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February 5, 2017

March for Life 2017: ‘So many people, standing up for life’

Hundreds of pilgrims from the Lafayette diocese traveled to Washington for the 44th annual March for Life on Jan. 27. Among them, from left, were Eugenia Hensley, Sara Siener, Iza De Los Reyes and Samantha Coffing, all members of the Greater Lafayette Antioch Youth Group. (Photo by Caroline B. Mooney)

Hundreds of pilgrims from the Lafayette diocese traveled to Washington for the 44th annual March for Life on Jan. 27. Among them, from left, were Eugenia Hensley, Sara Siener, Iza De Los Reyes and Samantha Coffing, all members of the Greater Lafayette Antioch Youth Group. (Photo by Caroline B. Mooney)

By Caroline B. Mooney

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With a nation that is so divided politically, it was a beautiful thing to see tens of thousands of people from across the country join in solidarity for the 44th annual March for Life on Jan. 27.

Marchers ranged in age from infants in strollers to the elderly using canes and walkers, but most of those present were 25 or younger.

Marchers trekked up Constitution Avenue, starting at the grounds of the National Mall and ending in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building.

The world’s largest pro-life rally marks the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The theme of this year’s march was the “Power of One,” highlighting how every individual has the ability to make a difference in the cause of life.

An announcement that newly inaugurated Vice President Mike Pence would speak at the rally preceding the march brought national media coverage that had been lacking for 43 years. It was recognition that many have worked long and hard for.

“The rally and Mass for Life in the D.C. Armory before the march was a way for our young people to realize their efforts must be grounded in prayer and sustained with the graces of the Eucharist,” said Father Thomas Haan, chaplain at Guerin Catholic High School, Noblesville. “They also saw thousands of other young people just as passionate as they were.

“I was so impressed with our students,” he said. “Sleeping on buses and gym floors isn’t fun for anyone, but they didn’t complain, and even offered those inconveniences up for the unborn and women in crisis pregnancies.

“There was certainly more hope and excitement in the air this year, and I think the students realized that winning the battle for legal protection for children in the womb is possible in their lifetime, possibly sooner than later,” Father Haan said.

Hundreds of marchers came from the Diocese of Lafayette, including faithful from Guerin Catholic; St. Ambrose and St. Mary, Anderson; Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Carmel; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Carmel;  St. Bernard, Crawfordsville; St. John Vianney, Fishers; St. Louis de Montfort, Fishers; St. Mary, Frankfort; St. Joan of Arc and St. Patrick, Kokomo; St. Mary Cathedral, Lafayette; St. Lawrence, Lafayette; St. Maria Goretti, Westfield; St. Thomas Aquinas, West Lafayette, and St. Alphonsus, Zionsville

Youth rallies and Masses were held before the march. At the Verizon Center, principal celebrant of the Mass was Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio the United States. Mass at the DC Armory had Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, as principal celebrant and Father Shaun T. Foggo, parochial vicar at the Shrine of St. Jude in Rockville, Md, was homilist.

“It’s so awesome every year to see this huge amount of high school and college-age students,” Father Foggo said. “My message to all of you is that you are not too young to be called a devout Catholic. A devout Catholic is not perfect. A devout Catholic is someone who allows the Church to be a bridge for them to receive the love and mercy of Jesus.”

He said that 87 to 92 percent of pregnant mothers who find out their children have Down syndrome in the womb decide to abort.

“That is the big reason why we are all here today,” Father Foggo said. “Not to condemn but to shine the light of Christ on a very dark, lonely and scared world. The reality is that there are people who are so scared, so confused that they think the most vulnerable, the most innocent, the most precious being in this world — a human baby — is somehow going to destroy their lives. When instead a child brings joy and peace. A child can stop someone dead in his tracks and slow them down, get them to chill out and forget about his plans and to listen to what God is speaking to him. A child brings this incredible love. A child helps us to realize the presence of God.

“It’s very likely that many of you will eventually know somebody who is considering an abortion,” he said. “And some of you probably already know someone who suffers from the wound of that sin. And that is where the light of God’s mercy and love needs to shine. So that you can be a bridge to bring those people into the church. … We don’t know if it will happen in a school, in a random business park or in a subway, so we have to be ready. We have to be willing to make that commitment, to step it up for the Lord. So that those in need will know that they are welcome into the Church through us so that when they get there they will say together with us, ‘I am so glad I am here.’”

Cassady Lear, a high schooler and member of St. Mary Cathedral, Lafayette, said she could sense the faith in the room the youth Mass, and was amazed at the number of priests concelebrating.

Paul Sifuentes, diocesan youth and young adult formation associate director, brought two busloads of pilgrims to the march.

“We wanted this to be a pilgrimage,” he said. “We had prayer on the bus and first thing we did when we got to D.C. was the rally and Mass. To see all the religious life marching — as we were a visible sign to the country and to those in Washington – they were a visible sign to us.”

