By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Rosary in hand, Tom Pottratz surveyed the throng gathered for the opening Mass of the annual March for Life Jan. 21 at the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
What he saw gave him a sense of satisfaction.
Mixed among the crowd were more than 1,000 people, many of them of school age, from his hometown of Indianapolis.
Twenty years ago, when Pottratz started attending the March for Life, Indianapolis was not well represented.
After a few years, Pottratz recalled for Catholic News Service, he wondered what could be done to bring the same enthusiasm for making the annual trek to Washington that he saw in people from other parts of the U.S. to the young people of central Indiana.
Pottratz, a member of St. Louis de Montfort Parish in suburban Fishers, Ind., approached Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis, offering to organize bus trips for teens to attend the march and its related activities. The archbishop gave his blessing. Then recently retired, Pottratz went to work.
The first year, 1996, he was able to get about 180 teens to fill four buses. Thereafter the project grew. He stepped back from the effort a few years ago when parishes, schools and deaneries began sponsoring their own buses. This year about 25 buses made the trip from Indiana to Washington.
“I’ve always known most kids are pro-life but they’re a little reluctant to get up and stand in front because of what the popular media says,” Pottratz said. “That’s until they come out here one time and they see 150,000 other youth. They say ‘Wow, it’s kind of cool to be pro-life. OK, I can do it now.'”
The teens from Indianapolis helped generate an atmosphere of excitement in the basilica as the Mass neared. The congregation filled the aisles, side chapels, the vestibule and even part of the crypt level below the upper church.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, presided at the Mass. He was joined by Cardinals Francis E. George of Chicago, Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, William H. Keeler, retired archbishop of Baltimore, and William W. Baum and Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishops of Washington.
In his homily, Cardinal DiNardo welcomed the thousands of Catholics from across the country who made the trip to Washington for the annual vigil and march marking the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
The cardinal said he was particularly grateful for the presence of thousands of young people, whom he called “a sure mark of infectious joy, the sign of life.”
He recalled the martyrdom of a youthful St. Agnes — Jan. 21 is the feast day of the Roman saint — saying her witness to faith as a child can be an inspiration for all Catholics in the continuing campaign to protect life.
“St. Agnes was so small that the chains intended to bind her hands and wrists slid off,” he said. “Unfortunately, in our culture we have grown into the chains that bind us and hold us fast in a grip of deadly attitudes about human life, about the human person, especially in the moments of his or her beautiful but fragile beginnings and in those vulnerable times of old age and illness.”
The cardinal offered his views on the current health care reform legislation before Congress. He said the House and Senate versions of reform fail to uphold the dignity of people and freedom of conscience.
He said that while the House version of the bill reaffirmed the long-standing policy against using federal funds for health plans covering elective abortions, the Senate stripped that provision from its bill.
“That (Senate) bill is also less successful in making health care affordable for all who are poor or vulnerable, especially immigrants,” he said. “Neither bill has sufficient conscience protections at this point.
“Our response must be clear and articulate to Congress on the essential criteria for genuine health care reform. Abortion is not health care. Health care is about saving and preserving lives not destroying lives. As our president before Congress recently said, everyone should be cared for and no one should be deliberately killed,” he said.
Cardinal DiNardo urged the thousands in the basilica to embrace life willingly and earnestly, as did the saints who span the centuries.
He said the actions to influence lawmakers on abortion — lobbying, public marches, writing letters — are important. But so, he said, is prayer and embracing Jesus on the cross.
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