While many travelers to the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., returned home sooner than initially expected due to impending snowfall, numerous pilgrims from the local diocesan and college communities still made the most of their opportunity to stand united as advocates with the poor, the unborn and all those suffering from want of love.
This 46th annual march included 850 participants from the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, collectively, and more than 600 students from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Together they joined hundreds of thousands in support of pro-life legislation and the creation of authentic cultures of encounter, outreach and inclusion.
Audriana Sheets-Thornburgh, a freshman at Bellmont High School who attended with the youth group of St. Mary of the Assumption in Decatur, exclaimed, “I loved how everyone came together and shared their passion to fight for the same cause. I was inspired by the hope and unity in God throughout the march.” Her parish youth minister, Karen Weber, added, “It was overwhelming how much support of all ages came to represent the sanctity of life.”
While this event traditionally focuses on the effort to eliminate legalized abortion in the United States, it also has helped serve as a catalyst for expanding the notion of being pro-life for all ages, viewing every man and woman as an individual created with inherent God-given dignity.
In addition to Bishop Dwenger’s highlighted presence at the front of the march, many students from Bishop Luers High School, Fort Wayne, chose to embody the spirit of compassion and preferential care for the poor through aid to the homeless in their midst. Senior Lily Shafer, attending her third March for Life, recalled in previous years, “at various places throughout the National Mall seeing people who were less fortunate then my friends and I. Last year, as many were buying lunch, I saw a man digging through the garbage for food. At the time, I had nothing to give the man, which personally broke my heart. This year I wanted to do something for the homeless, since we are marching for all those from conception to natural death and it is our duty as Catholics to help our brother and sisters in Christ. We were able to help them by putting together over 100 ‘blessing bags,’ with huge help from Mrs. Beth Carlin, our campus minister, to distribute to those throughout the march.”
Shafer continued: “As leader of our pro-life group ‘Knights for Life,’ I asked students to hand-deliver letters to their home parishes asking for their help in collecting items for the ‘blessing bags.’ Right away, they responded and we were blessed with many donations. We were able to collect many hand-knitted hats from their local parishes, and Klinger Family Dentistry donated over 75 toothbrushes. Mary Braun and Caroline Gladding were able to collect so many cases of water that the Luers’ student body will be able to use the leftovers for giving “blessing bags” throughout Fort Wayne. On the night of our departure meeting, we had around 20 people helping assemble the bags. We even had a student from Canterbury High School and two home-schooled students equally enthused to help. We were able to pass them out at Union Station and received so many warm smiles and hugs in return. It was such a profound experience for everyone who was able to participate, with a hope that the project will be able to grow and continue throughout the years.”
Abby Carlin, a freshman at Bishop Luers, who assisted in distributing the bags shared that “this experience was very eye-opening, seeing how we can help other people and offer assistance to those in our community. It allowed us to engage in our faith in a new way, not only being at the March for Life to stand against abortion, but also helping in other pro-life issues.” She further indicated, “Now that we are back in Fort Wayne, we can continue to make gift bags and give them out to people, help at local missions, and preach the Gospel not only through words, but also through our actions.”
Mishawaka Catholic religion teacher Kevin Glowiak expressed his gratitude and joy for this type of intentional outreach which “gives an increased sense of hope for the future of the pro-life culture.” He continued, “People are beginning to appropriately broaden the definition and understanding of what “pro-life” means: to care for the sick, elderly, imprisoned, even the dignity of marriage being between one man and one woman. Being pro-life shouldn’t be solely about abortion, it should be about every facet of social justice and the entire corpus of Catholic social teaching.”
Maria Dunn, a Holy Cross freshman and parishioner at Our Lady of Good Hope, shared the importance of continuing the spirit of the event long after its conclusion. She stated, “This march is the most united cause we have, all these different people of different religions and races coming together is such a rare and pivotal moment. What I learned most, however, is that while you often go to the March to be a witness to everyone else, in the process you more so become a witness to yourself.” She explained, “At one point, I turned around and took a picture of the huge swarm of people behind us, which showed how unified and motivated we were to walk together in support of life. However, when I go to a place where I don’t have that huge support behind me physically, I can still take this memory with me mentally and continue to be a witness.”
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