Holy Trinity Parish hosts noted priest during 40 Days for Life; rosaries at clinics prayed
By Bill Brewer
Diocese of Knoxville parishioners keeping prayerful vigil during the 40 Days for Life ministry received an unexpected grace in March when Father Stephen Imbarrato, a national pro-life activist and speaker, brought his unique brand of “protest” to Knoxville’s Planned Parenthood facility.
Father Imbarrato, often referred to as the “Protest Priest,” has appeared on EWTN and is a leader of the Red Rose Rescue movement that counsels women who are seeking abortions. He travels the country, towing his Winnebago camping trailer behind an SUV, going city to city to pray for an end to abortion.
He visited East Tennessee in March, parking his mobile chapel at Holy Trinity Church in Jefferson City and at two Knoxville abortion facilities.
Each day from Ash Wednesday through Palm Sunday, members of diocesan churches and other denominations prayed across the street from Planned Parenthood for abortion to end and for the sanctity of life as part of the national Lenten 40 Days for Life campaign.
Father Imbarrato pulled his SUV with mobile chapel in tow in front of Planned Parenthood on March 6 for a 10 a.m. Mass. As he spoke to those keeping vigil, he propped open the camper’s door and main window, revealing a small altar supporting a crucifix, pyx, chalice, candles, holy water and wine, and the sacred Scripture. To the side of the altar, Father Imbarrato had set up a tripod holding his smart phone, which was livestreaming the Mass on social media, where he has thousands of followers.
He delivered his homily from the camper doorway facing Planned Parenthood, reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son.
“Does the story end with the older son saying, ‘You’re right Dad, I’m glad he’s back. I’m convicted; I’m going to come in and celebrate with you’? We don’t know. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know if the older son ever went into the feast, embraced his brother, accepted his father again, and stopped being angry at the whole situation,” Father Imbarrato said.
“… We don’t really ever want to be the younger son, but we’re all sinners. And in our sins we want to always come to our senses, or actually maintain our senses, meaning that when our passions run wild we always want to make sure that our intellect controls our desire to do the good so that we can always, always ask for forgiveness when our passions run away with us. We don’t ever want our passions to corrupt our desire to do good, or what’s worse, to corrupt our conscience, which really is what happened to the older son. It also happened to the younger son, but he came to his senses. The older son still has his conscience corrupted. He’s misconstruing everything in his mind; he’s rationalizing his sin. He’s not seeing his sin. We don’t ever want to be there. We don’t want to be where the scribes, the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews, the older son is.
“We always want to have our sins before us. I am sure the younger son, having come to his senses, over and over again, was grateful to the father, over and over again, for accepting him and embracing him, and he probably was a much different person than he was before he left. He probably was a selfish, young, punk kid before he left. Now, he’s much fuller; he has a fullness of dignity,” he added. “We don’t want to be in those places. We really do want to maintain our senses, come to our senses, after we sin and always ask for forgiveness.”
Father Imbarrato was in the Diocese of Knoxville at the invitation of Father Patrick Resen and his congregation at Holy Trinity Church in Jefferson City, where Father Imbarrato held a weeklong mission.
“My message was a Lenten mission of mercy, the connection between being faithful and obedient. Obedience to truth is intrinsic to Christ’s mercy. When we admit our sins, He is merciful,” Father Imbarrato said. “I talked about the prodigal son — I call it the parable of the merciful father where the older son represents the Pharisees and the younger son represents all the sinners. I spoke about Mary and St. Joseph, about Christ being merciful with the woman at the well, with the man born blind, and with Lazarus.”
During his visit, the traveling priest combined the Lenten needs of Holy Trinity Parish with the pro-life aspect of his ministry.
Father Resen, pastor of Holy Trinity, and Holy Trinity members asked Father Imbarrato for a return visit to East Tennessee.
“Holy Trinity was pleased and blessed to have Father Imbarrato preach our Lenten mission; it is the second time he has led a mission here and many people asked to have him back. We were not disappointed. He is direct, succinct, and unpretentious; he goes to the heart of matters,” Father Resen said.
“I am not surprised by Father Imbarrato’s mobile pro-life ministry. He was the leader of our pro-life activities in seminary and inspired many then as he does now. It is a great idea and is a great success. God be with him each day on this ministry. Ad multos annos,” Father Resen added.
