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March for Life

Tens of thousands of pro-lifers filled the grounds near the Washington Monument and marched up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 27 as both a protest of legalized abortion and a celebration of successful pro-life efforts across the country.
 
In years past, the March for Life -- which takes place on or near Jan. 22 to mark the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion virtually on demand -- has been almost a battle cry for the uphill and constant fight faced by those in the pro-life movement hoping for more abortion restrictions and ultimately an end to abortion.
 
This year's March for Life, under mostly sunny skies and 40-degree temperatures, was decidedly more upbeat, in part because one of the first speakers was Vice President Mike Pence; this was the first time a vice president attended the rally.
 
Pence, who has marched at the event before as a participant and addressed it as a congressman, repeatedly told the crowd -- huddled together in winter coats and hats in front of the stage -- that "life is winning" and assured them the Trump administration was behind them.
 
Kellyanne Conway, special adviser to Trump, and the first on the speakers' list to address the group -- holding aloft placards but none of the usual giant banners, which were banned for security reasons -- similarly got plenty of cheers when she said: "This is a new day, a new dawn for life."
 
The scheduled presence of the vice president, only announced the day before, required the rally perimeter to be fenced in and the crowd to enter through long lines that had formed at security checks.
 
Participants seemed unfazed by the required wait, taking it in stride with the day. Some pulled out their pre-packed lunches and started eating, others prayed the rosary. These marchers are used to plenty of hardships from weather conditions alone at the annual march.
 
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, noted that the group has been marching in all types of bad weather over the years. She also pointed out that amid recent discussion about crowd size at events in Washington, it was hard to measure the number of people that day or for the total who have come out for the annual march over the past four decades. "The only number we care about is the 58 million" lost to abortion since it was legalized, she said.
 
As in years past, the crowd was primarily young, with a lot of high school and college-age groups. It was something the speakers took note of, saying this generation would not only keep the pro-life movement going but bring about changes.
 
Mary Ann Vann, a retiree who made the trip from Trussville, Ala., for her sixth march, said the most exciting thing for her each time she has taken part is seeing the young people.
 
Vann, a parishioner at Holy Infant of Prague Parish in Trussville, said she hoped the energy at the march could be channeled into everyday support for the pro-life movement, something she is involved with on a regular basis with sidewalk counseling, volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers and helping young mothers with basic needs. She also said she is disheartened by hearing those who say pro-lifers are only concerned about babies because she and her fellow volunteers not only bring pregnant women to their doctor's appointments but also help pay their medical costs.
 
Jim Klarsch, a member of St. Clement Parish in St. Louis, who came with a busload of eighth-graders, also is involved with pro-life work with the Knights of Columbus at his parish. In Washington on his second march, he said the experience was "empowering."
 
Standing alongside Constitution Avenue waiting for the march to begin, he said the crowd, which was already filling the street to each side and behind him as far as the eye could see, reinforced his feeling that "this is not just a day but a lifelong mission."
 
Many of the march signs were pre-made placards with messages such as "I am pro abundant life" or "Defund Planned Parenthood" and "I am the pro-life generation."
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Sanctuary of the womb

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned that if the sanctuary of the womb is violated, then other sanctuaries are at risk.

"Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother's womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?" he asked in his homily during the Jan. 26 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil always precedes the annual March for Life, which takes place on the National Mall.

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the womb "a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother's tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity."

He summoned up a montage of sanctuaries throughout human history, including those used by the Israelites, the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph took Jesus each year, the use of cathedrals and churches as sanctuaries from violence, and the United States -- first as a sanctuary for the Pilgrims fleeing religious violence in England, later for Catholics with little to their name but "clinging within to that 'pearl of great price,' their faith," and today's immigrants and refugees.

When life in the womb is threatened, "should it shock us" that "such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth's environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers," Cardinal Dolan lamented.

Shrine officials estimated that 12,000 attended the Jan. 26 Mass, which was shown on three cable channels and broadcast on two radio networks. Among the faithful were 545 seminarians, 90 deacons, 320 priests, 40 bishops and five cardinals in a 20-minute entrance procession.

The faithful were squeezed more tightly than usual as pews in the left transept were blocked off so work crews could continue work on the shrine's Trinity Dome, which should be completed by next year's March for Life. The blockage resulted in the loss of "several hundred" seats, according to shrine spokeswoman Jacqueline Hayes.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Washington received hearty applause when he announced near the end of the Mass that the starting times for three pre-March for Life Masses elsewhere in Washington the next morning would be moved up an hour to allow for longer lines in security checkpoints at the pre-march rally, as among those speaking at it now included "senior White House officials and a special guest." No name was mentioned, but earlier in the day it was announced Vice President Mike Pence would address the March for Life rally in person. After a lineup of speakers, rally participants then march from the National Mall to Constitution Avenue, then up the avenue to the Supreme Court. 

The weather changed overnight from the low 50s at the start of the Jan. 26 Mass to a more typical near-freezing temperature with stiff winds before a Jan. 27 morning Mass at the shrine celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary.

Archbishop Aymond's homily sounded a similar theme to Cardinal Dolan's in terms how acceptance of abortion is "used to justify" other disrespect for life at various stages, citing assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and the rejection of immigrants. Quoting from that day's Gospel, Archbishop Aymond said, "Jesus says, 'Let them come to me, let them come to me.'"

