By Connie Berry
The start of the annual March for Life weekend began with a Mass of prayer and penance for life at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Saturday morning, Jan. 22. The date marked the 38th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion, Roe v. Wade.
According to Lisa Hall, director of the diocesan Respect Life Office, approximately 50 million abortions have taken place since then. “This is a terrible national tragedy,” Hall said.
Bishop Robert Cunningham celebrated the Mass on a very cold morning as buses waited outside. Busloads of young people and chaperones from the Office of Youth Ministry left following the Mass. They planned to join hundreds of thousands at the national March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Each pilgrim from the Syracuse Diocese was wearing a bright yellow scarf so they could recognize each other during the weekend. Bishop Cunningham planned to meet with them when they were in Washington. There were several more buses sponsored by parishes and other groups representing the diocese planning to make the journey. In all, the organizers expected approximately 450 people from the Syracuse Diocese to make the trip to the nation’s capitol.
Bishop Cunningham reminded those at Mass that the trip to Washington was really more of a pilgrimage.
“Those traveling to Wsshington will participate in what amounts to a triduum, three days of activities and celebrations that are meant to enhance the dignity and appreciation that we all have for each human life,” the bishop said. Everyone gathered at the weekend events would have a common purpose, he said.
While on the journey, the young people planned to meet with seminarians studying for the diocese, tour the National Basilica, attend rallies and a huge Youth Mass at the Verizon Center with it all culminating in the March for Life on Monday, Jan. 24.
Bishop Cunningham blessed the travelers asking God to grant them a safe journey. He also blessed the religious medals and rosaries they would take with them saying, “Our first concern must be that our Christian lives bear out witness by our using them [the symbols of religious devotion].”
The bishop’s homily began with a quote from John Paul II’s Gospel of Life:
“It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all other inalienable rights of individuals are found and from which they develop.”
As well as prayer for the unborn, the Mass also focused on prayer for those affected by abortion and those considering abortion.
“The unborn child is neither a statistic nor a social problem,” Bishop Cunningham said. “He or she is a human being, made in the image and likeness of God, whom I am called by Christ to love, even as the Lord loved me from the wood of the cross.”
The bishop said that advances to end abortion have been made and attributed much of that success to the young people involved in the pro-life movement.
“There are strong indications that young people, particularly those under the age of 30, so many of whom are with us this morning, support the protection of life more strongly than any other group except those over the age of 65,” Bishop Cunningham said.
Many of the young people gathered after the Mass chatting in groups before they boarded the buses. They were animated and excited to spend the weekend with other young people who shared their mission.
Clare Morris, a 10th grader, attends the Church of the Nativity in Lafayette and it was her second trip to the national March for Life.
“I’m hopeful that the numbers of people at the march will increase,” Clare said. “It’s really inspiring just to see that many people with the same belief as you. When you’re in high school it’s like no one is there with you, but there, you’re not alone.”
A friend of Clare’s from her youth group at St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse was making his first trip to the march. Brendan Kilpatrick is a freshman at Onondaga Community College and he said he owes his ability to stand up for his beliefs to his youth group.
“When you have them to turn to each week you realize you’re not alone,” Brendan said. “You can fight for this cause and not be afraid to stand up for it.”