Nothing is quite as exciting as encountering a strong, enthusiastic Catholic priest who is inspiring an entire parish to do God's will, stand in the gap and defend the innocents. There's something so blessed about being able to share a story with the special twist of holiness.
In this case, I am referring to Father James Farfaglia, pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus in Corpus Christi, Texas.
When you visit the web site for this parish, you are automatically impressed by the invitation the parish extends:
We are Corpus Christi's newest Catholic parish family. We are pro-life, pro-family and loyal to Pope Benedict XVI and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Everyone is welcome! Come join this young, joyful and dynamic parish community.
If your identity is centered on your religious beliefs and your morality derives from those beliefs; if you are attracted to a worldview that challenges many of the values of the current secular culture; if you want to embrace challenging faith commitments that offer firm guidelines on living a healthy, moral and happy life; if you long for mystery and trust your intuition that what you are looking for has to be true, real and worth living to the fullest; if you are seeking guidance and formation from legitimate sources of authority and want to trust these to help find lasting happiness and avoid repeating painful mistakes of the past; if you are striving for personal holiness, authenticity and integration in your spiritual life and are attracted to people that do the same; if you are repelled by complacency, hypocrisy and pandering; if you are concerned with impacting and engaging the larger culture and want to live out your beliefs among an authentic community that supports and holds you accountable...then this the place for you!
And that's just for starters. Father Farfaglia is a pastor on fire for life and the truth of Catholic teaching. He has been a lightening rod in many ways, not only in Corpus Christi, but also in his willingness to reach out and speak the truth, in season and out. He is one of Archbishop Raymond Burke's strongest defenders. One year ago, the archbishop spoke out about St. Louis University's basketball coach, Rick Majerus, explaining to the media that because Majerus publicly voiced his support for abortion, the archbishop would deny him Holy Communion.
The archbishop's comment ignited a firestorm of media controversy that went far beyond Missouri borders, and of course, treated the archbishop as the bad guy!
But Father Farfaglia set the record straight when he told noted Catholic columnist Matt Abbott,
I applaud Archbishop Raymond Burke's courage. He is always speaking out with clarity regarding pro-life issues. If every bishop in America were to follow his example, the horror of legalized abortion would be over with. Too many bishops hide behind the walls of their cathedrals and do not speak out. Too many of our bishops will not take a stand against Catholics who openly defy Church teaching. The scandal of our times is the hierarchy who are not speaking out. Let us pray for the few bishops that do have the courage to take a stand.
In the past, I have noted Father Farfaglia's commitment to truth and his dedication to lifting up and inspiring his flock. For example, when Therese Perez, a parishioner, generated opposition to local funding for Planned Parenthood and won that battle, it was Father who paid her the ultimate compliment by telling us at American Life League that Therese is the Joan of Arc of Corpus Christi.
And just this past week, we learned that National Catholic Register has taken note of Father Farfaglia's remarkable leadership qualities in an article entitled "Parish's big victories."
In what I believe is a seminal report on what can happen when a Catholic parish is invigorated by dynamic leadership that is both spiritually and action-oriented, we learn the following:
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.
Pro-life activists in Corpus Christi are blessed to be led by a number of inspiring leaders, including retired Bishop Rene Gracida and fearless attorney Cliff Zarsky. But in order to make significant progress, the pro-life effort needs the commitment of young, vibrant priests like Father James Farfaglia. His efforts are a testimony to the effectiveness of speaking the truth in word and deed, and with love and dedication, to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to restore personhood for preborn babies.
The pro-life movement needs more saints, and it occurs to me that we could take a page from the book of Saint Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Christ, whose worthy actions were described by early Catholic Church historian Eusebius.
Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile. While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds,… she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct. (The Life of Constantine, XLIV, XLV)
Thank you, Father James Farfaglia! May your zeal be infectious far beyond the borders of Corpus Christi, Texas!