Some people said we showed great fortitude. Others felt it was foolishness. Four other chaperones and I accompanied 38 teenagers from Catholic Memorial High School to the 2016 March for Life in Washington, DC. Yes, we did this despite the dire warnings of winter storm Jonas bearing down on the East Coast.
It is striking that to the critics of the pro-life movement to cancel the trip would reflect a lack of commitment to the cause. But, to have participated (given the weather) indicates to abortion supporters that our “foolishness” is a reflection of an irrational, foolhardy stance.
Last Friday, the day of the march, felt rushed, yet purposeful. The youth rally and Mass at the Verizon Center, annually sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington, had its start time moved up and was kept briefer than in years past.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl even encouraged local groups just to return home after the dismissal from Mass. But, for our group of hearty Wisconsinites, it was off to the Capitol Mall. Snow flurries started just as our group moved from the staging area onto Constitution Avenue. The rest of the storm you know from the news.
In years past, there have been hundreds of thousands of marchers. This year, I would guess that participation was in the tens of thousands — far more than the mere hundreds or a few thousand that the mainstream media estimated. The stretch of people from where Constitution Avenue peaks on Capitol Hill extended about a half mile.
Unfortunately, as whenever the march is on a Friday or a Monday, and regardless of threatening weather, most of the politicians who should pay attention to these gatherings make sure they are out of town.
One noticeable difference this year was the lack of counter protesters. I guess they are just not as hearty as we are, or maybe they are just not as committed. One thing consistent with years past was the lack of attention shown the march by the mainstream media.
So, in almost every quantifiable way, critics can call this year’s March for Life a failure because large numbers of people were never reached in terms of participation, counter protest, or coverage.
While that reasoning is flawed, it also misses a deeper reality. While the pro-life movement needs numbers for the politics of it, numbers do not inspire or even fulfill.
Every year, near the start of our pilgrimage for life, I ask all our kids to share why they came. I realize that, for some, it is just a chance just to have a trip with friends. But, I am always struck and very much humbled by the insights of many of these teens.
Many of them speak of life experiences with handicapped siblings or relatives who lived through the pain of miscarriage. Some have seen regret among relatives for decisions made or recall learning, at far too young an age, what “selective reduction” meant.
Essentially, young people express that the reason to be pro-life is often rooted in something very personal, something very individual, and something almost intimate.
Like the shared lifeblood of mother with child in the womb or the loving hopes that should define father to child. Like brother to sister, or the love of a sibling with Down syndrome, or the unrequited familial love of a sibling lost.
Better than most, young people are vivid and visceral about the potential of loving relationships and the impact of relationships lost.
In a world where high numbers of followers, likes, and online “friends” strive to make a case for quantity over quality as the scale of judgment, the individuality of love and responsibility should be the real standard.
It is a standard which better reflects the notion that each child in the womb and every elderly or handicapped person in full time care is not only made in the image and likeness of God, but is loved – individually and personally – by God.
I admit that as we sat stranded, unsure of what will be the plans to get home, I did feel that we might have been just a bit foolish to have made the trip this year. But then I recall that we did not come simply to blend in among the hundreds of thousands who normally attend.
Instead, as some young people insightfully, lovingly, and eloquently reminded me, many come to march for just one. Many are pro-life because of the love of one. This is wonderful.
At the end of the trip, I hope that the students from CMH, all young people, all people, realize that in the hands of the Father, in the eyes of Christ, and under the wings of the Holy Spirit, they are the one loved by God. I prayer that they remain committed, whether for one or for many, to being heralds of hope.