Father Imbarrato prayed in front of the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health near the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus and celebrated Mass in front of Planned Parenthood on Cherry Street at Washington Avenue in East Knoxville, where pro-life volunteers were taking part in the Lenten 40 Days for Life daily prayer vigil.
“I minister to the frontline pro-lifers. That is what my On the Road for Life pro-life ministry is about primarily,” Father Imbarrato said. “I call these abortion mills modern-day Calvary. We all need to be at the foot of the cross on Calvary.”
Father Imbarrato spends many of his days traveling along Interstate 40 from his home base in Albuquerque, N.M., to points eastward. On this five-week trip, which began Feb. 24 and ended on Holy Thursday, he made stops in Memphis, Nashville, Wilmington, N.C., Conyers, Ga., Charleston, S.C., Columbia, S.C., and Orlando, Fla., in addition to Knoxville and Jefferson City.
The retired priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe estimated he spends about half the year on the road and half at his home in Albuquerque. He spent his 69th birthday on March 19 praying in front of an abortion facility.
He and his mobile chapel don’t plan on slowing down. In fact, he‘s applying for citizenship in Ireland so he can take his On the Road for Life ministry to that country.
In the meantime, the prevalence of abortion in the United States continues to fill his prayers.
“God willing, I’m going to do this ministry until the end of abortion and as long as I’m still able,” he said. “There are people in this movement who think we are winning. I am never going to say we are winning while thousands are being mass murdered every day in abortion mills.”
Paul Simoneau, Diocese of Knoxville vice chancellor and director of the diocese’s Office of Justice and Peace, organized the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil, assisted by Lisa Morris, president of the Sacred Heart Apostolate and a member of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Mr. Simoneau and Mrs. Morris called the 40 days of prayer inspirational.
“Our Lenten 40 Days for Life campaign, our 11th since our first campaign in 2007, was a tremendous success with regard to participating churches. We had 29 in total — 15 Catholic churches and 14 Protestant churches — which represents our best ecumenical campaign ever. It always is impressive to see a Baptist pastor and one of our priests out on the sidewalk, shoulder to shoulder, Mr. Simoneau said. “The beauty of it was that we all knew we were there to pray, and that is exactly what we did. Over the course of weeks, Catholics and Protestants got to know each other and friendships grew from it.”
Mr. Simoneau and Mrs. Morris were impressed by the number of mothers and children who took part.
“What an incredible witness to the Gospel of Life they are — there is none greater than a mother and child together on the sidewalk praying,” Mr. Simoneau noted.
Mr. Simoneau was disappointed by one development during the 40 Days for Life. The Planned Parenthood facility on Cherry Street at Washington Avenue, where the vigil was held, began an expansion of its operation.
“What breaks my heart is watching the excavation that began for Planned Parenthood’s expansion plan to double the size of their building, presumably to do surgical abortions. Presently, they advertise only chemical abortion (RU-486). During the excavation of the property behind Planned Parenthood, it took on the horrible image of a “mass grave” — as macabre as that image is, the reality is that Planned Parenthood is in the business of murdering innocent human life on a genocidal scale.
Roughly a million babies are brutally aborted each year. If one considers that between 1939-1945, Nazi Germany exterminated 6 million Jews, an average of a million a year, than you can understand why abortion is truly a genocide — nothing less,” he said.
Mr. Simoneau was grateful for Father Imbarrato’s witness and his celebration of Mass in front of Planned Parenthood, a first for the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil.
Mr. Simoneau emphasized that the entire 40 Days vigil was peaceful, prayerful, and law-abiding.
“For those wondering if any laws were broken or limits pushed, I can answer emphatically, ‘Absolutely not!’ The condition for anyone participating in our 40 Days for Life is that it must be prayerful, peaceful, and law-abiding. Nothing is accomplished by pushing limits or breaking the law. To do so would only incentivize Planned Parenthood’s base and give them ammunition to have restrictions upon our right to assemble and pray,” he said.
“We pride ourselves with working closely with the police in the leadup to each campaign and we have a superb relationship with them. They know we’re there to pray and to offer a loving witness to the Gospel of Life, not to harass or frighten women in a crisis pregnancy.
“A pregnant woman needs to know that we are there to offer them help and loving alternatives to abortion, and that is what we have tried to do in every 40 Days for Life campaign,” he added.