Pilgrimage for Life held at Memorial for Unborn

Diocesan youth ministry office organizes event that unites pro-lifers from throughout East Tennessee

By Carolyn Krings

The Chattanooga National Memorial for the Unborn is dedicated to healing generations of pain associated with the loss of aborted and miscarried children.” This was the site for the 2021 Pilgrimage for Life: Together Strong, Life Unites held Jan. 30.

The traditional March For Life in Washington, D.C., was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions. Thinking creatively, the diocesan Office of Youth, Young Adult, and Pastoral Juvenil Ministry team united to offer this event, so the message of life would not be lost. A pilgrimage was a great opportunity to unite voices with other organizations holding prolife events across the United States.

Brittany Garcia, director of the office, rejoiced in the collaboration of the many valuable people: “The various speakers, the Knights of Columbus, the Office of Justice & Peace, and ‘our team’ all played an important role in this event.”

What a joy to experience this pilgrimage journey with the youth, families, and ministers of hope from around the diocese. Chattanooga is the largest city in the United States without an abortion clinic, and the amazing healing that is coming from this memorial were two reasons the site was chosen. A Chattanooga abortion clinic used to be housed at the current location of the memorial. As a people of faith, we are thankful for the many souls who went before us there to pray for the clinic doors to close. Those prayers were answered in 1993.

Anne Rudd, a young 20-something, mentioned that her mother was an integral part of the Chattanooga pro-life movement in the 1990s. Anne’s mother spent hours outside the abortion clinic and undoubtedly played a part in the abortion clinic’s closing. Anne had visited the memorial many times before the pilgrimage and was swept away by the reality that she was probably there for the very first time in her own mother’s womb. Another beautiful expression of life came from soon-to-be parents Brittany and Pedro Garcia at the memorial site. Two years earlier, Mr. and Mrs. Garcia experienced a painful miscarriage. Mr. Garcia reflected that their child due in May is actually God’s second gift given to them.

Young people and others from around the diocese take part in the Pilgrimage for Life at the Memorial for the Unborn.

Melissa Gwen, a board member of the memorial and first speaker at the event, relayed that “the Remembrance Garden was added to the memorial site in 2007 as a peaceful sanctuary for mothers, fathers, and other family members to honor their miscarried child.” The private garden holds engraved pavers that share personal stories and provide encouragement to other parents seeking peace after a miscarriage.

Mr. Garcia remarked, “We have an engraved paver at home honoring our first child. I did find the Remembrance Garden to be a consoling place to wander.”

Open 24 hours a day, the Memorial is a place of love, forgiveness, and healing tucked in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life. In near-freezing temperatures, I entered the gates of the memorial with my chair and blanket in hand. Below my feet were tons of beautifully formed rocks of all shapes and sizes. A large rock named the Ebenezer rock marks the historical importance of this site and God’s victory at the memorial’s location. A breathtaking sculpture of an angel caught my eye. The pure white marble wings thrust into the sky were a profound reminder of the unseen messengers that are among us.

The garden sprung to life with the heartfelt prayer of Father Mike Nolan. Those attending responded, “Lord, hear our prayer,” and we began to march. Melissa cut the chill in the air with her warm welcome. Melissa shared that she was thankful for all those attending and for remembering that “life is a gift from our creator, God.”

Melissa ended with Terry’s powerful story from the book Empty Arms: More Than 60 Life-Giving Stories of Hope From the Devastation of Abortion by Ann Caldwell and Wendy J. Williams. Terry is the sculptor of the white marble angel. Terry had created the sculpture out of his pain from the loss of two children to abortion. I found myself lost in Terry’s story, enjoying the beauty of how God works through the storms of our lives, restoring hope, and bringing healing through our creative gifts and our cooperation.

Dominican Sister Mary Rebekah Odle-Kemp (right) leads one part of the service at the memorial as Sister Dominica Bickerton, OP, follows the readings.

Within the Memorial for the Unborn stood a massive 50-foot granite wall that holds plaques erected by hurting mothers, fathers, and families to memorialize the lives of those who were “loved a little too late.” Each plaque has its own unique message of love with a similar theme: “Please forgive me.” Below the plaques was a layer of unique gifts to an unborn child.

Joshua, an eighth-grade student, shared that the large granite wall and the gifts left behind had the biggest impact on him. “It made me so sad,” he said. Joshua’s mother was impacted by the deep pain held in the many letters left by the mothers of the aborted children. She was glad to attend the pilgrimage as a family and was moved by Esther’s talk.

A Silent No More speaker, Esther bravely shared her painful story of desperation. “I made the decision to abort because I felt caught in a trap like an animal.” Esther said. “I stuffed the pain deep down, achieving many great things, but inside I was dying. I lost a part of my heart, my joy, through my choice.” After hearing about Rachel’s Vineyard in a church bulletin, she went on a retreat of healing. She discovered “the devil kept me in silence and in the shadows. I am silent no more!” she proclaimed.

This year is a very special time for the Church, as Pope Francis proclaimed it “The Year of St. Joseph.” We remember St. Joseph’s virtue as he valiantly protected Jesus in Mary’s womb. Pope Francis described St. Joseph “as a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows.”

Fourth-year diaconate student Jim Bello spoke about an encounter he had as a young man with his niece.

“The baby locked eyes with me; we held each other’s gaze for at least three minutes. This encounter told me that I was pro-life,” he said.

Jim found being pro-life was difficult. He began to question whether he would ever be able to speak up for life. This question began his own journey of faith, deep into his own heart out of the shadow. This is where the Lord invites all men. Jim reminded us of the impact one courageous young man can have. St. José Luis Sánchez del Río was 14 years old when he was captured and asked to renounce his Catholic faith. Yet he proclaimed, “I will never give in. ¡Que viva Cristo Rey y Santa Maria de Guadalupe!” (“Long live Christ the King and St. Mary of Guadalupe!”)

Take courage; find your deep hearts by developing a prayer life. Let us all come to value human life as God’s precious gift to be accepted and loved rather than a burden to be destroyed. God’s merciful love and forgiveness is to be received and shared—Together Strong, Life Unites!

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