The March for Life and accompanying rally is just the centerpiece of several days worth of major pro-life events in Washington, D.C. every year. Many occur at the same time, so I just made it to as many as I could, live-blogging my experience on Aleteia’s Twitter account (@AleteiaNetwork). Here is a summary of the events before the march, with another summary of events after the march coming tomorrow.
The first event I attended came two days before the March: a happy hour gathering for the new Beltway Right to Life organization at a local restaurant. The atmosphere was positive and hopeful. The leaders of the new organization made passionate speeches, reminding us that to be pro-life is to be pro-woman and pro-child. The place was packed, with almost everyone present under the age of 30 – a trend at every pro-life event I attended surrounding the March.
The day before and the morning of the March was filled with a flurry of events. Events included a prayer vigil outside a DC Planned Parenthood facility (just steps away from the White House), the Americans United for Life Legal Conference, an interdenominational “All Life Is Sacred” rally, a rally with Catholic Underground and Matt Maher at a local parish, a Democrats for Life Breakfast reception, an interdenominational National Prayer Service on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a Lutherans for Life Divine Service, and youth rallies and Masses at the Comcast Center and Patriot Center, but I made it to just four events: the Law of Life Summit, the March for Life Youth Rally, the National Vigil for Life Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the Archdiocese of Washington’s Youth Rally and Mass at the Verizon Center.
The 3rd Annual Law of Life Summit
was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel near the national mall. Founded by Ave Maria Law School graduate Royce Hood, its stated goal is: “Pro-Life Leaders and Students Creating Measurable and Achievable Objectives for Overturning Roe v. Wade.” About 50 were in attendance, the majority of which appeared to be young adults in their 20s or 30s. Fr Frank Pavone opened with prayer, and a number of speakers followed.
Rebecca Kiessling, herself conceived from rape, gave an impassioned plea to not sacrifice the lives of children conceived in rape for the pro-life cause, saying that it hurt her greatly to hear people say that the lives of children conceived from rape are less valuable or disposable.
Ryan Bomberger, an African-American who co-founded the Radiance Foundation, said the media didn’t know how to respond to an African-American who was against abortion, and highlighted the fact that a disproportionate number of African-American babies are aborted annually. Bomberger, himself also a child of rape, also called for the need to make no exceptions for abortion in cases of rape saying, “We’re the 1% used to justify the 99%.”
Two speakers noted the lack of media coverage of the March for Life, one saying that if someone wanted to invade the capital, they should just pretend to be a pro-life march; the other said that the March for Life must be made up of “stealthy ninjas” since the media seems to be unaware of it every year. Other speakers placed some of the blame for the pro-life media problem on pro-lifers themselves, saying that they needed to engage the media better.
Several hundred youth packed the hotel’s ballroom for the March for Life Youth Rally, making it a “standing room only” crowd. A sign was hung near the front that read: “I survived Roe v. Wade; Roe v. Wade won’t survive me”. A number of pro-life leaders – almost all young women – passionately and articulately addressed the crowd. The consistent theme heard throughout the speeches centered on how this new generation of young people consists of “abortion survivors” – those who came to be born in spite of the fact that they were not guaranteed the right to life in their mother’s womb – and that they are the “pro-life generation” that would overturn Roe. One young woman said: “The Roe generation was wrong on abortion; our generation will fix it.”
Rebecca Kiessling also addressed the crowd, this time flanked by a number of women holding signs that said they were children of rape, and directed people to savethe1.com
. Another speaker told the story of how she miraculously survived a saline abortion attempt by her mother. One of the most moving moments of the rally was when a 12-year-old girl addressed the crowd, saying with tears we were missing 55 million best friends that we’ll never know.
Jeanne Monahan, the recently appointed President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund
following the death of its founder Nellie Gray this last year, told the young crowd she estimates the March for Life normally to be about 80% young people (indeed, the march this year felt like it was a massive youth event). She exhorted everyone to take time in prayer before they left Washington to think about what part God wanted them to play in the pro-life movement. Young sisters from the Franciscan Disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ
were also in tow, leading the crowd in singing contemporary praise songs.
Organizers estimate the 3-hour Mass, which featured the sublime music of the Basilica organ and choir, had 13,000 in attendance (most likely confirmed by the number of hosts distributed at communion), of which young people clearly composed the vast majority. With 5 cardinals, 42 bishops, 395 priests, 80 deacons, 520 seminarians, and 60 altar servers, there were over one thousand in the opening procession, which lasted about 40 minutes. There were also two rows reserved at the front for religious sisters, all of whom were dressed in habit.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, delivered a powerful homily, spanning a range of topics including the need to help women with crisis pregnancies, the need for counseling and forgiveness of post-abortive women, his remembrance of the late founder of the March for Life Nellie Gray (whom he called the “Joan of Arc of the pro-life movement”), and the recent failed vote to allow doctor assisted suicide in his home state of Massachusetts. And, stating the Church’s position on abortion with unequivocal conviction, the Cardinal thundered mid-way through the homily: “abortion is evil and unnecessary.”
The Mass was followed by the National Rosary for Life in the Crypt, which was also largely attended by young people. The all-night prayer vigil continued at the Basilica, ending with a closing Mass the next morning, attended by 5,500, with 3 bishops and 36 priests at the altar.
The Basilica also reported that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Dioceses of Raleigh and Charlotte used the Basilica for special pilgrimage Masses, with 6,000 and 5,000 in attendance, respectively. With other special Masses, the Basilica estimates having accommodated “well over 30,000 within a 24-48 hour period.”
The morning of the March for Life, the local Catholic dioceses rented out not one, not two, but three local stadiums for more youth rallies and Masses. I attended part of the one put on by the Archdiocese of Washington at the Verizon Center near the National Mall. It seemed the stadium’s 20,000 person capacity was basically filled: though there were some empty seats directly behind the altar area, there were also a few hundred filled seats added on the floor of the stadium.
The Vatican’s Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, was present and read a letter from His Holiness in support of the March for Life, receiving a standing ovation from the youth. The first Scripture reading was in Spanish, the others in English. A priest gave an inspiring homily, saying our battle is not a physical one, but a spiritual one: while our enemy uses the weapons of doubt and fear, we fight with weapons of love, mercy, and joy. Following communion at the end of Mass, Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, asked priests, religious, and those considering either the priesthood or religious life to stand up in turn to receive encouragement from the crowd. Notably, it appeared that all the religious present that stood up were wearing habits. He ended by exhorting the youth to show the joy of the culture of life at the March for Life later that day. From there, police escort led the 20,000 youth on foot from the Verizon Center to the nearby National Mall for the rally before the March for Life.