Bishop Stika Rallies Freedom Riders

Time for a new kind of 'solidarity': the Knoxville bishop energizes Father Frank Pavone's Freedom Riders.


Dan McWilliams

  National Catholic Register

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — God wants pro-life advocates to remind the nation and the rest of 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,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville.

He made the comments at an ecumenical rally that drew a crowd of more than 400 to the Tennessee Theatre Oct. 15 to kick off a Pro-Life Freedom Ride for the Unborn.

Sponsored by Priests for Life, the rally featured the organization’s founder, Father Frank Pavone, and its pastoral associate and director of African-American outreach, Alveda King.

In welcoming the crowd, Paul Simoneau, director of the Knoxville diocesan Office of Justice and Peace, said the word “solidarity” came to mind.

“What can’t God accomplish when we come together in solidarity to witness to the cause of life, born and unborn?” he asked.

In his remarks Bishop Stika described 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 U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott case began.

The bishop compared the 19th-century decision upholding slavery with another made in 1973 by the successors of those justices, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

“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.”

Father Pavone told rally participants they were gathered “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 in July, going from Birmingham, Ala., to Atlanta; the sites were chosen because they were important in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s.

The day after the Knoxville rally, pro-life advocates held a vigil at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Knoxville on Oct. 16, then went by caravan to the National Memorial for the Unborn, which sits on the former site of an abortion clinic.

“We chose Chattanooga for a special reason,” Father Pavone said, because the location of the memorial “used to be a killing center.”

But now, he explained, it is a place that draws “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.”

Father Pavone urged his listeners for life during the upcoming midterm elections.

“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,” the priest said.

King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said the Freedom Ride was all about bringing freedom to the oppressed.

“We ride for the babies, whose most fundamental civil right — the right to life — is trampled upon,” she said. “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,” King added.

A former college professor and Georgia state representative, she has long been involved in the pro-life movement and gives witness about her own two abortions and the healing and forgiveness she said she later experienced.

She referred to her uncle’s famous “I have a dream” speech, saying it cannot come true as long as abortion is available. She also said she was guided to the pro-life movement by her grandfather, her uncle and her father.

“I stand before you today to ask you, how can the dream survive if we murder our children?” she asked.