By Diane Freeby
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly 1,000 strong, they came from all corners of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Most tossed sleeping bags onto buses and made their way to Washington, D.C., to show their support for the sanctity of human life. They joined a record-breaking crowd of about 400,000 people who descended upon Constitution Avenue, participating in the 37th annual March for Life, held Jan. 22, the date marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal in the U.S.
Today’s Catholic rode along on a bus that left Thursday night from Saint Joseph’s High School in South Bend. Young people from Elkhart, Goshen and Warsaw also joined the pilgrimage. They included students from Catholic, public and home schools. Driving through the night, the group arrived in the nation’s capital Friday morning, just in time for the Youth Rally and Mass for Life at the Verizon Center.
“That was incredible, to be part of such a huge crowd of people all working and standing up for respect for life,” exclaimed Mark Wheeler, a home-schooled junior from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Goshen. He and others enjoyed the music, talks and rosary that were conducted before Mass. “Sometimes, where I live, I’m kind of the minority in terms of Catholics. When you’re in a huge stadium of some 20,000 Catholics, excited about it all, that was pretty incredible to me.”
Saint Joseph’s High School junior Michael Shakour was also making his first trip to Washington for the march.
“I see how horrible abortion is and I just want to do something against it, like a statement of some sort, somehow,” said Shakour. “There were so many people in the basketball arena … all the bishops and priests.”
The Verizon Center was nearly filled with young people from all over the country, along with several religious orders, seminarians, priests, bishops and cardinals. The seminarians especially received enthusiastic applause when they were introduced, as the youth seemed to relate to other young people answering God’s call to religious life. Six Mishawaka Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration were counted among the many other young religious on hand. Retired Bishop John M. D’Arcy and Bishop Kevin Rhoades concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Donald W.Wuerl, of Washington, D.C., and other visiting clergy.
As the crowd spilled into the street after Mass, they gathered on the lawn of the National Mall where various speakers addressed the marchers before a send-off blessing was delivered by Bishop D’Arcy. Reflecting on the example of Our Lady, Bishop D’Arcy proceeded to lead the hundreds of thousands of pro-life supporters in praying the Hail Mary before joining the march himself.
Both Bishops Rhoades and D’Arcy walked back and forth among the marchers from Fort Wayne-South Bend. They met with young people eager to pose for photos and engage in discussion about the pro-life issues.
“Everybody’s got to have a voice,” said Cody Sharp, a student at Ivy Tech in Fort Wayne and member of Queen of Angels Parish. “For those little ones who don’t, someone has to speak up for them.”
A large group from Fort Wayne, including students from Bishop Dwenger and Bishop Luers were represented. Alana Skwarcan, a junior at Marian High School in Mishawaka, was impressed with what she experienced during her first-ever March for Life.
“It’s really intense, and a lot of fun,” she said. “You meet a lot of people. It’s just so cool because there are so many people getting together and making a big statement.”
“It’s really neat to see so many people willing to sacrifice so much to try to change people’s views,” added Rachel Staley, a junior at Saint Joseph’s High School.
The enthusiasm was not lost on Bishop Rhoades, who has been to nearly every March for Life since it began in 1973.
“I think it’s wonderful to see so many young people from our diocese, to come all the way from Indiana. … I just think it’s great. I’m very impressed,” he smiled. “I’ve been meeting a lot of them, and getting photos with a lot of young people. And they’re just a wonderful group. You can see their faith is strong, their commitment to the pro-life cause is very solid. It gives me great confidence for the future.”
Kevin Strong of Sacred Heart Parish brought his two sons, sophomores at Warsaw High School.
“This is my first time here and I’m very impressed,” said Strong. “It’s very encouraging to see all these people here fighting for the unborn child. I think it shows our politicians in Congress our resolve, that this is a big issue in our minds, that we need to protect the innocent lives of the unborn.”
About 400 students and faculty from the University of Notre Dame made the trip to Washington, D.C., this year. They were joined by university president, Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, making his first-ever appearance at the march. He invited Bishop Rhoades to meet with the group, and presented the bishop with an official Notre Dame Right to Life ski cap.
While the March for Life is not officially a Catholic event, the strong Catholic presence is undeniable. From Bishop D’Arcy’s opening prayer to the last steps taken by pro-life marchers of all ages, many Catholics believe this kind of public witness only strengthens their faith.
“It was amazing,” added Beth Bubik, a math teacher at Saint Joseph’s High School and chaperone for the trip. “It’s such an important cause to fight for, and to fight against abortion especially with the health care reform pending legislation. I also enjoyed walking with the bishops. I thought that was extremely special and how grateful we all should be to be walking down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., with our bishops, and our seminarians and our priests, and just wonderful adults and kids. … just like family, supporting each other. It was amazing to me! What a great witness for life.”
Click here for more photos from the March for Life and Mass in Arlington, Va.
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