WASHINGTON — Friars, students, parishioners and Franciscan-spirited people were among the thousands who participated in the 39th March for Life last week. They came from towns in Maryland, Virginia, Upstate New York and New Jersey to advocate for life. Many, carrying signs, they came to voice their opposition to abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, war, poverty and racism.
The first stop for many HNP participants traveling to Washington was Silver Spring, Md., where a Mass for the Unborn was concelebrated at St. Camillus Church by Ignatius Smith, OFM, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Callicoon, N.Y., Jud Weiksnar, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Camden, N.J., and Fr. John Tran, pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Monticello, N.Y.
The friars in New York’s Upstate Sullivan County sponsored their 15th annual “Pilgrimage for the Unborn,” according to Ignatius. A group of 40 people from Holy Cross and other parishes in this rural area — including St. Patrick’s Parish, Long Eddy; St. Francis Parish, Narrowsburg; St. Anthony Church, Yulan; and St. Peter’s Church in Monticello — traveled to Washington by bus.
They were joined at the Jan. 23 march by Russel Murray, OFM, director of Siena College’s Center for Service and Advocacy, who accompanied almost a dozen students from Loudonville, N.Y. They were members of Siena for Life, a club that promotes the dignity and worth of every human life, and Peter Schneible, OFM, and students from St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.
Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., attended the march with five parishioners and the youth group. The parish hosted the SBU students who camped out at the replacing school the night before.
Anniversary of Roe v. Wade
The March for Life and the National Prayer Vigil for Life was held on Washington’s Constitution Avenue and ended at the Supreme Court. It marks the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
“The unwavering commitment of these New Yorkers, matched by that of hundreds of thousands of others from around the country, has made the march the success that it is: a peaceful and powerful expression of the pro-life movement’s strength,” according to an editorial titled A Positive Path that appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of Catholic New York.
“The bishops this year were articulate in including all the Seamless Garment issues in their preparation for the march, though I’m not sure that message got through to all the marchers or sign-makers,” said Charles Miller, OFM, of St. Francis Parish in Triangle, Va., who accompanied approximately 40 students and church members.
“Apart from the inherent importance of the pro-life cause, I am happy to see Catholics and others take their values and convictions to the street in a peaceful and united demonstration. Anything that gets the faith out of the pews into daily life is worth the effort,” he said.
Enthusiasm of Thousands
The crowd, estimated to be as much as 500,000, included many school groups. The Siena students mentioned meeting students from University of Notre Dame, Ave Maria, Franciscan University, Boston College and other schools, according to student Brianna St. Amour.
Charles agreed. “I am impressed by how many students and young people are involved and how enthusiastic they are. Twenty-five were eighth-graders from our parish school. This is my sixth year participating, though the parish has been participating much longer.”
“The eighth-graders get very engaged by this, and not just because it is a day away from classes. They end up getting home much later than they do when they’re at school,” he said. “I think they sense they are part of something large and important. The spirit of the march, with some glaring exceptions, is positive and respectful.”
“The enthusiasm of the eighth-graders was contagious,” said Anne Tunney, outreach director at the Triangle parish. “It was wonderful seeing so many young people taking their beliefs to the public square.”
The weather that day in Washington had intermittent rain with temperatures in the high 30s, according to a story published by Catholic News Service.
Photos of the March for Life can be found on the Flickr page of the Franciscan Action Network, according to its Jan. 30 newsletter.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.