On the frigid and snowy Friday afternoon of Jan. 25, a busload of hearty pilgrims from St. Peter’s Catholic parish joined the immense throng of pro-life citizens from across the country in the 40th annual March for Life to protest the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision which invented a new right to abortion.
The chartered motor coach left St. Peter’s church at 10:30 Friday morning, nearly filled to capacity with 54 parishioners, a group ranging from gray-haired grandparents to young adults and children. Our pastor, Father Christopher Murphy, led the group in praying a rosary as the bus rolled toward the nation’s capital. After a quick consumption of brown-bag lunches on the bus – fuel for the long afternoon in the cold – the pilgrims arrived on the national mall about noon.
There we joined the milling mass of humanity that makes up this annual protest against a court decision that has led to an estimated 55 million abortions over 40 years. Signs, flags and banners carried by the marchers attested to the fact that people came from every point on the national compass to join this protest: From New Orleans and Tulsa, Michigan and Iowa, Mississippi and Louisiana, Pennsylvania and New York, and many more places. There were many Knights of Columbus banners in the crowd, and an ecumenical flavor, too: Lutherans for Life, Maronite Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and others.
After a rally on the mall, the march itself began about 1:30 p.m. The striking thing about the marchers was the preponderance of young people: elementary and high school kids, young adults, college groups, and even toddlers and babies in the arms of their parents. Many young marchers carried signs saying “I am the Pro-Life Generation.”
The “march” seemed more like a slow-moving river of people, shoulder to shoulder, shuffling slowly up Constitution Avenue at a creeping pace, tens of thousands of feet taking little steps at first, then gradually loosening up to a steady gait as the parade stretched up Capitol Hill. How many people were marching? Nobody knows, really, because police stopped trying to count such crowds years ago. To this observer, it seemed like the largest mass gathering I have ever experienced.
With temperatures in the 20s, a light breeze under low, gray skies and a snowfall that began midway in the parade, the marching conditions were less than ideal. But the weather seemed to have little effect on the spirit of the crowd, and seemed to underline the determination of the people to bring their message of life to the capital, no matter what the conditions or hardships.
The march arrived at its destination, the Supreme Court building, about 3:30, where it met a relative handful of counter-protesters carrying pro-abortion signs, some of them expressed in obscene language. Given their small numbers, the counter-protesters were easily ignored and posed no threat to the quiet determination of the pro-life marchers.
After it was over, the long bus ride back to Rappahannock County gave the bone-chilled and weary St. Peter’s pilgrims time to reflect on the value of standing up for what you believe and proudly witnessing our faith in public. Those who believe the law on abortion is “settled” and the debate over Roe v. Wade is “over,” have grossly underestimated the vitality and determination of the pro-life movement.
James P. Gannon