When I was given the opportunity to live in Washington, D.C., one of the first considerations that came to mind was that I would be able to easily attend the March for Life. Prior to this year, I had attended twice — once as an infant, the second time as a toddler. This year, I planned to walk on my own two feet.
Though the March itself is the heart of the day’s pro-life witness, related events had been taking place for several days in advance — everything from a "Coffeehouse for Life" evening hosted by local Catholic students (complete with a guitar-playing vocalist sporting a "Kiss Me, I’m Pro-Life" T-shirt), to the well-attended "Rock For Life Training & Activism" seminar conducted by the American Life League and the Cardinal O’Connor Conference.
I began my day at the Blogs4Life conference, hosted by the Family Research Council. They had assembled a panel of speakers selected from the top pro-life blogs, such as Jill Stanek and
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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By noon it was time to join the gathered thousands of marchers at the National Mall. A brisk wind and light rain did not deter the groups of youth pouring out of the Rally Mass at the Verizon Center, celebrated by Archbishop Donald Wuerl. Employees of the various private and governmental offices in the District of Columbia, normally accustomed to demonstrations and rallies, stopped to watch the throngs of Marchers ambling by and singing pro-life chants or religious hymns.
One can only guess at the attendance numbers for this year’s march. Previous years have topped one hundred thousand participants — the largest annual demonstration to take place on the National Mall — and that figure probably represents a conservative estimate.
Before the March itself officially began, the several speakers addressed the crowd: President Bush sent a message; Nellie Gray, the founder of the March; Michael Schindler, Terri Schiavo’s brother and an anti-euthanasia activist; and (again) Senator Brownback, who delivered a message from John McCain supporting the participants, and telling them to "March on!"
Many Catholic schools and organizations were represented, including Franciscan University of Steubenville, Christendom College, Ave Maria School of Law, Sisters of Life, Princeton University for Life, Louisiana Right to Life, and countless others. Also noteworthy were the many groups of seminarians and novices.
I chose to walk with the local Dominican friars, who are very active in pro-life activities in general, and the March for Life in particular. Released from studies for the day, they’re on the Mall each year, wearing their distinctive black cappa capes over snow-white habits. Instead of quill pens and ink basins, these tech-savvy friars captured the March in digital video, and will upload it to YouTube within the week (perhaps accompanied by a theologically illuminating meditation).
This year a new note — and a strong one — was repeated throughout the day: The end of the abortion struggle is near. Conversation buzzed around recent studies that show the number of abortions performed in America is at a 30-year low, due in part to small victories in limiting abortion access and practice. Advocates who have been involved in the pro-life movement from its beginning echoed this optimism in their presentations.
One observer claimed that over 80 percent of marchers this year were under the age of 25, and my observations would corroborate that. Everywhere I looked, I saw young faces. While waiting for the March to begin, they prayed rosaries, listened attentively to the speakers, and sang hymns. The young seminarians and religious sisters were especially notable for their enthusiasm; and several groups of youth had composed their own chants for the walk.
I tried my best to locate a counter-demonstration or pro-choice rally, but could not.
After walking for about an hour with the marchers, I joined some other bloggers at an office that provided an bird’s-eye view of the event. Staring out of the fourth-story window, and dressed in my suit, I must have looked like an ordinary employee of the office; most of the young people who saw me proudly pointed to their signs to make sure I realized they were pro-life. Getting to experience these small moments as an "outsider" made me even more impressed with these bold champions for life.
Every year after the March, there’s an unofficial but heavily attended celebration at the nearby Dubliner Irish pub. Before I stepped inside to get warm, the clouds broke and it started to rain lightly, creating a beautiful rainbow. I was reminded of the rainbow in Genesis, which represented God’s promise to Noah that he would never let humanity be extinguished.
Inside the Irish pub, amid the red faces and clinking glasses, I noticed something new (at least for a bar): little children brushing against my legs as they ran past. I have been in several pubs with friends, but could not remember ever seeing so many children in one. Their presence made me appreciate how much I’d miss their absence — as we are absent 50 million of their brothers and sisters.
Pray for the victims and survivors of abortion. And may this March be the last one.
Thomas N. Peters is the oldest of six children. He studies and works at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in