|Junior Rosie Dunn and fellow students and staff from Father Ryan High School clap with the music during a pro-life youth rally and Mass at the DC Armory in Washington Jan. 27 before the annual March for Life. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz
This year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., had a different feel than past marches for the roughly 500 people from the Diocese of Nashville who attended.
Among the speakers at the Jan. 27 march was Vice President Mike Pence. It was the first time in the march’s history that a sitting vice president spoke.
“We found a spot right on the edge of the security fence at the base of the Washington Monument and were able to watch Vice President Pence speak,” said Bill Staley, director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese who led a delegation from several parishes and Pope John Paul II High School to Washington. “A vice president addressing and cheering on the crowds at the March for Life – how historic!”
Elizabeth Coyle, director of student life and campus ministry at Father Ryan High School, led a large delegation from the school to the march. She loved seeing the students’ enthusiasm and the solidarity amongst the marchers.
“The students all had boundless energy,” she said. “We kept going for miles and they never seemed to tire one bit. It was also a very unified crowd. There were very few counter-protestors this year; plus we had support from a pro-life presidential administration. It helped create a more united voice amongst everyone there.”
|Sophia Barnett, a sophomore at Pope John Paul II High School and parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, holds up a pro-life sign during the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Jan. 27. She was one of hundreds of students from the Diocese of Nashville who attended the annual anti-abortion march. Photo courtesy of Laurie Gibbs
Besides the marchers from the diocesan group and Father Ryan, groups from St. Cecilia Academy, Aquinas College, Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, and many parishes throughout Nashville also attended. An estimated half million people from across the country traveled to the nation’s capital to participate in the march. Before the march itself, the Nashville delegation was able to attend the Mass and Rally for Life sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington.
The march was an opportunity for the students to witness to their faith in the public square, Coyle said. “As Catholics, we’re called to put our faith into action, and to be a voice for the voiceless. At Father Ryan, students learn about Jesus’ teachings, and then are given chances to practice them in real life. The march is one way in which we do that.”
Father Ryan senior Hannah Knoch was excited to see many of the pro-lifers standing up for unborn babies and their mothers. “I thought it was awesome to see lots of people holding signs about caring for mothers and babies at once,” she said. “So often, we’re told nowadays that there’s no way you can be pro-woman and pro-life at the same time, and it was great to see people defying that stereotype.”
As a pro-life young woman herself, Knoch sees the right-to-life movement as a matter of social justice. “Being pro-life is about upholding the dignity of every person, from womb to tomb,” she explained. “Pro-choice people say that the pro-life side doesn’t care about babies after they’re born, but that’s not true. We don’t just want to see unborn babies live. We want to see them thrive throughout their lives. We fight for immigrants’ and refugees’ rights. We fight for workers’ rights and all other human rights. The right to life is for everyone.”
Knoch’s classmate, Father Ryan senior Jameson Labadie, was struck by the number of young people attending the march, and the peace and joy radiating from the marchers.
“It was the first time I had gone, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he explained. “But going to the march and youth rally and Mass, I was overwhelmed seeing the huge crowds of people my age attending, and it gave me so much hope. I felt the Holy Spirit moving through me, and all of us there were the Body of Christ coming together to defend life. It was incredible.”
He was especially moved by the presence of a fellow Father Ryan student with physical limitations. “We had a junior in our group, Rosie Dunn, who’s wheelchair bound. All of us took turns helping her navigate through the crowd, since it was hard for her to do it alone. Spending time with her put things into perspective for me, because lots of people would say that her life has less value than someone else’s. Having her there witnessing to the dignity of every human life was powerful.”
Even though one encounter on the streets of Washington was not friendly, the marchers quickly and tactfully resolved the situation. “There was a guy who approached our Father Ryan group and screamed some anti-Catholic rhetoric at us,” Labadie said. “But our chaplain, Father (Gervan) Menezes, started praying the Hail Mary out loud to drown him out, and all of us joined in. Eventually the guy left us alone. It was pretty cool to see things work out that way, to see good overcoming evil.”
Knoch and Labadie both agree that marching for life at a young age is good practice for teenagers to defend life throughout their adult lives. “We’re the next generation who’ll be leading our country in the coming years,” Knoch said. “We’ll be heading off to college and entering the workforce soon. It’s important for us to speak out on important issues now, because soon enough we’ll be in a position where we can make a positive change in our country. And we should let people know now, while we’re young, that we stand for life.”
“Being on the edge of young adulthood, it’s time for me and my peers to take ownership for our faith and our country,” Labadie said. “When adults see young people banding together to defend human life, it makes them stop and pay attention. And we want them to pay attention to what we have to say about life.”
|Large crowds took to the streets of Washington, D.C. on Jan. 27 for the annual March for Life. Hundreds of students from the Diocese of Nashville and their chaperones joined the crowds to march for life and call for an end to abortion. Among those participating from the diocese was Tim Mullen, above, center. Photo courtesy of Laurie Gibbs