What looked to be a soggy Rosary For Life instead became a powerful witness for God and the sanctity of life Jan. 11 as a persistent downpour dried up when Cardinal Justin Rigali began prayer in front of Planned Parenthood’s East Knoxville clinic.
Some 250 people from across the Diocese of Knoxville braved the early morning rain to gather in peaceful solidarity and say the rosary in front of the Planned Parenthood facility at 710 N. Cherry St.
Pro-life supporters lined sidewalks on both sides of the street in front of the clinic, listening to Cardinal Rigali pray in English and Spanish and say the joyful mysteries.
“Dear friends in Christ, thank you for joining me on this wintry morning. How grateful Bishop [Richard F.] Stika and I are for your generosity in gathering together to offer this witness of hope and love. Bishop Stika offers his prayers for all of you and joins with you spiritually,” Cardinal Rigali said.
Bishop Stika could not be attendance because he was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Diocesan Men’s Conference, a daylong event at another diocesan site.
“We assemble to search for that light of which St. Paul speaks in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘to bring light … the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God, who created all things …’ The light and the plan of God is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh,” Cardinal Rigali continued.
“In the Church’s calendar, our Christmas celebration of the coming of this light into our world is followed only three days later by the feast of the Holy Innocents. On this day we remember in a special way the innocent victims of King Herod — and we continue to remember the innocent victims of the Herods of every generation.
“But through the light of your witness and prayers, a witness of hope and love, this site across the street where innocent blood is spilled and so many lives are forever wounded will someday instead become a place of light and healing.
“The brilliance of the light of Christ is reflected in every human life, and in a most magnificent way from the womb. Painfully and tragically, the law of the land has failed to recognize the light of this truth for the past 41 years. But on this street corner across from where so much darkness lies behind closed doors, the light of Christ has gathered. How resplendent is the radiance of the light of Jesus Christ!”
Catholics from across the diocese joined in the Rosary For Life, traveling from Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities, and other towns to show support. Several churches sent groups of parishioners to join in the rosary.
“We are extremely pleased with the turnout and the number of people who braved the rainy weather to travel to the Rosary For Life. I asked the Handmaids of the Precious Blood to pray for a break in the weather. They offered a special intention and kept a prayer vigil through the night. The weather broke at 10 o’clock, just as the rosary started,” said Paul Simoneau, diocesan vice chancellor and director of the Office of Justice and Peace who organized the fourth annual Rosary For Life.
Mr. Simoneau said he was particularly grateful to the Handmaids, an order of cloistered nuns who offer their lives for the sanctification of priests in eucharistic adoration and live at the diocese’s Christ Prince of Peace Retreat Center in Benton, for their prayers. The Rosary For Life also was supported by the prayerful presence of other religious communities, including the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, the Missionary Congregation of the Evangelizing Sisters of Mary, and the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George.
He also was heartened by the show of support of Catholics keeping vigil amid inclement weather.
“With the media there, it shows how committed Catholics are to giving a witness to the sanctity of life no matter the weather or political climate,” Mr. Simoneau said.
One of the parishioners in attendance, Lisa Morris of Sacred Heart Parish in Knoxville, also was impressed with the turnout, given the threatening weather.
“Just the fact that people know the power of prayer, that it changes hearts and changes lives and changes the world around us, is so very important,” she said. “With the rain, all I could think about were tears from heaven and how all of us gathered together to pray for an end to abortion. It’s as if they were tears from heaven as we gathered and then the rain stopped, which was a blessing.”
Recent pro-life gains are giving hope to supporters that a culture of life is overtaking a culture of death.
Kym McCormick, who attends St. Mary Church in Athens with her husband, Michael, and their eight children, watched as her 8-year-old son Sean recited prayers before the 250 in attendance during the Rosary For Life.
“This is very positive. This is hope. The tide is turning with this generation,” she said. “All the abortion clinics that have closed shows the power of prayer. We’ve been strengthened by the Catholic community and the Christian community. Our children have been saying they hope to be the generation that ends abortion.”
Lydia Donahue, a parishioner at St. John Neumann Church in Farragut who attended the Rosary For Life with her four daughters, said she has been active in the pro-life movement since its early grassroots days following the Roe v. Wade decision.
“I was so inspired by the turnout, especially given the weather. It makes you appreciate how everyone understands how important life is,” Mrs Donahue said. “It’s sad we’re still here, but it inspires me to see how many others know how important it is.”
January is the beginning of an important year for the pro-life cause in Tennessee. Following the Rosary For Life, the annual March For Life, sponsored by Tennessee Right to Life, will be held Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church on Kingston Pike, and the national March For Life rally in Washington, D.C., will be held Jan. 22.
Then the diocese’s 40 Days For Life prayer vigil begins on March 5, Ash Wednesday, and concludes April 13, Palm Sunday, at Planned Parenthood’s East Knoxville location.
A critical pro-life vote on the state Constitution will be held in November, when Tennesseans will be asked to vote “Yes” on Amendment 1, which would allow passage and enforcement of common-sense policies designed to protect the health and safety of women and girls considering abortion.
Mrs. Morris and Mr. Simoneau agreed that the success of the fourth annual Rosary For Life creates an inspirational segue to the 40 Days For Life vigil.
“The Rosary For Life gave people a chance to see it, feel it, and become familiar with it as we pray that Planned Parenthood comes full circle and stands with us for the sanctity of life,” Mrs. Morris said.