The group went on to New York and toured the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, as a reminder of how important life is.

“What pro-life is for us as Catholics is not just the unborn, but our fight begins there,” Sifuentes said. “The struggle is for all of life to be respected, appreciated, and valued, and that’s why we chose the quote on our pilgrimage shirts to be Ephesians 2:10: ‘For we are all God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.’

“We need to let this experience enliven us and strengthen us so we go back and build that culture of life, through our relationships that we have with our friends and our family, the vocations we are called to,” he said.

A father of three, Sifuentes’ wife is pregnant with their fourth child.

“I see now my role as pro-life is to go on trips like this and to raise our children to value and appreciate human life in all its forms. Doing that and doing it well has a great impact on the world and the community,” he said. “I think sometime we overlook that and devalue that but it is very, very important. The impact that we have with our vocation is this family that we have and that’s our main focus — to grow this family which is a school of love, that they may learn how to love each other, to love their God and to love their neighbor.”

“It’s cool to see so many youth collaborate together, to see each other come together to stand up for the unborn who can’t speak,” said Prestin Hillman, a high schooler from St. Mary’s Frankfort. “I came because I am pro-life and it’s cool to see all the other youth and how they were all into it. We were marching with others, chanting together about being pro-life and that was really cool. It was a blast to be with my youth group and spend the day with them. It’s not often you get a chance to support something this big with thousands of people.”

Tammy Laudicina, youth minister from St. Mary, Muncie, felt joy emanating from the crowd.

“It’s great to see so many people like us – we are not the only ones who feel this way. There were all ages, from babies to older folks, and people with mobility issues were out there. God’s got a plan, and it’s neat when you see it motion,” she said.

Tim Elshire, a chaperone from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, said he appreciated seeing so many members of the pro-life community coming together with their barriers down.

“I met a lady from North Dakota who regrets her abortion, and gave her a hug. People are there who know why they are there. Lots of people won’t ever read about this so we have to put it out there. The reality is people are here because they weren’t aborted.

“The stories we heard and witnessing that we do is the most powerful thing we have,” Elshire said. “There is always something we can do to help, like pray and offer up Masses.  We have to keep talking to people – you never know God’ revelation.”

“I really think it’s great that people from all around the country came together regardless of our differences to march for something that we all believe in,” said Kaitie-Rose Spillers, a high schooler from St. Mary, Lafayette. “I saw people holding signs about adoption that were personal to me because I am adopted. Six of the seven kids in my house are adopted so I liked seeing those signs. I represent the adopted because my parents didn’t want to abort me.”

Tony Worden, a high school junior from St. Alphonsus, Zionsville, said he wanted to be part of the march because “it doesn’t matter what religion or your political background is, we all are together fighting for the same things that we believe in. It was really cool to see the solidarity between everyone. You could look in front of you and behind you and see no end to all the people. I expected to walk through and there wouldn’t be much talking, but there was lot of excitement and people having fun together.”

Sue Bailey, youth minister at St. Mary, Lafayette, hopes that the experience showed youth that our Catholic faith is really big.

“We are taking what we learn in Lafayette about our faith and understanding that we can live our Catholic faith day by day knowing that the faith is everywhere,” she said. “When youth get these experiences outside of home, I think it solidifies what they do every day in their lives. They can see that it’s real. It’s so important for them to see so many people standing up for life. “

Janice Storey, pastoral associate of St. Mary, Anderson, distributed red, white and blue scarves to Lafayette pilgrims that were left over from the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. One scarf was to wear at the march, and the other was to give away to new friends made during the event.

Rosie Zatkulak, a member of St. Louis de Montfort Church, Fishers, said it was beautiful to look around the march and see so many youth.

“I like that the message did seem to be coming through from different places, too,” she said. “It’s not just about marching but it’s about the little things we can do every day. Respect the dignity of every person, from the way we treated one another on the bus, to the bus drivers, and the people we saw on the streets. Having an extra scarf we could give away to someone else – that was a good part of it. “

Lisa Sassman, a youth minister from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish, served as a chaperone and had her son, Michael, a high school junior, along on the march. Her other son, Mark, marched in 2013.

“As a parent, attending the march with my sons has been a beautiful life-moment experience. One that speaks proudly to the fact that I chose life two times,” Sassman said.

“Marching with our teens, who embrace being called the pro-life generation, was such a blessing. We saw Jesus’ love and compassion everywhere as we marched and prayed for the conversion of hearts in the defense of the unborn and healing for all those affected by abortion.

Attending Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - which seats 10,000 and had standing room only - was such visual truth that we are not alone in our faith and convictions in following Christ’s teachings and our desire to emulate Him in our lives, words and actions.”

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