Birmingham, AL – More than 100 people were in this historic city’s Kelly Ingram Park Tuesday as Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, and Dr. Alveda King, director of the organization’s African-American Outreach, formally announced plans for Pro-Life Freedom Rides that will begin this summer.
“We are here to launch a movement within the greater pro-life movement, a movement of Freedom Rides for the Unborn,” Father Pavone said during the morning press conference. “Like the Freedom Rides of five decades ago, these freedom rides symbolize the principle of the greater movement of which they are part, namely, that justice and equal protection of human rights belong to each and every human being, regardless of size or age or any other condition.”
A host of civil rights and pro-life leaders from across the country stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Dr. King and Father Pavone to lend their support to the Freedom Rides, the first of which is scheduled for July 23-25. Riders will attend a concert and rally July 23 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center and then board the bus bound for Atlanta. Dozens of rides in all parts of the country could be scheduled over the next year, according to Father Pavone.
The 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides of 1961 will be celebrated next year, which presented Priests for Life with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that the fight against abortion is the civil rights battle of the 21st century.
“Human rights begin when human lives begin and not one moment later,” Father Pavone said.
The niece of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Alveda King lived in Birmingham as a child and remembers the civil rights battles that scarred its streets and the souls of its residents.
“When I lived in Birmingham, when our home was bombed in this very city, when my classmate was part of the group of four little girls killed in the bombing of historical Sixteenth Street Baptist Church across the way, I dreamed of a world when life would be better, when justice would prevail for all,” she said.
With the Pro-Life Freedom Rides, she said, “We join our lives and hearts together with those who have gone before us. We take to the bus, to the streets of America, riding for justice and freedom for all, from conception until natural death.”
The press conference also served as the official debut of the song “Least of These,” written by Christian singer/songwriter Jamie Owens Collins as an anthem for the Pro-Life Freedom Rides. A chorus led by noted recording artist Darrian Summerville of Global Outreach Campus Ministries performed the song.
“This is the song of the movement,” declared Joy Pinto, whose husband, Jim Pinto, is the director of Priests for Life’s lay evangelistic ministry, Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. Jim Pinto was instrumental in organizing the press conference, along with Jerry Horn, senior vice president of Priests for Life, and Frank Norris, director of development. Birmingham residents Jacob Jones and the Rev. Terry Gensemer, rector of the Church of the Reconciled, provided invaluable help in coordinating the event. Lionel Myers, owner of Drive for You in Atlanta, GA, provided transportation. Thrasher Brothers Coaches and Tours of Birmingham were responsible for the spectacular Freedom Bus that served as a backdrop for the event and which later was used to take passengers on a symbolic ride around the park.
Traveling to Birmingham for the press conference were the following pro-life and civil rights leaders: Rev. Clenard Childress of New Jersey, director of the Life Education and Resource Network; Catherine Davis, director of Minority Outreach for Georgia Right to Life; the Rev. Stephen Broden, senior pastor of Fair Park Bible Fellowship in Dallas, and a candidate for Congress; Day Gardner of Maryland, founder of the National Black Pro-Life Union, and Dean Nelson of Virginia, executive director of the Network of Politically Active Christians.
Also making the trip were members of Priest for Life’s Pastoral Team, including Janet Morana, executive director and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign; associate directors Father Denis Wilde, OSA, and Father Peter West; Father William Scott Daniels, OP, and Dr. Theresa and Kevin Burke, founders of Rachel’s Vineyard, a healing ministry for post-abortive women and men. Jamie Owens Collins and her husband, music producer Dan Collins, flew in from California to be part of the event.
Members of Catholics United for Life of Huntsville, Ala., attended the press conference, as did the Rev. Michael Deering, vicar general for the Diocese of Birmingham, and high school students from Restoration Academy in Birmingham.
Bishop Demetrics Roscoe, founder of Living Church Ministries in Birmingham, recalling the day Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed and the civil rights battles fought in its aftermath, said he learned from his father that “if we decide to love, we have no enemies at all.” Pointing to the “bus that represents life,” Bishop Roscoe said, “We believe something is happening in our city.”
“This city is going to be tremendously blessed,” agreed Pinto, “because we are here to celebrate the most fundamental human right: the right to life.”