
Currently, Fr Frank is situated in a convent several miles down a long dirt road, in the desolate Texan wilderness. His room, like every room in the convent has a shovel; so that he may use it to instantly kill the many snakes that slither in. Fr Frank is handed his meals on a tray and mostly eats alone, except occasionally when he is allowed to join the nuns. This sounds like a lonely existence, but Mark Crutcher who visited Fr Frank said that ‘his spirits are very high…he shows no rancour’. Fr Frank is thankful for the many e-mails he is getting from his supporters. This brings to mind Padre Pio who kept his spirits up during his ‘imprisonment’ and even played small pranks on his fellow friars.
Fr Frank is currently not appearing on ETWN, nor will any previously recorded (already ‘in the can’) programmes featuring Fr Frank be broadcasted. This is causing some to question if Fr Frank is in good standing; anyone may ring the Diocese of Amarillo, and they will confirm that Fr Frank is a priest in good standing. But Fr Frank is for most practical purposes suspended, this was explained in a September 30th letter from Bishop Zurek who wrote ‘Father Frank A Pavone remains suspended’. Msgr. Harold Waldow, vicar of clergy and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Amarillo has confirmed that Father Pavone “is suspended. He has some limited ministry in the diocese.” Fr Frank is allowed to say Mass, on occasion, for the nuns in the convent.
Fr Frank is much loved, and some pro-lifers have organised public protests against his suspension/recall to the Amarillo to live in an isolated convent. Fr Frank has discouraged public demonstrations against his suspension, and has made it clear that he is not organising or lending support to public protests.  
There is a parallel here to the life of Padre Pio, in that Padre Pio deterred his followers from trying to ‘help’. During his ‘imprisonment’, Padre Pio knew that some supporters were recording scandalous information about high-profile figures in the Church hierarchy with the view to compiling a book. The supporters were hoping this would help Padre Pio to be liberated from the sanctions imposed on him – a sort of you-can’t-throw-stones-at-good-Padre-Pio. But Padre Pio was angered by news of the book-that-would-expose-the-misdemeanours-of-certain-figures-in-the-hierarchy. Talking to one of the book’s chief authors, Morcaldi, Padre Pio exclaimed; "Go, throw yourself at the foot of the Church instead of writing this garbage! Don't you set yourself up against your Mother!"
In a similar way, Fr Frank has made it clear that it is never the policy of Priests For Life to set themselves in opposition to the Church; rather they resolve ‘disagreements or miscommunications that involve the Church leadership…respectfully and behind the scenes’.
We pray for Fr Frank and for his upcoming (and no doubt pivotal) meeting with Bishop.
And also pray that – in the meantime - Fr Frank is quick with the shovel and can oust any snakes from his room.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Urgent life or death prayer request…


 A fellow journalist dropped in to visit me last night – in a very anguished state – and told me that a good friend of hers has just found out that she’s pregnant.
The pregnant mother is in her twenties, and as always is planning to go to Mass today. On Monday she wants to arrange an abortion. This does sound as though she is very flippant about Catholic teaching, but she is in a blind panic and wants to ‘forget’ about the pregnancy as soon as possible. Scores of Catholic girls have abortions in the UK each day, and let's pray she won't be one of them - tomorrow.
I will be speaking with the pregnant mother, perhaps tonight and would be very grateful for prayers for this endeavour.
We are asking people to pray for this young mother, and with lots of abundant grace, hopefully, I will post that she is keeping the baby and then that the baby has been born.

Friday, 7 October 2011

I really enjoyed reading…

One of the birthday presents for my Godchild: the fifth Girl Annual, published in 1956 by Hulton Press, but peculiarly lacking a date. I ferreted it out in an old London bookshop some years ago, and kept it till my godchild could read most of it.
One comic strip concern St Perpetua; the 22 year old nursing mother who together with her slave girl St Felicity were executed. 




New Atheists may consider much of the comic strips and features to be the stuff of religious indoctrination. Not that the this decades old annual was written as some sort of light-hearted girls’ comic to assist Catholic apologetics, but the bravery of the Roman Martyrs was thought good material for a gripping story.


There is also quite an enthralling feature on the Royal Family, with illustrations of the Queen and Prince Philip; the only obvious fault of the piece is that the author overuses obsequious flattery and it becomes a sycophantic hymn to the Royal Family.
Other delights of the annual included a story about a group of friends grooming and training their dogs for a show. There were even tips on grooming the ‘feathers’ on a cocker spaniel's legs.  The vocabulary and descriptions are rich; there’s no ‘dumbing-down’ for fear of condescending the child readers, or confusing them with high-brow words.










One excellent feature on the Bronte sisters chronicles where they found their inspiration to write their novels and how they persevered to finish their books. I was tempted to photocopy this and send it round to all my friends who are in love with Mr Rochester.

The 2011 Girl Annual is a very tame, trite, politically correct work, that relies-on-mythology-for-substance: there’s a story on Aphrodite’s Apple, and other bland articles entitled ‘Could it be magic?’ and ‘Dicing with Dares’ and ‘Which Greek Goddess are you?’ There’s also some features on cooking and sewing, thrown in to ensure that some tetchy feminists buy it to use as a dart board.
The one thematic comparison between the old one and the new; is that the 2011 version has a riddle about a poodle parlour. Dogs and dog-grooming still have a place in our culture as it did in 1956. St Francis would be pleased.

Monday, 3 October 2011

A life saved...by the words of someone who speaks like they are one chromosome from a squawking bird…


I’m dumbfounded and goosebumps are multiplying on my shivering skin.
Minutes ago,  a nun got in touch with me to tell me that she was contacted by a young girl. The girl asked the nun to tell me that she had decided against an abortion and had recently had her baby. She even asked the nun to pass on some words of thanks to yours truly.
But I never even knew that the girl had been pregnant and was contemplating an abortion.  
But I met her last year. Picture it - one cold wintry evening when I was with friends, and they introduced me to their friends. This was just a random group of some good friends and new acquaintances. My friends (some of whom believe that abortions should be done for exceptions/if the mother is too young/if the mother wants to put her career first) asked me some questions about pro-life matters, and specifically why I am pro-life.  
I don’t remember my exact sentiments and honestly thought that my meagre words were without effect.
Little did I know that among the group were a very young Catholic girl and her boyfriend who were planning to abort their unborn baby.
I didn’t keep in touch with the girl, either through friends or via social networking, as she was a passing acquaintance.  Or so I thought.
This week, the girl contacted the nun because she knew that the nun knew me and trusted the nun to pass on the info that she has had the baby and has no regrets.  She was certain that whatever I said had convinced her not to have an abortion. This is quite incredible not only because I speak nervously as though I’m one chromosome from a squawking bird – but it shows that we might never ‘know’ the influence of one tiny conversation.
But until such time as women have glass wombs – we’ll never know ‘who’ we might be speaking to – mother and baby.

PS – I’ve been officially on strike from blogging (‘real’ work; deadlines and research for journalism interfere) but I think this post had to take priority.
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