Two weeks ago, I joined two other parishioners and nearly 400 others from our diocese to attend the March for Life in Washington DC. If you have ever had a chance to attend a March for Life you know what an incredible experience it is. However, if you have not, it may sound like a strange event, even a contradiction. A religious pilgrimage culminating in a political protest? An event prompted by the horror of legalized abortion, yet attendees will say how much they enjoyed it? Well, yes, it is a weird thing, but is there any normal way to respond the reality of abortion? Anyway, I wanted to share some of my experiences from the March .
First of all, it is a pilgrimage, and pilgrimages usually have a sacrificial nature to them. One has to give something up to go or will encounter suffering on the journey. In the case of this ' pilgrimage for life' people miss school or work, sit on long bus rides, give up their beds at home for simple accommodations, rise early and go to bed late, march in the often cold and sometimes wet weather, and generally give up what they would normally do for three days. This is significant, because as Catholics, we believe that the sacrifices we make really do make a difference. God recognizes them as an offering to Him, while at the same time they serve to make us more Christ-like ourselves.
As a pilgrimage, Mass and prayer are at the center of everything on the trip. Bishop Cistone celebrated Mass before we departed, and our "bus leaders" and the priest on our bus, Fr. Jose, lead us in prayer as we traveled, including saying the Rosary. As we traveled, we also got to know our fellow pilgrims. It is encouraging, especially to young people, to find that there are many other people their age who are just as 'into' their faith as they are- or even more so!
The next morning we left early to get to a rally and Mass before the actual March. On the way our bus leader encouraged us to open to the Holy Spirit throughout the day, to participate actively in all the experiences we would have, and to be attentive to what God might be saying to us or how he might act in our lives. This is one of the interesting aspects of the pilgrimage: that we are not only praying and protesting to end abortion but we are also called to remember that building a culture of life starts inside of ourselves, and thus our actions on a daily basis are part of building a culture where all life is respected.
The theme of the rally was "Life is VERY Good" Through the speaker before mass, and the homily, we were reminded of God's love for life - unborn children and us too. God loves everyone He has created, not because of anything you have done, or your talents or abilities, but just because He made you. The Mass was con-celebrated by four bishops and dozens of priests, assisted by scores of deacons and seminarians for the several thousand pilgrims gathered in the arena. It is incredible to experience a Mass this large - that many people worshiping together and praying for the same cause. After Mass we headed downtown for the March itself.
The March for Life begins on the National Mall, goes up Pennsylvania Avenue, past the Capitol Building, and ends in front of the Supreme Court. As the March begins people flood the streets from the Mall and the side streets, and marchers continue to arrive off buses and up from the Metro well after the March begins.
Marchers carry signs with sayings such as "Defend Life", "Life Counts" "We will abolish abortion" "Peace begins in the womb" "Save the Storks" and very often, "We are the Pro-Life Generation" (Perhaps this is the most appropriate too, since the majority of participants are of a certain generation - the young. High schoolers and college students, as well as other young adults are present in droves.) Marches also carry banners representing their parish, school or college, process images or Our Lady of Guadalupe, beat drums, and start chants on megaphone. Others carry nothing but rosaries.
Further along you see people with closer connections to the pro-life cause: signs stating that the holder was conceived in rape, and others that thank birth parents for choosing adoption over abortion. Then on the last corner of the March and right in front of the Supreme Court building are women, and men, from the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, witnessing to the regret they have for abortions they were involved in.
There were an estimated 400,000 people in attendance at the March this year (our diocese group was one - one thousandth of the total!) so as you can imagine, the March takes several hours. We returned to where we were staying that evening for praise and worship music and a Q &A with Bishop Cistone. The following day we were able to go sightseeing before concluding our pilgrimage at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for Mass.
The March for Life is both a lament of the deaths of the 56 million children killed through abortion in the US since 1973, and a "feast of life" as marchers joyfully and prayerfully walk through DC. I encourage you all to consider attending in the future. I know I am planning to be there next year!
Have you ever attended the march of life or another Pro-Life event? Share your experience!