For 39 years, thousands of people have made a pilgrimage to Washington, DC to bear witness to the sanctity of human life. This year was no different. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court handed down a decision (Roe v. Wade) that changed the United States of America in a way no other decision has done in the past. It ushered in the culture of death and a society and nation with little regard to the dignity of each human being. The March for Life is a time of mourning; a time of prayer, fellowship, renewal, and hope.
Iowans for LIFE organized 118 middle school, high school, college, young adult, middle age, and retired people from across central, western Iowa and even South Dakota to attend this yearly event. Although a little sleep deprived, my heart and mind are filled with countless observations, stories, and events that shaped this year’s March for Life.
To get everyone in the proper frame of mind and heart for the trip ahead of them, we were blessed to have a grace-filled reflection from Laura Downey, theology teacher at Dowling Catholic High School. She delivered a message that resonated with everyone on the buses; it was a message of suffering. What is this trip about anyway? She aptly explained it: “This trip is not a vacation; the bus ride is long, uncomfortable, and not conducive to sleeping. You eat sporadically, have to share a hotel room, and walk in the cold an entire day. You are coming to mourn the death of 53 million of our brothers and sisters. No, this is not a vacation, it is a pilgrimage and through our suffering we will offer it to Christ as a sacrifice to those who have lost their life to the lie that is abortion.” It was a ‘wow’ moment for all of us on the trip. It struck a chord with everyone, and I never heard a single complaint the entire trip. The long bus ride was filled with countless prayers, Rosary, and singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
Many on the trip attended the National Youth Rally sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington, DC on Monday morning. The entire Verizon Center was filled with youth people on fire for Jesus and for the pro-life movement. Mass at the Verizon Center was celebrated by His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl with bishops and priests from around the nation. The homily, by Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish in Washington, DC, reminded us all that we are the work of God, we belong to God and all human life is sacred.
In his homily, Monsignor Pope stressed four things to our young people. The first was Chastity, citing a statistic that 85% of abortions are performed on unmarried women. The second was Charity, citing a statistic that 42% of abortions are performed on women beneath the poverty line. The third was Courage, citing a statistic that 90% of families that receive word from their doctor that their child has some sort of defect choose abortion. And lastly, Constancy; 61% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in most cases. He left us with hope that we are slowly making a difference and need to commit to continue in our efforts to change hearts and minds.
A light drizzle accompanied our March down Constitution Avenue, but it didn’t dampen our spirit in any way. To say there were throngs of people is an understatement. The March was massive, estimates at this time are ranging from between 400,000 to 500,000 people. Unless you watched EWTN, it was as though the March never even occurred. We have much work to do, but walking shoulder to shoulder on that rainy day gave me a renewed spirit to continue to fight.
Much of our group had the honor of being invited to a reception with U.S. Congressman Steve King directly after the March. As we all filed in one by one, Congressman King was visibly touched by the hundreds that filled up his office. It was a testament to the commitment of Iowans to support those politicians who support life. His message was strong and unwavering in his resolve to honor life.
It was on the bus ride home, however, that one really was able to hear how much this experience meant to everyone. I invited everyone to come forward and share their thoughts on the March and what it meant to them. Their witnesses were so very touching. One young man shared about how moved he was that during the Mass at the Verizon Center disabled individuals brought forward the gifts. He has a sister with a disability and he heart-fully shared his love and appreciation for his sister and all that she has brought to his life. Another gentleman shared about his two children in heaven as a result of miscarriage. Most shared about their new appreciation for life and their awe at the sheer number of people that came to this March from all over the country. The marchers shared things they learned, things that touched their hearts, and the fellowship they felt with everyone on the bus.
A Knight of Columbus from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in West Des Moines, Iowa who attended the trip described this March for Life as a rite of passage for everyone in the pro-life movement. That has stayed with me and rings true in so many ways. I know that many don’t think about the March for Life; I know I didn’t until a few years ago. Now, it’s all I think about, and I continue to brainstorm ways I can bring more and more people to Washington, DC. It is a life-changing experience for some, while for others it is a spiritual renewal needed to continue to do battle back home. Everyone who attends is touched in some way.
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the March for Life; it will be held on January 25, 2013. I pray you will come with me — and your family, friends, co-workers, and priests come, too. Prayerfully discern if next year is the year for you and in what ways you can help others get to this trip. Can your church or pro-life group sponsor an essay contest and award the winner with a free trip? Can you sponsor your parish priest so he can attend?
I felt blessed to be with the people on our buses this year; they all have such special gifts and hearts and it was an honor to share this time with them. I was also blessed to have four priests from Iowa attend the trip this year: Fr. Shane Deman from Fort Dodge, and Fr. Chris Reising, Fr. Guthrie Dolan, and Fr. Zach Kautzky all of Des Moines. For them to take time out of their incredibly busy schedules to devote to the cause of life takes my breath away. They were renewed and committed to inviting more priests to attend the March next year.
This event is more than a few days in Washington, DC. It is more than the 20 hours on the bus. It is more than site-seeing in our nation’s capital. It is a sacrifice, a witness, a spiritual renewal, and pilgrimage for the unborn. Where will you be next January 2013? I hope you will be with me and a half-million others from across the country.Maggie DeWitte is the Executive Director of Iowans for LIFE