From staff reports
The Diocese of Knoxville organized a day of rosaries for the sanctity of life on Jan. 22 as priests and parishioners from a number of churches stood — and knelt — in vigil in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in East Knoxville.
The diocesan Office of Justice and Peace organized the rosaries, which were supported by the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Christ the King Church in Tazewell, Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa, Immaculate Conception in Knoxville, Holy Trinity in Jefferson City, St. John Neumann in Farragut, St. Mary in Athens, All Saints in Knoxville, St. Mary in Oak Ridge, and Holy Ghost in Knoxville.
Priests who led the rosaries and participated in prayers included Father Tim Sullivan, CSP, of Immaculate Conception; Father Marcin Gladysz of Sacred Heart Cathedral; Father Alex Hernandez of All Saints; Father Bill McNeeley and Father Michael Hendershott of Holy Ghost; Father John Orr of St. Mary in Athens; and Father Patrick Resen of Holy Trinity.
“In offering our prayers and witness to the Gospel of Life, we are so grateful when our priests lead us in this witness. This past Jan 22, on the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we were blessed to have the Catholic faithful representing 10 of our parishes and seven of our priests over a four-hour period in a series of rosaries that were prayed across the street from Planned Parenthood in East Knoxville. We are so grateful for the priestly presence and the good people of 10 of our parishes who came together to pray for the protection of the unborn and for women in crisis pregnancies,” said Paul Simoneau, director of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace.
Dozens of parishioners said the rosary, recited the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and prayed for an end to abortion, which has killed more than 60 million unborn children in the United States since the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 that legalized abortion in all states.
The Planned Parenthood facility at the corner of Cherry Street and Washington Avenue is one of two abortion providers in Knoxville. The other facility, the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health on Clinch Avenue in the Fort Sanders neighborhood, also serves the inner city as well as the University of Tennessee campus.
The Knoxville Police Department reported that someone fired gunshots into the Planned Parenthood building in the early morning hours prior to the rosaries for life. The gunfire briefly closed the facility.
The shooting occurred on the 48th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling.
The Diocese of Knoxville coordinated the rosaries for life with the Knoxville Police Department days prior to the shooting incident, and an off-duty police officer in a patrol car was retained by the diocese and stationed near where the rosaries were prayed across the street from Planned Parenthood.
“As we always do, we come together to pray and to offer a loving witness to the Gospel of Life. I strive to always coordinate closely with our law enforcement and to assure them that our gathering will always be peaceful, law-abiding, and charitable. I think I have worked directly with at least six or more police district patrol commanders over the many years since Planned Parenthood first opened its doors on Cherry Street. They know us and know we will always conduct ourselves charitably and prayerfully,” Mr. Simoneau said.
“So I am so very grateful to all our parish pro-life leaders and the faithful who are truly sowers of God’s peace where the culture of death is so prominent.”
The rosaries for life opened an important weekend for pro-life activities in the diocese.
To mark the Roe v. Wade anniversary, Tennessee Right to Life’s Knox County chapter held its annual March for Life on Jan. 24 in the Fort Sanders neighborhood. Some 500 people, young to older and representing all faiths, took part in the march, carrying signs, praying the rosary, and serving in fellowship as they walked from Cumberland Avenue to the Clinch Avenue location of the Center for Reproductive Health.
The march, which was held despite the fact the national March for Life scheduled for Washington, D.C., was canceled at the last minute.
Like the Rosaries for Life, the March for Life was peaceful and prayerful, and no incidents were reported.
Mr. Simoneau announced that prayers and devotionals for an end to abortion will continue in the diocese during Lent with a new 40 Days for Life campaign.
The 40 Days for Life campaign will begin on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, and conclude just before Easter.
“The Diocese of Knoxville will be leading it’s 11th 40 Days for Life campaign of prayer, fasting, and public witness beginning Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, through Palm Sunday, March 28. Since the Planned Parenthood clinic located at 710 N. Cherry St. in Knoxville first opened its doors, the diocese has coordinated its 40 Days vigil of peaceful, law-abiding, and prayerful witness across the street from the clinic. We do not gather to protest, but to pray for women in crisis pregnancies, to give a witness of love that we pray will speak to their heart that there are loving options other than that which abortion offers,” Mr. Simoneau said.
“We pray for the unborn, and we pray for the conversion of hearts of all who legislatively promote and protect abortion as a right, and for the conversion of all the clinic staffs, nurses, and those who perform and profit from it. Particularly in this day, we are aware of the growing tensions in our country, so we try particularly hard not to give any impression of pushing limits, which is why I emphasize that our prayers are just as effective across the street on Washington Avenue as they are on the sidewalk closest to the clinic. So we keep a certain distance, relatively small as it is, so as to reinforce the peaceful and prayerful image we wish to give,” he added.
The sanctity of life continues to be a point of emphasis for Bishop Richard F. Stika, who delivers his pro-life message across the diocese and even across the country through social media and other media outlets.
“I appreciate the priests and the people coming together to pray the rosary, especially on that day (Jan. 22), which is significant. But it also was significant because that was the day the president and vice president committed to codifying Roe v. Wade, which would be a travesty, I think, for our country,” Bishop Stika said.
“So I think prayer is even more important. I would urge people to pray a daily rosary for the end of abortion, which now seems to be almost unlimited and promoted as women’s health care, which it’s not,” he added. “Symbolically, it’s important to be in front of that clinic, but also I would urge people to pray the rosary every day for a radical change in what seems to be another assault on life. Padre Pio said the rosary is the most powerful tool against evil, so I urge people to follow his suggestion.”
Mr. Simoneau said he has been asked over time what it is that motivates his pro-life work.
“I have two answers, the second of which is very personal for me. First, and particularly at this time in our country’s history, the stern words of St. John Paul II that he spoke in 1993 during the World Youth Day in Denver echo uncomfortably louder: ‘Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life,’” Mr. Simoneau said.
“I am also mindful of another prophetic voice—St. Teresa of Kolkata—who, in her address at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. (in the presence of President Bill and Hillary Clinton), said that ‘the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.’ So it shocks the conscience to think that, in the 48 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, over 63 million unborn children have been aborted. The second reason is that my own mother had two abortions. That revelation alone has fueled my prayers for all women in crisis pregnancies,” he added.
Mr. Simoneau said the number of U.S. unborn children killed by abortion is staggering, but it’s relatively small next to the number of unborn children killed by abortion annually around the world.
“With the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we can only gasp in horror at the toll of this most terrible of genocides — 63 million innocent unborn babies, and this is just in our country alone. It’s an average of 1,312,500 innocent lives brutally slaughtered every year in our country since 1973 — 25,000 a week. And this pales in comparison to the world number of well over 50 million unborn children aborted every year,” he said.
“So we mustn’t fear in these times. In the words of David Carollo, executive director of the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA, in his great article ‘The Sacrifice of Those Who Follow Him’: Be strong in these times. Pray always, especially the rosary. It is the weapon to fight the errors of this time.’ And this is what we must do,” Mr. Simoneau concluded.