Tony Rizzo felt puzzled while watching the young man walk out the door and down the busy street.
The two had just met. There was a one-way exchange of information, love and understanding for the father-to-be. The latter left angry and sarcastic.
Stunned, Rizzo, men’s program manager for First Way Pregnancy Center, knew that he had done all he could to help this single, expectant father try to cope with his girlfriend’s pregnancy, but he wasn’t able to reach him.
“A month later, he came back, shook my hand and said to me, ‘I wasn’t very nice to you. I am sorry about that,’” said Rizzo. “That was huge and amazing that he came back. I believe it was because we refused to let go of the guy. We treated him with love throughout, even when he wasn’t loving back. That sticks. That is the breach and that is the way it works.”
In his Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, “Into the Breach,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted called to his brothers in Christ: “Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men.”
He spoke of the spiritual battle that is systematically killing the remaining Christian ethos in homes, society and the world and encouraged men to step into the breach to make a difference.
When Rizzo heard the bishop’s exhortation, it hit home. Four years ago, he suggested to First Way Executive Director Christine Accurso that he begin a men’s program. He has labored in the breach, among the often silent men who either lose children to abortion, or suddenly find themselves with a baby on the way.
“Some guys, their hearts are hard when they leave here,” Rizzo said. “We do the best we can with the help of God. … When I talk with these guys, I ask them if there is anyone else in their lives who talks to them like this and they say no. We need more men to stand up and help these men, many of whom do not have fathers in the picture.”
Rizzo and his wife, Linda, have two children and two grandchildren and are members of St. Joan of Arc Parish where they are involved in the respect life ministry. Rizzo has also served on the parish council and worked with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office developing initiatives to prevent elder abuse and financial exploitation.
When Rizzo retired from his career as management consultant in the finance and technology field, he was looking to expand his work in the pro-life ministry to reach out to underserved fathers.
“While my wife and I were members of a respect life group and were pro-life, I wasn’t that conversive and really wanted to become more involved, especially for the men, where there is a big gap,” he said.
“I heard that First Way might be starting a men’s program and I asked to be part of it. There were many services for women and post-abortive men, but nothing for the men coming in the door with a big decision facing him. They are afraid, nervous, upset, questioning, sometimes happy, but mostly worried about this unplanned pregnancy and sitting in the waiting room, not knowing what is going on.”
First Way offers a Saturday education program for men as well as one-on-one counseling sessions. Through their participation in the weekly discussions, men can earn Baby Bucks, which go toward items such as diapers, diaper bags and clothing. The classes help men learn to be the head of a household and what they can do to create a happy home. With facilitators like Rizzo, men discuss a variety of topics such as parenting, being a husband and the dangers of pornography.
“I also discuss their understanding of parenting, the needs of a child and their vision of being a father, and their support system,” said Rizzo. “We are careful not to assume anything, but to always ask them about their feelings.”
In speaking to men about life, when it begins, having them hold models of babies at various stages of development and allowing them to see their unborn babies with their two on-site ultrasound machines, Rizzo is educating men on fatherhood and family, explained Accurso.
“Through telling them about the program, this is introducing the breach in our whole culture,” she said. “Tony has been awesome by helping other pregnancy centers to get their men’s programs started. God wrote on his heart and now he has formed many other men to do the same thing. A lot of men who were in our program are volunteers here now. I think that is pretty incredible.”