Teens, adults participate in Rosary Walk for Life [Photo Gallery]

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More than two dozen teens and adults gathered together for the Diocese of Nashville Office of Faith Formation’s Rosary Walk for Life on Saturday, Jan. 28, in downtown Nashville. Throughout the walk, participants prayed for all those who are homeless, for an end to the death penalty, for the beginning of life, for an end to racism, and for human dignity to be upheld justly. Frankie Freitos, a senior at Independence High School and a parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Thompson’s Station, prays along with the fifth decade of the rosary. Photos by Katie Peterson

More than two dozen teens and adult leaders gathered in downtown Nashville to conduct a Rosary Walk for Life on Saturday, Jan. 28, in honor of Right to Life Month.

The event was sponsored by the Diocese of Nashville’s Office of Faith Formation.

“For this Rosary Walk for Life, I hope and pray that our teens will become more aware of all of the different aspects of life and will make steps toward upholding the dignity of all people whom they encounter both now and the days following,” said Jordan Montenegro, coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Office of Faith Formation.

The Office of Faith Formation planned the rosary walk with the help of several faith formation directors and youth ministers across the diocese.

Angie Bosio, director of youth ministry at St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory, and Alondra Banales, assistant director of formation for youth and young adults at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Franklin, were the main designers behind the rosary walk.  

Throughout the walk, participants prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, stopping at various sites around downtown Nashville that pertained to a different aspect of the Catholic social teaching on the right to life from conception to natural death as a decade of the rosary was prayed.

Bosio said the design for the walk was based on a similar one she put on for her youth group in 2021. She also created a map and guidebook for participants to follow throughout the walk.

“Jesus calls us to a high standard in Matthew 25 when he praises the righteous for what the Church identifies as the Corporal Works of Mercy,” Bosio said. “Our students are bombarded with messages that negate human dignity. We are charged with reminding our students not only of their own dignity as men and women created in the image and likeness of God, but also that all other human beings share in that dignity.”

“Every life is a unique image of the Lord’s love incarnate in humanity,” added Savannah Smith, director of faith formation and youth ministry at St. Joseph Church in Madison, who also helped plan the event. “Every life in the womb, every person experiencing homelessness, every human incarcerated has worth to our Father. Genesis 2:15 says that the Lord settles us on the earth to cultivate and care for it. It is our duty as children of God, our creator, to cultivate a world in which all are cared for in it.”

The rosary walk began at St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows Church, where participants prayed for mothers considering an abortion or have had one.

The second decade was prayed for an end to racism at Woolworth Theater on Fifth Avenue North. The theater is the site of the 1960 Nashville lunch counter sit-ins that protested segregation at the dining counter. The protests were landmark events in the Civil Rights Movement.  

The third decade was prayed for justice in criminal matters and was prayed across the bridge from the Juvenile Court and Detention Center. It was a bittersweet spot for Tara Hall-Smith, a parishioner of St. Joseph, and her daughters, Savannah Smith and Alexis Hall-Smith, a sophomore at Pope John Paul II Preparatory School in Hendersonville.

Tara Hall-Smith remembered the many years she spent going to the juvenile court as she fought for custody of her great-niece, Alexis when she was just a small child.

“Alexis was unfortunately born into a home of abuse, and we had a lot of court sessions at the juvenile court in the year-long battle fighting for custody,” Tara Hall-Smith recalled. “There’s a mural on the wall that basically says, ‘You may not be able to save all lives but you can save the life of one child.’ I remember thinking, ‘But it’s not saving the life of one child. It’s saving a generation.’

“To take her out of that cycle of abuse is not only saving her, it’s saving her future children and grandchildren. But I know that without God there is no way I could’ve faced that battle alone, and it is through Him that we were able to get full custody,” she said.

That’s why it was even more surreal for Tara Hall-Smith and Savannah Smith to see Alexis reading the reflection for that particular mystery of the rosary walk.

“I was astonished,” Tara Hall-Smith said. “What she was praying for were the same prayers I was praying with her when we were trying to get custody of her.”

