If you have ever had the exciting privilege of being in Washington for the Pro-Life March you how true it is that you always leave exhausted, but more alive than you came. The Pro-life March, for a Catholic especially, is really more than just the March, it is a series of activities. In the days immediately before the March there are usually seminars and other focused gatherings around life and bio-ethical issues. Then there is the great Vigil Mass for Life, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the night before the March. The Great Upper Church of the Basilica can comfortably seat about 4,000 people. But the Vigil Mass for Life brings often 8,000 or more. People are standing in the aisles, the side chapels, in every nook and cranny. The Sanctuary around the High Altar is packed with Bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians from all over the country. Visible in the Church are Religious men and women in consecrated life showing a magnificent display of diversity in their habits. The congregation is filled with men an women and young people of every age group, and every ethnic and racial diversity imaginable. If you want to know how catholic (universal) the Catholic Church really is, just come to the Basilica for the Vigil Mass for Life!
The bigger picture – There are some who want to describe the Church as aging and of declining numbers. Some want to describe the Church as not being able to connect with the young, or with peoples of non-European descent. Some say her clergy and religious are aging. But come to the pro-life vigil Mass and behold the youthful diversity of the Church! And even if you can’t go, watch, as the EWTN cameras pan the congregation. Most of the religious in traditional habits are young. And there are hundreds and hundreds of them! Watch as the seemingly endless procession of clergy and seminarians enter, again, by the hundreds. And there too, youthful vigor is in strong display! So many are the priests and seminarians that they overflow the sanctuary into the side chapel for the Blessed Sacrament and into the ambulatory behind and around the High Altar. Here is a Basilica, one of the ten largest churches in the world, filled to overflowing with life, joy and worship! Yes, the Church is a bride, she is not a widow! Indeed, she is the joyful mother of multitudes.
Rally Riches – And this is just the Vigil Mass. The next day, of your pro-life pilgrimage features a youth Rally at the Verizon Center. The doors open early for music and praise. 18,000, mostly young people, pack the place. Music, inspired talks, the wave and ten trillion watts of youthful energy fill the center in one of its largest functions of the year. A reverent but energetic Mass follows, celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl. One of the younger priests of the Archdiocese usually preaches an energetic and youth oriented homily. And then, after the reception of Holy Communion, concluding prayer and praise, the youthful congregation bursts forth onto the streets of Downtown Washington to head for the March line-up on the Mall.
Overflow! The number of young people vastly outsizes the capacity of the Verizon Center. Last year an alternative overflow site at the DC Armory hosted an additional 10,000 young people. There too, after prayer and praise and the celebration of the Holy Mass the young people and their adult chaperons headed for the Mall to begin the March.
And march itself is also a remarkable display in diversity. The balance is wonderfully tipped toward a youthful appearance. Here, Catholics join non-Catholics, fellow believers and even non-believers to march in six-figure numbers. The joy, the prayer, the hope and the experience of how right and just it is to support life all fill the air. It is usually cold, but the warmth within the crowd is tangible. And again, it is the youth who so often set the tone. They have zeal and zest as they lead chants and celebrate life.
The only angry people I meet at the March are usually the pro-choice counter demonstrators I speak with. There are about a dozen of them in front of the Supreme Court and I go to each one of them and individually, if I can and say, as I look into their eyes, “In your heart you know better, you know abortion is terribly wrong.” I speak as softly as I could in the outdoor environment with a lot of background noise. I am trying to go right for their conscience, which, though suppressed, is still there. For the voice of God ultimately echoes in every human person according to the Catechism (cf CCC # 1776). Deep down they DO know that abortion is wrong.
Last year, I only got about half way through the group before they surrounded me and began to engage me. Their primary accusation against me seemed to be that I was not a woman. Of this I am guilty, but suggested to them that to determine the wrongness of abortion did not require a womb but, rather, a mind and a heart, something both men and women have! They grew angrier with me as I didn’t easily go away but continued down the line suggesting to each one that they knew, deep down, that it was wrong to abort babies. I wanted to speak this to each one personally. I wanted to try and reach their conscience. Difficult, but worth trying.
In the end they chose to serenade me! And here was the song they sang:
- Hey Hey, Ho, Ho! Pro-life men have got to go!
- Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! If YOU got pregnant then you’d know!
Even here, Life! Well, I just smiled and prayed, and the ladies in the rosary group behind me redoubled their prayers and I stood there and waited for the counter-protesters to grow tired of singing. I was grateful to suffer for the sake of the Name and to be a “fool for Christ” in their eyes (1 Cor 4:10). Yes, even this was life giving for me. Dr. King had once said, “If you find a good fight, get in it!” And here I was on the front line, in the forward trench.
In the end, to stand up for life is to experience life and to experience it to the top! The March for Life shows the Church fully alive, youthful, joyful, numerous and diverse. We have discussed before on this blog with sobriety some alarming trends and numbers in the western branch of the Church. But this weekend shows once again that the Church is a bride, not a widow. That she remains alive and strong, prophetic and enthusiastic. It shows that her young are still numerous, that vocations are rebounding. It shows that zeal for the truth is still deep in a faithful remnant that is glad to be alive, glad to celebrate life, glad to be Catholic and experience that the Church is catholic (universal). To stand up for life is to experience life. Come next year to Washington.
This video shows some glimpses of the Pro-Life Youth Rally at the Verizon Center. The footage is from Catholic.tv