‘An encounter like no other’

Pro-life supporters gather in front of the Washington Monument during the March for Life in Washington Jan. 22. (CNS photo/Gary Cameron, Reuters) See MARCH-FOR-LIFE-THEME Dec. 13, 2016.

Hundreds from diocese to attend March for Life

By Tom Maguire

Associate editor

It is a long bus ride, so there is much time for reflection.

   Every year, hundreds of people from the Diocese of Syracuse attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C. On the bus ride home, the pilgrims are invited to share their impressions of the event.

   There is one scene that seems unforgettable. At the top of a hill on Constitution Avenue, a marcher who looks back can see a mass of people totaling hundreds of thousands and extending, it seems, for miles. There are clergy members, seminarians, groups of people 30 years old and younger, students, families — a unified force from all over the country praying peacefully that abortion will come to an end.

   Lisa Hall, director of the diocesan Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry, said she is “just so awestruck by the dedication of the people who come, especially those who come year after year. You’ll see people who are walking with canes, with a limp, some who are in wheelchairs; they just insist on coming, and being there as a voice for the voiceless.”

   This year’s March for Life, the 44th, is Friday, Jan. 27. Hall’s office is organizing one-day bus trips: one bus for families and other adults, and a new offering this year: one bus for Catholic high school students.

   Also, Bob Walters, director of the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, organizes a three-day trip for youth and a new offering: a one-day trip for young adults. Walters expects about 275 pilgrims in those two groups alone.

   “So it’s kind of a year of firsts for us,” Hall said. Of course, several parishes organize  buses of their own, and some families come down on their own. But all who attend from the diocese are encouraged to join up for some of the events.

   One such event is the Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham on the morning of the march in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. “We’re very grateful for the bishop’s support and attendance,” Hall said.

   The idea is to “unite and pray before the march,” Walters said. One easy method of identification is the diocesan scarf that marchers will wear.

   Those making the three-day trip will depart from Bishop Grimes Junior-Senior High School at 7 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, and pick up other pilgrims at various places across the diocese. Pilgrims on the one-day trip will leave around 11 p.m. Jan. 26 from the Wegmans parking lot in DeWitt; those buses will make a stop in Binghamton to pick up students and adults.

   Thursday’s events for those on the longer trip will include a stop at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Md. At that point there will be a Mass to begin the pilgrimage. The religious community at the shrine will take the group on tours and explain the life of Elizabeth Ann Seton.

   The bus then travels to D.C., where Walters said the attendees will meet youth groups from all over the country for a rally with 8,000-10,000 people, hosted by the Diocese of Arlington.

   “Traditionally that’s been a very moving, very life-changing experience for the kids, to be in a stadium — kids from across the country in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,” Walters said.

   After Friday morning’s Mass with Bishop Cunningham in the Crypt Church, the diocesan group will have lunch and then attend the hourlong rally in the staging area near the Washington Monument. Speaking on behalf of life, Walters said, will be representatives of the March for Life organization, and political and religious representatives from across the country.

   Then the march to the Supreme Court commences. “It’s definitely not an angry protest,” Walters said. “It’s more of a statement positively about the beauty of life. … A couple hundred thousand, primarily Catholic youth and young adults. I mean, they can see clearly the country is pro-life, and that they’re vibrantly Catholic, joyfully living the faith. It’s an encounter like no other.”

   After the march ends, two buses will head for home. The young-adult bus will stay for dinner and then head home. Meanwhile, the youth on the three-day trip will go on guided tours of the D.C. monuments with a Christian focus. That will include praying the rosary at the Lincoln Memorial.

   On the morning of the 28th, the youth group will tour the Smithsonian Museums. After lunch, they will depart for the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. A closing Mass will be held there.

  Michelle Kirk is looking forward to the March for Life. The Respect Life coordinator for St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Baldwinsville, Kirk will be attending for the second time.

   She has seven grandchildren, including a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome. “And so, the March for Life for me is kind of like a witness to her and value of her life, because she is an absolute joy and is the light of our lives,” she said.

   “And so many babies who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome are not given that chance at life, so for my husband and I, that’s one of the reasons we go — is to be a witness for her.”

   Michelle’s husband, Ed, will be going to the march for the first time. In an email, he said:

   “I feel like men need to be more involved with the pro-life movement since we are the other half of the contribution of life. Men need to be more of an example for others but particularly young men and boys to help them understand the tragedy of abortion on women and men and our culture as a whole.”

   In response to a question about what he hopes to accomplish at the march, Ed said: “To just be another voice trying to turn people to the culture of life as Pope St. John Paul II asked us to do.”

   Another pilgrim who will be attending for the first time is Bridget Downey, a ninth-grader at Bishop Ludden Junior-Senior High School.

   Her cousin Mary Kortright, program coordinator for the diocesan Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry, “told me the facts about abortion, and I thought it was terrible,” Downey said.

   “I want to go because so many people are dying every day from abortion,” she said, “and I think it’s important that we try to help their mothers to not have to go through this.”

   There will also be enthusiastic attendees from Seton Catholic Central Junior-Senior High School in Binghamton.

   Junior Anne Ziolkowski noted that Kortright gave a presentation on abortion and the March for Life in her theology class in October.

   “It’s such an important cause, to have a voice for all those who do not have a voice,” Ziolkowski said. “I think we just need to educate all those who don’t know, and advocate for all those who don’t know. If we could change the laws, that would be great.”

   First-time attendee Anna Korchak, also a junior at Seton Catholic, said: “It’s important for students to be involved because it’s our generation that has the ability to make a change — not just the law, but also for society to view it as a negative instead of the norm.”

   Classmate Rose Kane will be attending the march, and her twin sister Bridget will too.

   Rose, who attended the march once before, is one of the people who is awed by looking back at the huge crowd on Constitution Avenue.

   “We went up a hill and I looked back and there were thousands of people behind me,” she said, “chanting songs, and just having a good time, so that really, really had a major effect on me.”

   She added: “It’s a great experience to be involved with and great way to see that you are not alone and not the only one who thinks abortion is against what we believe in.”

A project for healing

   Lisa Hall, director of the diocesan Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry, knows that the need for the March for Life is great.

   “We know that there are still even now more than a million babies aborted each year in the United States,” she said.

   Many people are affected by these decisions, she said, and that’s why her office feels that Project Rachel is important for those who are seeking healing after an abortion.

   The diocesan Day of Hope for women who have had an abortion is set for Feb. 4, Hall said.

   Anyone who would like information on Project Rachel can find it on the diocesan website: http:www.syracusediocese.org/welcome/#. 

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