Following a tour of the former Planned Parenthood site in Bryan, a Vatican official said he was deeply touched by the visit to what once was a "house of pain and great trouble, and especially great loneliness."
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia said through a translator Sunday that seeing the building, now the Brazos Valley Coalition for Life offices, transformed into a "house of life" is the type of thing that increases one's hope in miracles.
Paglia, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, was invited to stop in at the 40 Days for Life headquarters during his trip to Texas where he's scheduled to address U.S. Catholic bishops.
The 40-day campaign, which started in Bryan in 2004 and went nationwide in 2007, includes daily prayer, peaceful activism and fasting.
Paglia was appointed by Pope Francis to his position as head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican's primary agency for supporting the sanctity of human life. Paglia offered his official endorsement of 40 Days for Life, a now-international campaign born out of the Coalition for Life in Bryan-College Station by local anti-abortion advocates.
The Vatican official said he was told about the initiative by friends who live in the United States and said he "immediately" agreed to send his endorsement when asked last fall. Paglia compared 40 Days for Life to "life blooming like a flower."
He said the "miracle he saw most" while touring the facility Sunday was "the hearts that have become passionate" for the protection of life.
"When you let yourself be guided by the gospel, miracles do happen, and the world is no longer the same," Paglia said. "And it's not just buildings that change. It's hearts."
Coalition for Life purchased the 29th Street building two years after the clinic closed its doors.
After more than 20 years in Aggieland, the Houston-based Planned Parenthood offices expanded its services in 1999 to include abortion procedures and open the facility on 29th Street. When Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast representatives shut down the clinic in 2013, they said the closure was a result of deep state funding cuts and the Texas Legislature's decision in 2011 to no longer accept Women's Health Program coverage at the nonprofit. Other services made up the majority of the organization's offerings, including pregnancy testing, contraceptive counseling, sexually transmitted disease testing, AIDS testing and screening for cancer.
Sunday was Paglia's first visit to a site where abortions once were performed. He said he was particularly touched knowing the number of "lives that had been lost" in the former Planned Parenthood building.
In a discussion with media following his tour and meetings with 40 Days for Life officials, Paglia discussed what he said Pope Francis describes as a throwaway culture, where the "world continues today to throw away life," whether it be through the abortion of unborn children, the violence of war or the abandonment of the elderly.
"Here in this facility that whole culture is reversed, turned on its head," Paglia said. "Here, no one's thrown away, and no one's abandoned."
Paglia said he believes the church can be "like a lung that will give fresh air" in a climate of "spiritual dryness" around the world. He points to 40 Days for Life as an example of what should be done, in that society needs to raise up people who can "reverse the thinking that seems to be gaining ground."
Paglia left the tour with a brick once a part of a wall outside the Planned Parenthood location. Paglia said he'll tell the Pope that on his visit he met Christians who are passionate about the joy of life, saying he hopes that "this passion continues to become broader and more effective."