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Marching to end abortion

By Andrea Slivka Features Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 150 Catholic youth and parishioners from the Toledo area joined others in praying and marching for the end to abortion last Monday in Washington, D.C.

The 33rd annual “March for Life” brought thousands to the nation’s capitol. Participants packed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for a vigil Mass Sunday night, and the MCI Center for a youth rally and Mass Monday morning.

Participants also marched to the Supreme Court last Monday afternoon in support of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Despite the size and nature of the march itself, many students from the Toledo area saw the 960-mile trip as a prayerful pilgrimage.

Lauren Walter, co-president of the University’s Catholic organization, Creed on Campus, said her members of her group emphasized prayer during the trip.

“Our main purpose was prayer, and we know that’s the main thing that’s going to change people’s hearts.”

Because the focus of the trip for many students was prayer, the two Masses prior to the March were the most meaningful parts of the trip for some.

Walter was among those awed by the number of participants, priests and bishops at the evening Mass on Sunday, Jan. 22, where more than 7,000 people attended, according to news reports.

“It was overwhelming knowing that there are so many people dedicated to the pro-life cause,” Walter said directly after the evening Mass. “It really feels we’re building the culture of life.”

The main presider, Cardinal William H. Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pro-life activities committee, found the presence and support of so many youth to be encouraging.

In his sermon, Keeler thanked the youth for their energy and presence, saying the young Catholics give him hope for the future.

In the midst of the hope, Keeler said there is still work to do.

Statistically, there have been nearly as many abortions in the past 12 months as there are residents of Philadelphia, he said.

But Keeler was also encouraged by what he considers recent progress.

“The rate and number of abortions in the U.S. is now at their lowest since 1975,” he said, adding that 87 percent of U.S. counties are now “abortion-free zones.”

He encouraged participants to continue working for progress and to encourage the “respect [of] life from conception to natural death.”

Toledo Diocese seminarian Eric Culler was inspired by the Cardinal’s message.

“Cardinal Keeler’s homily was an insightful summary of the history of the pro-life movement and a stirring exhortation to continue the struggle – his central theme,” he said after the Mass.

Rally for Life and Youth Mass

The next morning after the Mass, many junior high, high school and college students from the Toledo area prepared for Monday’s march, with a youth rally and a Mass that had a much different flavor than the one the previous night at the Basilica.

Instead of the occasional Latin hymns, students joined popular Christian artists in singing contemporary praise and worship music during the multilingual Rally for Life and youth Mass.

Event organizers estimated 25,000 filled the MCI Center, with a few thousand more turned away because all the seats were filled.

After the Mass, Monica Martinez, BGSU senior and Creed on Campus member, said she was in awe after seeing a sports arena filled with Catholic youth who’d traveled from all over the nation.

“It was the biggest worship service I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It was amazing. It’s powerful!”

Youth were motivated during the Mass to stay true to their convictions by the sermon of Rev. Gerard C. Francik, director of vocations in Baltimore.

Francik spoke to students about choice, saying the ability to make choices is good, and given by God in the form of free will, but that doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want.

“We’re here because it’s about making a good choice – a moral choice,” he said, encouraging youth to “make the choice for love” on the March.

For many, a meaningful moment occurred at the end of Mass when Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, asked for support of those called to religious vocations.

The Cardinal asked young men and women considering religious life to stand up. Amy Walton, BGSU sophomore and Creed on Campus member, was particularly moved by the moment.

Walton was among the young women considering religious life who stood up, and a standing ovation by the seminarians and priests for the young women brought her and others to tears.

“It was overwhelming to see the support of everyone there and of all the seminarians and the priests,” Walton said.

March for Life

Directly following the youth Mass, students made their way to the Mall – a large grassy area between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial – where they waited for the march to begin.

The Catholic News Service estimates that the number of marchers last Monday exceeded 100,000, while the D.C. police estimated 70,000, according to news reports.

In the early afternoon, the tightly-packed crowds spread out as marchers began the walk down Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court building.

Though few pro-abortion demonstrators could be seen along the march’s path, 6-10 who stood across the street from the Supreme Court held signs and shouted things like, “My body, my choice.”

According to Walter, in the midst of anti-abortion marchers who shouted back at the pro-abortion demonstrators, two young women could be seen praying for the pro-abortion demonstrators.

The two girls “were kneeling and their heads were bent in prayer,” Walter said, adding, “it made me realize that the best thing we can do is pray because … there’s something in that much more powerful than yelling and protesting,” Walter said. “It was very humbling.”

During the march, students and others talked with marchers from around the country, prayed the rosary, and carried signs that read “Defend life” and “Justice for ALL: Born and Preborn.”

Anna Hays, a Tiffin Calvert High School junior, enjoyed the opportunity to support the anti-abortion cause by participating in the March. She was a member of the group organized by Diocese’s Youth, Young Adult ‘ Campus Ministry Office of Toledo.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “It’s our duty as people living in the United States to protest such a horrible thing [like abortion].”

For Dr. Tom Lieser of St. Joseph’s parish in Maumee, the students’ pilgrimage and march is more than a prayerful and political experience. It’s an educational opportunity.

Lieser – who led 50 marchers who were mostly 6th, 7th, and 8th graders – said organizers used the pilgrimage to teach students about abortion, the Catholic faith, and U. S. history.

Lieser said the pastor of the Maumee parish, Rev. Frank Murd, encouraged the trip for students, because “he sees it as a real opportunity to witness to the faith and evangelize our youth.”

Supported by donations

For many students, the trip would not have been possible without the generosity of donors.

Creed on Campus received close to $2,000 in private donations and a grant from the Toledo Diocese, which helped pay for a charter bus and students’ hotel rooms.

At St. Joseph’s in Maumee, the Knights of Columbus sponsored an essay contest in which the top eight winners in grades 6-8 were given free trips to the march.

Ryan Rahrig, graduate student in the department of mathematics and statistics at the University, said he was grateful for the opportunity to go to the March with the help of donors to Creed on Campus.

“It probably wouldn’t have been able to be the success it was without the donations,” he said. “It was great to see the cause is still going strong, and it’s important to be there.”

Rahrig would like to see other students take advantage of similar opportunities to voice their opinions.

“I would just like to encourage everyone to take any opportunity that comes along, such as this, to make a stand for what you believe in.”

Editor’s note – Andrea traveled with Creed on Campus for this story and is a member of the group.

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