WESTERLY — More than 40 people clad in right to life T-shirts gathered in front of St. Pius X Church on Sunday afternoon for the annual Walk for Life event.
The sun shone brightly overhead as the Rev. Ray Suriani, pastor of St. Pius, led the groups of parishioners and families in an opening prayer.
“We live in the darkness of a culture of death,” he said. “Let our efforts work to foster respect for life.”
With a closing Hail Mary, the group set off on the three mile walk around town, holding banners and signs declaring their message and displaying unborn fetuses.
Valerie Sistare, Westerly resident and chairwoman of the St. Pius Right to Life Committee, said this march and its overarching theme are very close to her heart. As a nurse who formerly worked in the OB-GYN field for 14 years, Sistare said she saw firsthand the struggles of women trying to become pregnant, enduring miscarriages and suffering depression after having an abortion.
“The devastation those women who aborted their children felt afterwards stirred my passion for the issue,” she said. Sistare no longer works for an OB-GYN doctor because she said there are no OB-GYN doctors in the state who share her view, and instead chose to continue as a nurse in dermatology.
However, she said her efforts to spread her beliefs have not stopped.
Sistare organized this year’s event, obtaining a police permit, getting refreshments for the post-walk reception and advertising the event to the community. She the committee particularly reached out to other local parishes, and that members of any faith were welcome at the event. She also stated that the walk was not just about abortion, but a host of other life-related issues.
“We encompass all life, from the womb to the tomb,” she said. “People think we’re just about abortion, but there’s a lot of other issues.”
According to Sistare, these include concerns regarding the end of life and the elderly, the disabled and any instances of violence or bullying.
Given her own retirement and the current difficulties many parishioners are facing, Sistare said she is also working on bringing a speaker to the church or wider community to discuss end of life issues in particular.
For Deb Fallacaro, director of the Pregnancy Center of Westerly, located in the parish center of Immaculate Conception Church, said abortion and early life issues were her main concerns. Fallacaro started volunteering with the pregnancy center after moving to Westerly about six years ago, and said she always had a desire to help young women in need.
She said she tried to make young mothers “aware of the importance of the new life in them. That new baby is a gift. By getting pregnant, the choice has already been made.”
Fallacaro said she hoped the walk would catch the attention of these mothers, and of local residents as a whole.
“The march today is to make you take a minute and think about these issues in your own mind and conscience, about right and wrong,” she said.
Suzanne Trudeau, another member of Immaculate Conception and a self-described “roaming Catholic,” said her participation in the walk also stemmed from her desire to advocate for the unborn. “It’s a part of our faith that we want people to recognize,” she said.
Fellow Immaculate Conception parishioner Charleen Bonelli said, “Just looking at a baby, it’s hard to think how you could ever do something to hurt it. You don’t need to do that. There are so many resources to help. The church will help anybody if they just ask.”
St. Pius member Ken Trebisacci also said “right to life” is a key part of his belief system as a Catholic. “It’s one of the staples of our Catholic faith,” he said. “It’s a worthy cause that needs to be made known to the public. The unborn have rights too.”
Trebisacci was accompanied by his 8-year-old daughter, Giovanna, and one of her friends, both students at St. Pius X School.
Giovanna, a third grader at St. Pius, said she attended the event because she liked walking. She nodded in agreement when asked if she learned about these issues in school.
“I think it’s a good thing,” she said.
The Walk for Life has existed for more than 20 years, though it was reduced from an 8 mile walk to 3 miles about 15 years ago to encourage more families to attend, according to Sistare. The walk concluded with a prayer service by the Tomb of the Unborn at St. Sebastian Cemetery and a reception at the church.