As marchers gather in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life today, pro-life marches and commemorations around the country have already taken place in solidarity with the main event.
Many were held on Saturday and a few Sunday, while others took place the week before.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, the 8th Annual West Coast Walk for Life saw tens of thousands gather in downtown San Francisco to hear pro-life speakers, pray and display unity for the pro-life cause.
The West Coast Walk had a new route that gave the rally even greater visibility this year. The route began at City Hall and proceeded nearly two miles along major Market Street to the Embarcadero.
“My feeling is it did grow in numbers this year,” said Eva Muntean, the Walk’s co-chair, “but we’re still just conservatively estimating it between 40,000-45,000 people. The Civic Center Plaza was completely filled, and Market Street was completed filled.”
At the rally, Dr. Vansen Wong, a former abortionist who now works with a pro-life medical clinic, told of his conversion.
“Abortion is barbaric; abortion is intolerable,” Wong told the ocean of people. “Abortion has no place in any civilized society.”
Former Miss West Virginia Jacquie Stalnaker told of being forced into an abortion facility at gunpoint and the toll it has taken on her for 24 years. She is now a regional representative for the Silent No More Campaign.
Youth coordinator Annie Bowman-Ryan said a small group of protesters was present.
Protesters tried to halt the progress of the walk by putting a fence across the street, but walkers stopped and peacefully waited for police to remove the barrier.
“The participants were on fire but always channeling their energy to demonstrate peacefully,” noted Bowman-Ryan, who found it “such a testament to the true message of pro-life work.”
She said the event “helped to reaffirm the conviction of everyone present and the need to raise up youth as leaders of this movement.”
Seeing “the young people gathered in the plaza with their smiling faces and excited for the pro-life cause” was a highlight for co-chair Muntean.
So was the weather. Thunderstorms suddenly gave way to a clear, sunny sky in time for the walk. Shortly after the walk ended, the rain returned.
“It was amazing. Even the police were commenting on how just for our walk there was a break,” Muntean said.
In Texas, the Dallas March for Life (see Matthew Warner’s blog post about the event) again set a record. “It was our biggest yet,” said Karen Garnett, executive director for the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, the Respect Life ministry of the Dallas Diocese. “This year there definitely were 8,000-10,000. Police gave an estimate of at least 8,000, and they are usually conservative.”
From her place as the rally MC, Garnett saw a sea of people in front of her, some carrying the 1,800 big yellow “LIFE” balloons distributed for the event, and the largest number of evangelicals ever to join in the march.
Before the rally, as part of the march, more than 3,000 worshippers attended the Mass at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe celebrated by Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell and three fellow bishops. People filled the cathedral and overflowed into the plaza outside.
Garnett noted that Bishop Farrell spoke passionately about the pro-life cause and the new government health-insurance mandates for contraceptive coverage. He said it’s necessary to be engaged and involved in this pro-life battle daily.
Garnett mentioned state pro-life victories. “We celebrated the victories because 24 states passed 92 laws restricting abortion last year,” she said. “In Texas, we now have the strongest sonogram law in the country, and it was upheld in the last two weeks by the 5th Circuit Court.” Texas also defunded Planned Parenthood and approved “Choose Life” license plates.
“You could see in the crowd that sense of encouragement that we are winning, and there is so much more dedication,” Garnett said. “We have the momentum, and we’re going to continue that momentum.”
That momentum got another boost from rally speaker Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade, by the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse. McCorvey is a Catholic convert and has dedicated her life to overturning the case that bears her name.
The events began with a Rosary Rally, attended by 500-plus who prayed the Rosary led by Dallas Auxiliary Bishop Mark Seitz outside an abortion business.
Kelly Tyson began her day there. She and those she spoke with were happy to have the bishop with them.
“We need that extra support of the Church; we need that strong backbone from our Church,” she noted. Tyson has been an annual march participant since she became Catholic in 2003.
She was happy to see so many youth at the cathedral Mass, the many homemade signs families brought with them to the courthouse rally, the people who joined the pro-life chant she helped to start, and the exceptionally honest and soulful testimony of McCorvey.
“That was extremely powerful,” Tyson said. “And that honesty is what’s going to change things.”
Rallies in Florida
On Florida’s Gulf coast, according to Billy Atwell, communications director for the Diocese of Venice, 350-400 attended the Mass and prayer event in Sarasota on Saturday.
“The real emphasis was this was a prayer event, not a protest,” he said. Bishop Frank Dewane celebrated Mass at St. Martha Church, after which he joined everyone at the nearby large Planned Parenthood facility to pray for the end of abortion. He emphasized, as always, that if Roe is overturned and abortion ended, it will be through prayer and graces from God.
That morning, 100 youth from the diocese flew to attend Monday’s March for Life in Washington. Atwell said that this pilgrimage to Washington is the first-ever unified diocese-wide event for youth to attend the national march.
