Gathering in bountiful numbers

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

WASHINGTON, D.C. – They came in 10 busloads from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, praying the rosary, lifting up the sanctity of life and letting the world know that their young voices must be heard.

More than 500 students from high schools in the archdiocese traveled to the nation’s capitol Jan. 15-20 to lend their voices to the 46th Annual March for Life, a rallying cry that is being promoted in stronger ways than ever by young people often stereotyped as self-absorbed and disengaged.

“There’s no doubt, that if you talk to the majority of our young people today, they are pro-life,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond said before leading the archdiocesan contingent on the march along the National Mall. “It is my generation that was pro-choice. It’s my generation when Roe vs. Wade took place.

“That was very dominant for a long time, but attitudes (toward unborn life) have changed, and I think that’s in large part due to the young church, the young adult church. They don’t just speak about pro-life. We have 500 people here who are willing to go to Washington and march and say they are pro-life.”

Speak up for the voiceless

In his Mass for the New Orleans contingent at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, Virginia, before the march Archbishop Aymond encouraged the young people to let their voices be heard because the unborn have no real voice.

“It’s not that the child in the womb has no voice, it’s that that voice cannot be heard,” Archbishop Aymond said. “You must speak out on their behalf.”

As the teenagers from New Orleans wound their way past the Supreme Court, they encountered some pro-choice groups, but there were no confrontations.

John Smestad Jr., the former director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry which first sponsored the pilgrimage about 10 years ago, said the weeklong pro-life activities are “dominated by young people, college students and high school students.”

“As the trip grew, so also 

the programming part of it evolved,” Smestad said. “We began to focus, in addition to obviously being witnesses to life and having a very intentional pro-life catechesis, on working in more intentional prayer opportunities, a focus on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. That enriched the experience in a big way.”

Strength in numbers

Smestad said the value of a core group of young people traveling together for a sacred cause cannot be underestimated.

“It’s a very powerful thing, not only for our young people to be witnesses for life in our nation’s capitol, to learn more about the cause and how to advocate for it, but also to have the Archdiocese of New Orleans traveling as one,” he said. “When they can come together like this, it helps them understand what it means to be one church.”

Meghan Farnsworth, a senior at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, said she was reluctant to make the March for Life when her teachers asked her in her freshman year to go. 

“I was kinda iffy about it, but I decided to go,” Farns­worth said. “I went into the trip not believing in God or believing in anything, really, and came home a Catholic. I had a huge conversion moment on the bus where my life really turned around from all the people and just the whole community experience together. It was totally life-changing. All the hatred and trouble I had with God instantly turned to love in a second, and I’ve been on love with Jesus Christ ever since.”

17 schools, 7 parishes

The New Orleans contingent consisted of 17 schools and seven parish youth groups, said Timmy McCaffery, director of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office. One parish from Natchez, Mississippi, joined the New Orleans pilgrims.

Just before the march, on the bus, New Orleans seminarian Ajani Gibson started a modified “Who Dat!” chant that went like this: “Who Dat! Who Dat! Who Dat say we gonna March for Life! We Dat! We Dat!”

Archbishop Aymond said even though pro-life students might be the target of barbs from others and seen as “too idealistic, that’s OK.”

That’s because we not only march for the dignity of human life, but we also march for those who don’t agree with us,” the archbishop said. “We pray that God will bless them and that they will be enlightened and come to an understanding of the reverence for human life.”

Mignon Antoine, president of Mount Carmel Academy’s Teach for Life program, said her pro-life generation is constantly growing.

“It really will make a difference because we’re constantly bringing more people in, and it’s like older people kinda losing interest,” she said. “It’s the young church really growing.”

At the rally, Vice President Mike Pence said those who stand up for the dignity of life in all its stages and want to see this respect for all life enshrined once again in U.S. law have a friend in the Pence family and the Trump administration.

Videotaped message

Pence and second lady Karen Pence were a surprise addition to the roster of speakers at the rally, and after his remarks, the vice president introduced a videotaped message by President Donald Trump, which also was unexpected.

“We’re the Pences and we’re pro-life,” the vice president said to the cheering crowd.

“We gather here because we stand for life and believe as our Founding Fathers did that life born and unborn is endowed with certain unalienable rights, and the first of those is life,” Pence said.

In his message, Trump said the pro-life movement is “founded on love and grounded in the nobility and dignity of every human life. I will always defend the first right in our Declaration of Independence: the right to life.”

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, welcomed the crowd and thanked them for coming once again to march to end abortion, what she called “the greatest human rights abuse of our time.”

She asked the crowd if they will keep marching to fight abortion, to march for the “poorest of the poor” and those who cannot march for themselves until “we no longer need to march” and abortion “is unthinkable.” She received a resounding “yes” to each question.

Looking out from the speakers’ platform, she declared the crowd to be bigger than she has ever seen in her seven years as head of March for Life.

100,000-plus expected

No official crowd counts are available for such events, but ahead of this year’s rally and march, organizers expected more than 100,000 to participate.

“We must keep marching for life every day of the year,” Mancini said, and she asked each marcher to share his or her pro-life story on social media because even of those stories about “why we march” can change others’ minds about abortion.

Before she gave her remarks, Mancini introduced Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities. He offered the opening prayer for the march and also urged the crowd to go “change the world!”

In a statement issued later in the day to mark the upcoming Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Archbishop Naumann called on the faithful “to pray for an end to the human rights abuse of abortion, and for a culture of life, where through God’s grace all will come to know they are made in his divine image.”

The theme for this year’s March for Life was “Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-science,” focusing on how scientific advancements reveal “the humanity of the unborn child from the moment of conception.”

In his remarks, Pence urged the pro-lifers to stand up for God’s creation, spread their message with compassion and hope, and not let their detractors dissuade them.

At the end of the march, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the contingent from New Orleans prayed a decade of the rosary.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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