Diocese of Knoxville’s Lenten season begins with 40 Days for Life

Vigil will be held in front of East Knoxville Planned Parenthood facility Feb. 18-March 29; parishioners urged to take part

As issues concerning the sanctity of life and protection of the unborn take center stage in Tennessee following the passage of Amendment 1 and the start of the legislative session, the Diocese of Knoxville will hold a pro-life observance during the 40 days of Lent.

Parishioners from across the diocese will again take part in the vigil that will be held in front of Planned Parenthood’s East Knoxville abortion facility at 710 N. Cherry St.

The observance is being organized by the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace, which is seeking participation by as many of the diocese’s 49 parishes and two missions as possible.

The observance is part of an international Catholic effort to pray for the sanctity of life and bring an end to abortion.

This Lent, 27 nations and 559 cities will be participating in the 40 Days for Life campaign. It will be the seventh year that the Diocese of Knoxville has participated in the campaign.

Last year in the diocese, 18 parishes and five Catholic groups participated in the 40 Days campaign, keeping a daily vigil from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Bishop Richard F. Stika was joined by students from diocesan schools in saying the rosary at the site during the vigil. Paul Simoneau, director of the Office of Justice and Peace, and Lisa Morris of Sacred Heart Cathedral are the co-directors of the diocesan campaign.

“Last year was our first year holding the campaign in front of Planned Parenthood and it was also the first time we attempted to have parishes and Catholic groups adopt whole days of vigil,” Mr. Simoneau said.

“In previous years we tried to get individuals to fill one- or two-hour blocks of time to cover each day, but this made managing the campaign much more difficult as we frequently had gaps in the day that required us to call for assistance from others.  So last year, we decided to try to get parishes and Catholic groups to adopt days of vigil. This significantly eased the work needed to keep our vigil continuously manned. We were able to cover 27 of the 40 days, which was a blessing. This year, we’re hoping we can get all 40 days adopted,” he added.

Cardinal Justin Rigali began the year with a Rosary for Life on Jan. 10 in front of the East Knoxville Planned Parenthood building where abortion services are offered. About 250 parishioners from across the diocese took part in the rosary.

Pro-life legislation is at the forefront of the General Assembly’s agenda this legislative season, with several bills to more closely regulate  abortion under consideration after the constitutional amendment was adopted by voters.

While passage of the amendment has no immediate effect on abortion policies in Tennessee, it does give lawmakers more power in enacting abortion regulations and restrictions in the state.

The diocese’s 40-day vigil will promote prayer to help make the worldwide movement to protect mothers and babies successful.

“We’re off to a good start this year, but we still have lots of work ahead of us to ready for the campaign. I am always indebted to Lisa and Robb Morris who are so generous with their time, prayers and efforts.  Without them, this campaign would not be possible,” Mr. Simoneau said.

The married couple have for years been active in the diocese’s pro-life ministry.

Mr. Simoneau emphasized that the vigil is peaceful and nonconfrontational and meets with all required approvals.

“Our primary goal is always the safety of all who participate. We work closely each year with the Knoxville Police Department and brief them on our campaign. They know that our efforts are meant to be peaceful, prayerful and law-abiding, and that participants must sign a “peace statement” stating as much. We’re not about pushing limits or antagonizing anyone. That’s not who we are. We come to pray and to offer a loving witness to the Gospel of Life,” Mr. Simoneau noted.

Mr. Simoneau and Mr. and Mrs. Morris hope every parish in the greater Knoxville area will be represented during the vigil.

“We’re already blessed with the pledge of groups such as Tennessee Right to Life, the Ladies of Charity, Knights of Columbus, the Frassati Fellowship, Holy Ghost St. Vincent de Paul, and the American Heritage Girls. The larger parishes of All Saints and St. John Neumann churches have again led the way with adopting a number of days each. St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Lenoir City has adopted two days, and when you think of the distance they must cover to get to Cherry Street, it is a much-appreciated sacrifice of their time to be present on those days,” Mr. Simoneau said.

“I was truly impressed last year to see parishioners from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Maynardville and St. John Paul II in Rutledge come together to adopt a day. We even had parishioners from the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga drive up and spend several hours in prayer on a number of occasions,” he added.

Mr. Simoneau said he and Mrs. Morris usually set up and take down the prayer site each day and help fill gaps in the vigil schedule. While they welcome any assistance, they are uplifted by the experience.

“Though it can be kind of exhausting at times, we both draw such inspiration from those who come each day to brave the cold and rain in order to give a loving witness to life—they really reinvigorate us. If anyone is interested in helping us with the day-to-day operations, we would love to hear from them.  We can be reached at psimoneau@dioknox.org and lccte@bellsouth.net,” he said.

Mr. Simoneau pointed out that many people give of themselves to make the 40 Days For Life campaign a success. And there are many more who work year-round to promote the sanctity of life.

“Giving witness to the Gospel of Life is such a team effort. When I think about this campaign, I also think of those such as Sandi Davidson and those at Catholic Charities of East Tennessee who do so much to give hope to those who are struggling with an unplanned pregnancy.  We are so blessed by their day-to-day efforts. And there are the legislative and educational efforts of those at Tennessee Right to Life who do so much to help build awareness and solidarity. Without their efforts, Amendment 1 would not have passed.

“I also think of Pastor Cecil Clark of True Vine Baptist Church, who has been keeping a weekly vigil of prayer in front of Planned Parenthood every Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. since 2012. How blessed we are by so many who give so much of themselves to praying and fasting for life. I pray that this will be our best campaign yet. That prayer can only be answered by those volunteering to help during the 40 days of the campaign,” Mr. Simoneau said.

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