He received applause from a Mass attendance estimated at 3,500 when he cited the results of a recent study that showed "the abortion rate in the United States has hit a historic low since Roe v. Wade." Archbishop Aymond said the study speculated on various reasons for the decline, but "one was not" mention.

That reason was "the witness of so many people for life," he said. "Youth and young adults are strongly pro-life in our world and in our church," he added to applause. "You are making a difference in the United States. You are changing our culture from a culture of death into a culture of life," the archbishop said to still more applause.

During the March for Life, and afterward in the marchers' parishes and neighborhoods, Archbishop Aymond said, "we will continue to witness, and with God's help, we will continue to be strong voices for the respect and the dignity of human life."
  • Published in Nation

Hearts go out to women in crisis pregnancies

It didn't take long for Nicky Peters to feel the drama of being a sidewalk counselor outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul.

The 19-year-old sophomore at St. Catherine University in St. Paul and member of St. Ambrose Parish in Woodbury had decided last spring to take her pro-life passion to the streets. She signed up to volunteer with Pro-Life Action Ministries in St. Paul and paired with Ann Redding, the organization's sidewalk counseling coordinator.

This past June, the two showed up hoping to encounter women with unwanted pregnancies. It was Peters' first time.

"That day was amazing," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "I met Ann there, and within the first hour, a woman came up to us and told her (Ann) that she had changed her mind about having an abortion, but she had already had part of the procedure done."

The woman told them that clinic workers had inserted laminaria sticks to help dilate her cervix to prepare for the abortion, but she had changed her mind. She jumped off the examination table and left the clinic without having them removed. When she encountered Redding and Peters on the sidewalk in front of the clinic, Redding hustled into action, leading the pregnant woman to nearby Abria Pregnancy Resources. Two months later, a healthy baby boy was born.

Peters, who is studying sign language interpreting at St. Kate's, as her school's known, will never forget that day. In fact, it's what gives her the strength to spend hours alone on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood, sometimes enduring insults and profanity hurled her way by vocal abortion supporters.

"It all goes back to that first day; the passion that I have is about helping these women," said Peters, who does sidewalk counseling twice a month for about two-and-a-half hours each time. "My heart goes out to them, honestly. A child is such a wonderful thing that I'd do anything to help (the pregnant women)."

The seed of her current volunteer role was planted one year ago at the annual March for Life in Washington, marking the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in all 50 states. She made the trip out on a plane, but rode back on a bus chartered by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis when flights were canceled because of a powerful storm that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in the mid-Atlantic region.

She rode back with other teens and young adults from the archdiocese, plus three women who belonged to Katies for Life on her campus.

"All these women were talking about how involved they were in the pro-life movement," Peters recalled. "One girl in my college group who does a little bit of sidewalk counseling and is a prayer supporter described what it was, and it really sounded like something that I was called to do. I loved being pro-life and I really, really wanted to be more involved, so I looked into it, did some research and decided that this was for me and I wanted to do it."

After going through a seminar and training, she went to Planned Parenthood with Redding, who has been in her role with Pro-Life Action Ministries since 2000.

"I'm just really glad she's on board," said Redding. "She's out there to be compassionate with people. Whether it's a 'save' or not, we're recognizing the humanity of the child that's (in danger of being) killed. Secondly, we are letting people know that we care about them."

Redding noted that Peters is the perfect age for counseling because most of the women who come to Planned Parenthood for abortions are 20 to 24 years old. She estimates that 30 of the 200 regular sidewalk counselors who volunteer through the pro-life group are in that age group. Many are seminarians who come regularly on Friday afternoons.

"This is the best age group to be out there on the sidewalk," Redding said. "The college-aged have physical strength, idealism and beauty. Young people have that beauty that draws someone to talk to them."

However, the responses can be negative, even ugly, at times. Peters has discovered this, which initially surprised her.

"I do take a lot of heat, especially on the sidewalk, and even from people on campus," she said. "I get profanity, the middle finger. I get anywhere from, 'Oh, you're just totally wrong,' to large profanity statements."

In between the encounters are long periods of silence, in which she sees no one and must figure out useful ways to spend her time.

Her go-to practice on those occasions is prayer. She recites decades of the rosary and calls on the intercession of the saints and Mary. Her words to God and to the people she meets are steeped in a deep faith that believes she is making a difference, and a faith that keeps her coming back for more, even when the coldest days of the year may lay ahead.

"I just love it, honestly," she said. "It can get a little bit discouraging, but I always have to go back to that first day of helping that woman. I just have to go back to that day because I know that that truly was amazing, and I have to keep doing that so I can help more women. Even though people will give me the middle finger, I just have to sit there and pray for them and pray for a change of heart."
  • Published in Nation

March for Life planned in Washington

The annual March for Life will take place Jan. 22 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

In concert with the annual March for Life, the U.S. bishops invite all Catholics to pray for the protection of all human life by participating in a special novena called 9 Days for Life, from Jan. 16-24. Join thousands of others in praying for the protection of all human life. Download the novena online, or participate through Facebook, e-mail, text message or an app. Join at www.9daysforlife.com.

More information about all the March for Life events is available at www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/january-roe-events/index.cfm.

There will be no Diocese of Burlington-sponsored bus to Washington, D.C., this year for the annual March for Life. It is hoped there will be one next year.

 
  • Published in Nation
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