Diocese of Knoxville pilgrims tackle weather to march for life

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A commitment to being pro-life can make heady demands on a person, be it a holy hour in eucharistic adoration in the wee hours of the morning or simply holding true to what for some is an unpopular stance.

A youthful contingent from the Diocese of Knoxville gather in front of the U.S.  Supreme Court during the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22. Photo by Stephanie Richer

A youthful contingent from the Diocese of Knoxville gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22.
Photo by Stephanie Richer

It is one thing for a person to talk the talk, but at this year’s national March for Life, parishioners and youth from the Diocese of Knoxville showed they could walk the walk. And they did so in sub-zero weather.

A group of pilgrims from the diocese traveled overnight on Jan. 20 to Washington, D.C., to be present at the annual pro-life gathering. The event is a peaceful demonstration to honor life and is held each year on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the United States in 1973. Since 1974, people have gathered to march from the National Mall to the Supreme Court to witness for the sanctity of life.

Although the March for Life is largely attended by Catholic schools and parishes, people of other denominations join in.

The largest group representing the Diocese of Knoxville consisted of students from Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga. Students
from the University of Tennessee and East Tennessee State University also made the trip, along with parishioners and youth from St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Madisonville, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Chattanooga, St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City, St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge), St. Albert the Great Church in Knoxville, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux Church in Cleveland.

Father Michael Cummins, chaplain at Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Catholic Student Center, accompanied the youth as did Dominican Sisters Agnes, Celeste, and Mary Margaret.

The group drove through the night, arriving in time to attend a morning Mass Jan. 21 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic basilica in Washington, D.C. Despite a significant winter storm battering the capital, the group managed to see various monuments and museums before heading out, through a heavy snow, to the Patriot Center at George Mason University, for an evening of prayer sponsored by the
Diocese of Arlington.

The “Life is Very Good” evening event included inspirational talks by Father Agostino Torres, CFR, a priest with the Franciscan Friars of Renewal, which ministers in the ghetto of the South Bronx, and Mary Bielski, a nationally acclaimed Catholic speaker. The highlight of the evening for the youth was the popular musician Matt Maher, who is on tour supporting his new album, All the People Said Amen.

By early Jan. 22, the snow had stopped, although behind the storm came bitterly cold temperatures. The high for the March for Life was 22 degrees, but the wind chill factor drove it down to -2 degrees. The group returned to the Patriot Center for the Life Is Very Good rally and Mass.

Father Torres and Ms. Bielski once again pumped up the crowd and musician Josh Blakesley, who entertained Diocese of Knoxville youth in September at the Eucharistic Congress, provided entertainment before Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington celebrated the Holy Eucharist. Nourished by Christ, the group made its way via the underground metro to the National Mall – and into the cold.

Trudging over the snow that covered the mall and braced against the wind, those representing the Diocese of Knoxville joined some 500,000 other
pilgrims who were bundled under multiple layers of clothing. The bitter cold was repelled with knit scarves, heavy parkas – and singing, chanting, and prayer.

Along the march, people sang hymns while bands played, and there were the sounds of various groups praying the rosary aloud. The
marchers were varied but one thing was clear: the pro-life movement is largely a youth movement, as shown by the majority of high schools and colleges present in Washington. Young faces filled the crowd, mostly smiling and happy despite the freezing temperatures. The group made their way to the steps of the Supreme Court, where women who had undergone abortions and men who lost their children to abortion told their stories, so as to help others with like circumstances heal.

After the march, the group boarded the buses for a long drive home through the night. For many, the warmth of the bus and the fatigue of the non-stop activity during the trip brought sleep quickly. And it was a sleep well-earned. They had “finished the march, they have kept the faith,” to paraphrase St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, And above all, our diocese showed that we are people of life.

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