Traveling priest celebrates Mass as advocates save lives

Miscellany/Doug Deas: Father Stephen Imbarrato celebrates Mass outside Planned Parenthood in Charleson March 16. Father Imbarrato travels around the country each year promoting life from his mobile RV that is both home and chapel.

DIOCESE—At least 10 babies were saved in the Upstate and Mass was celebrated as part of a profound pro-life witness outside an abortion clinic in Charleston during the annual spring 40 Days for Life campaign. 

The national pro-life event started Feb. 17 and celebrates its closing ceremonies on March 28. During the 40 days, volunteers conduct peaceful, prayerful, all-day vigils outside abortion facilities, praying for an end to abortion and providing crisis pregnancy information to women. 

In South Carolina, 40 Days campaigns were held in Columbia outside the Planned Parenthood on Middleburg Drive, in Charleston outside the Planned Parenthood on Ashley River Road, and in Greenville at the Piedmont Women’s Center.

Early on the morning of March 16, about 30 people praying outside Planned Parenthood in Charleston received a rare opportunity to attend Mass outside the clinic. 

Father Stephen Imbarrato, a New Mexico-based priest who travels the country each year promoting the pro-life message, celebrated Mass from inside a specially-equipped RV that is his home on the road. The RV includes a chapel area with an altar. The priest received permission from Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone to celebrate the Mass. 

Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays: A participant at 40 Days for Life in Charleston holds a sign outside Planned Parenthood on March 19.

Father Imbarrato had already been on the road for nearly three weeks when he arrived in South Carolina for the Charleston event. He was invited to South Carolina by a Catholic woman involved with Pro-life Charleston who heard about his ministry from friends in New Mexico. 

“This was the first time I’ve brought my ministry to South Carolina,” Father Imbarrato said. “I feel that the Mass always brings great grace, and I believe every time I celebrate Mass in front of an abortion facility that it can bring grace to, and energize, the pro-life volunteers who are gathered there, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.” 

People who came to pray outside the clinic a few days later could have used some of Father Imbarrato’s extra prayers as they encountered a group of vocal pro-abortion protesters. The group, mostly young adults, held pro-choice signs aloft, shouted at 40 Days for Life participants, berated them, and took photos and videos of the group. They also were confrontational toward photographers documenting the vigil. 

This is not the first time that people praying outside the clinic have encountered volatile protestors. The confrontational style is an increasing trend among pro-choice protesters nationwide. Over the past several months, those praying outside the clinic in Greenville have also dealt with similar protesters, including a few who have become physically threatening. Still, the vigil participants keep coming and keep praying for an end to abortion.

From Charleston, Father Imbarrato also traveled to Columbia on March 17, where he spoke to student members of the Advocates for Life group at the University of South Carolina, which includes Catholics and members of several other Christian denominations.

Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays: 40 Days for Life participants hold signs and pray the rosary outside Planned Parenthood in Charleston on March 19.

Father Imbarrato told the students the story of his ministry and discussed the current state of the pro-life movement. After leaving Columbia, he headed to Florida for some much-needed rest and a prayer vigil in Orlando, and then was set to take his ministry north to Delaware and Washington, D.C. 

One of the biggest goals of the 40 Days for Life campaign is to achieve “saves,” meaning volunteers persuade abortion-minded women to instead choose life for her baby. The national organization estimates about 330 babies have been saved since Feb. 17. 

Valerie Baronkin, the Respect Life Coordinator for the Greenville Deanery and a member of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville, credited the dedicated people at the Greenville vigil for getting 10 Upstate women to choose life for their babies. And that was with 10 days left to go in the campaign. 

Upstate participants also reported a large number of “turn-aways,” meaning women who approached the abortion clinic instead went to the nearby crisis pregnancy center for services, Baronkin said. 

The Greenville effort has a special event planned for the campaign’s closing celebration on March 28, Palm Sunday, where nine moms who chose life for their babies will be thrown a baby shower filled with gifts and baby supplies.