“My family has always lived a pro-life life. We always joke that there is always more room at the inn. My parents have continuously had their doors open to whoever needed a roof over their head and a loving family,” added Savannah Smith. “Alexis’ life and our story is a walking example of what a post-Roe world can look like. Alexis’ adoption is a beautiful end to a crisis pregnancy. My grandfather often quotes Genesis 4 to us, ‘You are your brother’s keeper,’ and Alexis’ story is that. 

“Alexis answered my life-long wish of having a little sister and also showed me what it meant to be pro-life from a young age,” she added. “I am so happy to accompany Alexis as her older sister and her youth minister.” 

Alexis Hall-Smith said she hadn’t realized that it was the same place when she volunteered to do the reading.

“I just felt like I needed to say the prayer there,” she said. “It’s crazy that that’s the same spot. I had no clue.”

Having that realization made both mother and daughter reflect on the importance of the pro-life fight. For Tara Hall-Smith, it’s the importance of adoption.

“Had her mother not chosen to continue the pregnancy, then Alexis wouldn’t be here, and she’s changed our lives tremendously. Pro-life is not just in the womb. It’s outside the womb,” Tara Hall-Smith said. “It’s taking care of children who are, not necessarily unwanted, but who are in an unfit place, and we are responsible for those children as well as the children in utero.

“I always tell Alexis that she was conceived in my heart,” she added. “When I held her for the first time, I was overcome by this love that I had only experienced with my own children. I have other nieces and nephews, but didn’t experience that kind of love. I was holding her close to me and didn’t want to let her go. That’s the day she was conceived inside of my heart.”

“It reminds me every day that I’m so loved,” Alexis Hall-Smith added. “I just stay so grateful that I am where I am right now.”

Alexis Hall-Smith, a sophomore at Pope John Paul II Preparatory School in Hendersonville and a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Madison, reads the reflection for the third sorrowful mystery.

After the third decade, the group walked to Riverfront Park to pray for those who experience homelessness. Throughout the fourth decade, they pondered the story of Tara Cole, a 32-year-old homeless woman who was murdered on Aug. 11, 2006, when two men pushed her in the water while she was sleeping.

The fifth and final decade was prayed for an end to the death penalty as participants sat on the steps outside the Tennessee State Capitol.

When all was finished, the teens reflected on the experience and the importance of the right to life from conception to natural death.

“It felt nice to pray for all these aspects of the pro-life movement, especially going outside every place and praying for these causes,” Alexis Hall-Smith said. “It showed the importance of supporting all lives and that all lives should be cherished and sacred, and I think today, we really made a difference.”

The organizers said they hope the teens walk away with a sense of purpose.

“I pray they are more aware of the Church’s stance that life from conception to death is precious. We are to love and support our brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Amy Freitas, youth group leader for Church of the Nativity in Thompson’s Station. “Life inside the womb is a miracle, and we are to help those who need support with life both inside and outside the womb. It is simple; we are disciples of Jesus and we need to put into action His teachings by doing the Corporal Works of Mercy.”

Bosio and Savannah Smith said they hope the teens realize how they can make a difference in their own city. 

“I hope the teens experienced our city in a new way, and that when they visit downtown again, they will remember this rosary walk, and remember what we prayed for at each site, and continue to pray for the intentions that we have brought to prayer today,” Bosio said. “Action, in addition to prayer and compassion, is needed to serve our fellow Nashvillians who struggle to support an unexpected pregnancy, face discrimination, seek dignity in justice, are unhoused, or are sentenced to execution by the state of Tennessee.

“I pray this experience inspires these students in their calling as future leaders that they can help find solutions, opportunities, and hope for those that need it the most,” she said.

“Praise the Lord that we live in Tennessee and that abortion is not recognized as a right here, but our fight for the dignity of life does not end with abortion and must be brought down to the local level,” Savannah Smith added. “I attended the March for Life (in Washington, D.C.) with the Diocese of Nashville for four years and am proud of the advocacy efforts we did on the national level. Now, I am extremely proud to work for a diocese that wishes to show the teens what it means to be wholeheartedly pro-life in their own city. 

“Pope Francis, in his pontificate, has called us to a culture of encounter and to go to the margins. Us bringing the teens to do the Rosary for Life does just that,” she concluded. “We are teaching them how to encounter the dignity of life in the margins of our city.” 

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