Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

The March for Life – Up Close and Personal

by Stephen Drees

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As a lifetime Catholic, I have always been pro-life. But in the past decade, I have become increasingly so. As an oblate, part of my daily prayers are for the unborn as well as for anyone who will die that day - unborn, young, old and everyone in between.

As my interest and willingness to engage in this issue has increased over the years, I have been on the lookout for an opportunity to attend the March for Life. But how does an individual plug into such a massive event?

Only a few weeks before this year's march, a friend of mine who was in final preparation for ordination to the priesthood asked me to join him, another parishioner and a contingent from the Diocese of Covington, KY, across the river from my own Archdiocese of Cincinnati where I live. I responded with an enthusiastic "YES" to his invitation and we embarked on an experience that immediately felt like a pilgrimage.

Because of the mainstream news media's reluctance to cover the event and give it credence, many Americans do not know about The March. If they do, they likely have little understanding what it's all about as well as its significance in the U.S. Church and American society at large.

The March for Life is an annual pro-life rally held in Washington, D.C., each year on or around the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the case Roe v. Wade. The March is the longest ongoing political protest in American history, but when you're there it feels more like a celebration than a protest.

While the abortion issue is often thought of as the centerpiece of the pro-life cause, it is only part of the seamless garment of life the Church professes - the dignity and sanctity of life from the moment of natural conception through natural death.

"Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258

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The night before The March, we were fortunate to attend the opening Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - the largest Roman Catholic church in North America with a name that could not be more symbolic and poignant. Providentially, the church was built and dedicated long before the 1973 Supreme Court decision and the decades of marches that would follow.

On this night, it was packed with over 10,000 worshipers, and the Mass was attended by priests, nuns, sisters and brothers from every diocese and religious order you can imagine. There were so many priests concelebrating the Mass that the opening procession itself took nearly 45 minutes.

It was a truly amazing thing to behold and it gave all in attendance confidence that we are not in this struggle alone. God is indeed with us. God is not neutral to life. He is the creator and the protector of life and we were made in His image.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." Genesis 1:27

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The next day, the crowd, believed to be in excess of 500,000 people, filled the entire Capitol and National Mall area. If one recalls the famous photo of Martin Luther King's 1963 speech in front of an enormous gathering in Washington, D.C., the throng of people was strikingly similar in size and magnitude.

In a very revealing way, signs of life were everywhere. The unborn represented by pregnant mothers marching along with the disabled, children, teens, young adults, middle aged and seniors. It was moving to see an elderly Bishop Roger Foys (Diocese of Covington, KY), who has great difficulty walking, trekking up Constitution Avenue with the help of a cane and two seminarians on either side of him.

Clergy and religious were out in full force. As someone who came of age in the post-Vatican II era, I have never seen so many priests and religious in one place other than in Rome. However, the most highly represented were young people - high school and college students - male and female - who proudly proclaimed, "We are the Pro Life Generation."

I didn't witness anger, shouting or any behavior one would typically associate with a political rally or protest. Many people were praying as they marched. It was peaceful, respectful, loving, joyous, inspiring and holy. I have never been more proud of being an American Catholic.

"Lord, you are good, and forgiving, most merciful to all who call on you." Psalm 86:5

One would think that, at an event such as this, a person with an abortion in their past (male of female) would want to be just about anywhere else. This was the biggest and most uplifting surprise of all. People were talking and openly telling their stories. Women and men spoke about heart-wrenching situations and circumstances that had resulted in the taking of an innocent life.

On the sidewalk, in front of the steps of the Supreme Court, a podium and sound system were set up. One by one, people came up and bared their souls in front of thousands of marchers. I was taken aback by the courage of these people who had once made a difficult (or maybe even hasty) decision earlier in life and lived to deeply regret it.

They didn't want to hide their secret any longer. While many had likely received sacramental absolution days, months or even years earlier, they still felt a need to be a witness to life - to do their part to promote the sanctity and protection of life - to help prevent others from making a similar mistake. They wanted people to hear their regret, their sorrow. They wanted people to hear the unvarnished truth.

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"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Matthew 5:7

For me, this was the most moving and hopeful part of the March for Life. The crowd wasn't judgmental - they were loving and supportive. People weren't scorned or admonished for telling their stories. They were applauded and embraced. There was a lot of emotion among the speakers and in the crowd.

There were tears for the many lives that had once been lost, but also tears of joy in the realization that God's desire is for us to love Him and be reconciled to Him. God has unfathomable mercy for those who come to Him in humility to be healed and made whole.

A wise old priest once told me, "Everyonehas stuff they aren't proud of - stuff they are ashamed of." That's the bad news, but here's the Good News. Whether it be any type of sin or specific transgressions related to the various life issues, there is nothing anyone can ever do that is beyond God's love and forgiveness. Nothing!

To be reminded of this powerful truth undoubtedly changed the lives of the hundreds of thousands in attendance, the ripple effect it will have on others they will personally touch, and the faith of this humble oblate.

 

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.


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