Youth make pilgrimage to March for Life

The Archdiocese of New Orleans’ March for Life trip sponsored by the CYO/Young Adult Ministry office took a decidedly different tone this year, immediately evidenced at the departure from the St. Dominic Church parking lot Jan. 19.

Instead of just boarding buses, the 275 participants experienced a short program of song, inspirational quotes, a Bible verse and a blessing and challenge from Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

“We start in prayer tonight because we are not just tourists,” said John Smestad, CYO/Young Adult Ministry director. “We are people of prayer. We have a purpose. Our faith is the root.”

Archbishop Aymond, who was unable to accompany the group to D.C. due to his ad limina visit with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, assured the travelers they would be in his daily prayers. He asserted that their presence at the march would demonstrate that the young church of New Orleans values life and is a witness to life.

“You must be a light to others,” Archbishop Aymond said. “There will be 275 bright lights from the city of New Orleans.”

He urged them to be a voice for life to others and to take the time to pray and discern what use God has for the gifts he had given each of them, including a possible call to a religious vocation.

“Never underestimate the power of prayer,” Archbishop Aymond said. “You have the ability to change others’ hearts … and change people to see what God sees.”

Seeing religious vocations Smestad said he long desired to make the annual excursion more of a pilgrimage, with time for reflective prayer and formation. Input from several seminarians, including Tim Hedrick who had been a youth minister in Baton Rouge, led to more activities on the first leg.

“We structured some of the time on the ride up with more community-building activities, more intentional prayer opportunities and some pro-life material (including videos),” Smestad said. “We also overhauled and expanded the prayer journal with reflectional questions pertaining to daily activities, added new parts of the Mass and put together a pilgrim packet with a rosary and prayer cards from Louisiana Right to Life.”

A vocation message was made clear through a “ministry of presence” with seminarians, priests and nuns on each of the five buses.

“We wanted to be more intentional about promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life with people on the trip,” Smestad said. “We could talk about it, but if you put the people who are in the middle of making their own discernment or who have made the decision on the bus, teens can talk to seminarians and sisters and think, ‘Maybe I can do that.’ It makes it more realNew stops on trip

While there were sightseeing opportunities to museums, monuments, the White House and Congressional offices in Washington, D.C., other events were more faith-building in nature. For example, Mass and breakfast was held with the Nashville Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia; a rosary was recited outside a Planned Parenthood clinic two blocks from the White House; and a pro-life evening of reflection, prayer and adoration was arranged at the hotel.

The day before the Jan. 23 march, the New Orleans contingent participated in the Diocese of Arlington’s “Life is Very Good” event that included a concert by Matt Maher and eucharistic adoration.

Roddy Stieffel, a senior at Jesuit, has gone on the March for Life trip four times. He definitely noticed a more spiritual aspect this year.

“With all the things we did, it strengthened my faith life,” he said. “When we did the rosary outside the abortion clinic, it was pretty profound. I believe marching for life makes a difference. At the abortion clinic, when people see you praying, it may influence someone to reconsider having an abortion.

Smestad has received positive trip reviews since his return, but what astounded him most were the teens on the trip who shared “how moved they were and what an impact the experience was having on them. That impressed me.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at

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