More than 400 attended a rally Oct. 15 in Knoxville to kick off a Pro-Life Freedom Ride for the Unborn that took the fight for life to a local Planned Parenthood clinic the next day and on to Chattanooga for a service at the National Memorial for the Unborn.
Sponsored by Priests for Life, the rally at the Tennessee Theatre featured the organization’s founder, Father Frank Pavone, and its pastoral associate and director of African-American Outreach, Dr. Alveda King. Bishop Richard F. Stika delivered the opening prayer and remarks at the more than two-and-a-half-hour–long event that included numerous additional speakers, performances by several musicians, and pro-life videos.
Twelve members of the Priests for Life staff, including four priests, attended the rally. Sitting on stage with Bishop Stika was Monsignor Xavier Mankel, a vicar general of the diocese. Area priests, deacons, and members of Knoxville Catholic High School’s Fighting for Life Club also were present.
Paul Simoneau, director of the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace, welcomed the crowd and introduced the bishop.
“All I can think of is the word solidarity - solidarity with God, solidarity with one another,” he said. “What can’t God accomplish when we come together in solidarity to witness to the cause of life, born and unborn?”
Bishop Stika told the gathering of two landmarks in his native St. Louis: the first cathedral west of the Mississippi - the Basilica of St. Louis, King - and the old St. Louis Courthouse, where arguments in the infamous Dred Scott case began.
The bishop compared that decision in 1857 with another made in 1973 by the successors of those justices, Roe v. Wade.
“Decades later, different men of the Supreme Court made a decision . . . to limit the potential of so many - millions now - from life itself,” said Bishop Stika. “We gather together this evening in the name of our creator, God . . . to witness to life.
“The Lord himself invites us to remind those in our nation and in effect those in the world that life is filled with the presence of God, and part of that gift is the potential to make a difference in the world.”
Father Pavone said the theater crowd was “gathered here tonight to write new lines of history, to proclaim freedom to our land, freedom for our unborn brothers and sisters: for their parents and for our nation as a whole. We are here to proclaim the true meaning of freedom.”
The first leg of the freedom ride took place from Birmingham to Atlanta in July, as Priests for Life purposely chose two sites important in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s. The vigil at a Planned Parenthood clinic on Cherry Street on Oct. 16 was followed by a caravan to the memorial in Chattanooga, which is on the former site of an abortion clinic.
“We chose Chattanooga for a special reason,” said Father Pavone. “[The memorial is at] a place that used to be a killing center but is now a place where women and men from around the world—who have lost children to abortion, who have been deceived by the lie, who did not exercise their freedom of choice but were driven by the coercive power of despair to think that they had no freedom and no choice, and so they went to have those babies killed—will stand tomorrow.
“They will not kneel; they will not have their faces to the ground, as if in the dark shame of sin they could no longer raise up their eyes. No, they will stand there in the light of the risen Christ who sets them free from sin. They will declare that he has forgiven them.”
Father Pavone spoke of the simplicity, for advocates of life, of choosing whom to vote for.
“The same hands that pull the lever in the voting booth are the hands that are lifted up toGod in prayer, and the same eyes that read his word read the names of the candidates. That’s the comparison we make, and we stand up as people of freedom, and we say we don’t want any public servants who can’t tell the difference between serving the public and killing the public.”
Dr. King, a niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a former college professor and Georgia state representative. She has long been involved in the pro-life movement and testifies of her two abortions and the healing and forgiveness she later experienced.
“We ride this weekend to bring freedom to the oppressed,” she said. “We ride for the babies, whose most fundamental civil right - the right to life - is trampled upon. We ride for the mothers, fathers, and families whose lives are weighed down by the grief that abortion advocates tell them they’re not supposed to feel. And we ride for those who make their living in the business of death. We pray for them, knowing there is mercy, hope, and healing for everyone.”
Dr. King referred to her uncle’s famous “dream” but said it cannot come true as long as abortion is available.
“As a repentant and forgiven post-abortive woman, one who was guided into the paths of the pro-life movement by my grandfather, Dr. Martin Luther King Sr., my father, Rev. A. D. King, and my uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I stand before you today to ask you, how can the dream survive if we murder our children?”
Her mother nearly killed her in the womb, Dr. King said.
“In 1950 my mother wanted to abort me, and my grandfather, Daddy King, came to our rescue. He and my father offered my mother the choice of life for me and protection and shelter for her. Daddy King told my mother, Naomi, ‘You can’t abort this baby. I saw her in a dream three years ago. She is not a lump of flesh. She is a little girl with bright skin and bright red hair.’
“Yes, my friends, Daddy King had a dream - not an ultrasound, but a dream. I stand here today to tell you that I have a dream. It’s in my genes.”
Also addressing the audience were Rachel’s Vineyard founder Theresa Burke and husband Kevin (Rachel’s Vineyard is a Priests for Life ministry); Silent No More Awareness Campaign cofounder Janet Morana; and a young mother who had been encouraged to have an abortion by her own mother. The evidence that she did not - her toddler daughter, having fun with the microphones and other stage equipment as her mother spoke - was plain to see.
True Vine is across the street from the Planned Parenthood facility and was the meeting point the next morning for vigil participants, who prayed silently before the clinic for 30 minutes.
At the memorial to the unborn that afternoon, families of aborted babies added plaques with the infants’ names on a wall to join others placed there over the years.
For more information, visit prolifefreedomrides.org.