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
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
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
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
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
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
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.
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.