Diocese, schools planning various activities for Right to Life month

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In honor of Right to Life Month in January, the Diocese of Nashville Office of Faith Formation’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry, as well as area schools, are planning various pilgrimages in Tennessee and in Washington. Groups from the Diocese of Nashville including the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, Father Ryan High School, St. Cecilia Academy, and University Catholic attended the 49th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., in 2022. Tennessee Register file photo by Katie Peterson

Each January for nearly 50 years, people from across the country, including from the Diocese of Nashville, would gather in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life protesting the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion. 

The respect for life movement won a huge victory last summer when the court overturned the precedent set in Roe and returned the abortion question to the states. Rather than return to Washington for this year’s March, the Diocese of Nashville Office of Faith Formation’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry is looking closer to home to build the culture of life.

The Youth and Young Adult Ministry is organizing a Pro-Life and Human Dignity Pilgrimage Jan. 26-29 throughout Middle Tennessee.

“We want to take it a step further and teach our teens how to really live out what it means to be pro-life,” said Shelby Conner, assistant director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

Conner and Jordan Montenegro, coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, along with 10 ministers who serve the youth in parishes throughout the diocese, will lead the pilgrimage, which will include several opportunities for learning and service. 

The pilgrimage will include visits to the Pregnancy Care Center in Old Hickory, Hope Clinic and Heart of Mary House in Nashville, and more. Additionally, delegates will make Valentine’s Day cards for the elderly as well as collect donations for pregnancy centers and the homeless. The pilgrimage will end at Calvary Cemetery where the pilgrims will spend time praying for the dead.

“We hope to help the teens learn what it truly means to be pro-life through their words and their actions,” Montenegro said. “This pilgrimage will pertain to all aspects of life from conception to natural death and the importance of maintaining the dignity of all human life.”

All high school students are invited to participate in the pilgrimage. Cost is $200 per person and includes a hotel for three nights, all meals, bus transportation around Nashville, and an event sweatshirt. Registration closes Wednesday, Jan. 18.

For more information or to sign up, visit soundscatholic.com/pro-life.

For questions, email Conner at shelby.conner@dioceseofnashville.com or Montenegro at jordan.montenegro@dioceseofnashville.com.

Area schools are also planning pilgrimages and service efforts for teens and young adults this January in anticipation of Right to Life Month.

“Pope John Paul II Preparatory School has decided this year to focus our efforts on subsidiarity within the Pro-Life Movement at large,” according to a statement provided by the school. “Pope Prep will be doing all that we can do to be of loving service to those in need in our local central-Tennessee community with special emphasis on pregnant mothers in underserved communities, crisis pregnancies, prison populations, and assisted living centers. As we celebrate the end of Roe v. Wade, we recognize that there still remains much work to be done.” 

St. Cecilia Academy is planning a pilgrimage to Chattanooga to participate in the Chattanooga March for Life on Saturday, Jan. 28.

Even with the overturn of the precedent set in Roe v. Wade, “in some ways, this participation is more important than ever,” said Sister Cecilia Marie, OP, lead sponsor of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary student group at St. Cecilia. “The power of the presence of a pro-life witness cannot be underestimated, especially the witness of passionate and joyful young people.”

Along with participating in the Chattanooga March for Life, St. Cecilia students will also visit and pray at the National Memorial for the Unborn.

“When we learned about the National Memorial for the Unborn and the message of hope it proclaims, we knew we wanted to make a pilgrimage there to pray for healing of anyone who has been involved in abortion,” Sister Cecilia Marie said. “We are calling our January trip to Chattanooga a Pilgrimage of Prayer and Hope because hope in God’s mercy and power to make all things new is what our country needs, especially now.”

University Catholic and Father Ryan High School are organizing pilgrimages to Washington, D.C., to take part in the 50th annual March for Life.

University Catholic is preparing a bus trip with students from all 11 University Catholic schools Jan. 19-21. Father Gervan Menezes, director of Campus Ministries for the diocese, said they still want to attend because, even though Roe v. Wade is overturned, “there’s still much work to be done.”

“I know that in Tennessee, we are in a good place with all the laws and everything that we have here to protect life, but it’s about much more than that,” Father Menezes said. “The March for Life is a pilgrimage, but not just for the march itself. We go to Arlington National Cemetery, sometimes the Holocaust Museum, and literally talk about life and what it means to be pro-life from conception to natural death.”

Father Ryan is also preparing a bus trip with 85 students Jan. 19-22. Along with attending the March on Friday, Jan. 20, they will also visit Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. They will also attend Mass celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the uncle of Father Ryan senior Arianna Thacker.

Although the decision has been pushed back to the states in regard to abortion laws, “we’re still marching because the ultimate goal is to change the hearts and minds of, hopefully, everyone,” said Katie Swinnerton, Father Ryan coordinator of campus ministry and service learning. “Just to be able to stand together and show that there is still large countrywide support that can garner this gathering to speak for this cause is important, and we think it’s a great opportunity for our students to go to our nation’s capital to stand and be a voice.”

Thacker, who will be going for the second time, said it’s a great opportunity to go and show support for the cause.

Attending as a freshman, “I started thinking of it as a fun trip with my friends. But during the first small group, we sat and talked about it. I just listened and realized this is an actual issue that I need to think about morally,” Thacker explained. “Since then, a lot of things I’ve seen on the news and online have strengthened my morals and helped me see how serious a problem this is.”

Mark Bryant, a senior at Father Ryan, who is on his third trip to Washington, D.C., said he didn’t understand the significance at first either, but after learning about the issue has become more involved in standing up for the right to life from conception to natural death.

“The Church has 2,000 years of information and direct lineage to the apostles. If they’re going to say a defined teaching, I’m generally going to agree with it because they’re going to know a lot more than me,” Bryant said. “I also feel like, within society, the Church is saying something that is receiving a lot of pushback.

“The apostles, they rejoiced in persecution and were fighting for something that was worth fighting for, even if people disagreed with it,” he said. “I think a lot of that comes back to the movement and the Church always seemingly being ahead of the curve like, for example, in opposing segregation.

“In 100 years or so, the way that we look back on Jim Crow laws could be how society looks back on abortion laws today,” he concluded. “It’s more than just being on the right side of history.”

“It ties directly into the Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill,” Thacker added. “The Catholic Church has taught us to love everybody no matter who they are or where they come from, and that includes the unborn babies as well as everybody else. I think it all just comes down to love.” 

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