At St. Martha’s, displays from local crisis-pregnancy centers prompted swift response. One rally participant went out immediately and returned with a trunkful of diapers after hearing a crisis center was down to its last diaper. That on-the-spot response is, in Atwell’s estimation, “a testament that the Church is not only dedicated to ending abortion, but that the [Church] is always willing to offer alternatives and help the women in need who feel they have nowhere else to go or to turn to,” he said. “We not only spread the Gospel, but serve the people of God. That came through very strongly.”
Judy Scott once again came from her Bradenton parish to the Sarasota event. “It is wonderful to join with people and stand up for such an important part of our Catholic faith,” she said. “You feel you accomplished something even though you don’t know exactly how God will use all these prayers. But you know he will in his time.”
On Florida’s Atlantic coast, buses came from several places in the state and from Georgia to join the March for Life in St. Augustine on Saturday, Jan. 14.
“It was absolutely the best year we ever had,” said march coordinator May Oliver, who also founded this annual rally in 2007. More than 2,000 people participated.
Even more youth and more colleges were represented than last year too. Universities like Ave Maria, North Florida and St. Leo were there. So were students from several high schools. Busloads of pro-lifers arrived from the Orlando Diocese, and even one bus from Miami.
The unseasonably chilly 37-degree start to the day didn’t seem to bother anyone. The night before, hundreds of lights that people held for the “Living Rosary” bathed the “Great Cross” on the grounds of Mission of Nombre de Dios and Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in soft blue light.
Speakers Dr. Gerard Nadal and Scott Klusendorf wanted youth to be fortified and be able to articulate the pro-life position.
Oliver noted Bishop Filipe Estevez was “thrilled and very happy about the whole event and talked about why we should be protecting life,” she said.
The St. Augustine march is held a week ahead because the diocese wants people to go to their own community events or to Washington on the actual anniversary.
Teacher Daniel Mull at Bishop Snyder High School in Jackson left Sunday for Washington with 50 students, including some from two nearby Catholic high schools. This marks the first time any high school from the St. Augustine Diocese is going to the national march.
An “Afternoon of Prayerful Remembrance,” which included adoration, Rosary, confession, talks and Mass, was held in the New York Archdiocese on Saturday, Jan. 14. About 150 people attended the event, held at St. Gregory the Great Church in Harrison. Sister Lucy Marie of the Sisters of Life and the Respect Life coordinator for the New York Archdiocese, which co-sponsored the event, noted this event brings home the reality of how abortion affects so many people.
Sister Lucy told participants: “Far beyond those directly involved in the act of abortion itself —whether it be one’s co-worker, one’s neighbor, a friend, a relative, a fellow parishioner — we come to realize that we have all been affected by the loss of each child and the often hidden suffering of those who are post-abortive.”
With about 53 million abortions since 1973, there are 53 million people walking around our country who are wounded by the practice, she added, telling them that the Church is here to offer hope and resources for healing with this.
Prayerful Remembrance co-sponsor Theresa Bonopartis, director of Lumina Hope and Healing in New York, shared stories of the far-reaching impact abortion has on so many lives after a baby is aborted.
She noted how we live in “denial of the very real impact one abortion has, never mind thinking of over 53 million.”
She said that at the prayer event “we ask for God’s intercession, knowing he is mercy and love itself, and that he desires our healing as a people and as a nation.”
On Jan. 15 in New Haven, Conn., Hartford Archbishop Henry Mansell celebrated the annual pro-life Mass sponsored by the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s Church.
When abortion was legalized nationwide people did not realize the impact it would have, he said. But the fact that it was legal helped give it an acceptance that it did not previously have.
Now, however, technology such as ultrasound imaging has helped convince many that the unborn baby is a human life that deserves legal protection. He noted that in 2011 some 80 pieces of legislation was passed in various states to give greater protection to the unborn, including laws that recognized the pain an unborn child suffers when an abortion is performed.
In an interview, he declined to comment on the field of contestants for the Republican nomination in the 2012 race for president.
“I just hope that everybody becomes much more aware of pro-life,” he said. “It’s the crying issue of our time, in so many ways. We know the economy, we know the lack of jobs, problems with world peace, etc., but this goes to the core of who we are as people; it goes to who we are in our souls and in our hearts, so I do hope we will have an ever-greater awareness, and there is an awareness that is growing about the problems of abortion in our society, through 40 Days for Life etc. I just hope that our candidates express their concerns about life more clearly as we go forward.”
St. Mary’s is where Father Michael J. McGivney, who canonization cause is under way, founded the Knights of Columbus. The parish pro-life committee sponsored a Rosary March for Life, which followed noon Mass there on Jan. 23. Participants walked to several courthouses and New Haven’s City Hall and prayed a decade of the Rosary in each place.
On Sunday, Jan. 15 on the West Coast, Thomas Aquinas College students in Santa Paula, Calif., attended a Mass for the unborn at their campus’ Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel in advance of participating in the West Coast Walk for Life.
Deacon Chris Sandner, respect-life coordinator for the Santa Barbara region of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, reminded them in his homily of the importance of their witness in the West Coast Walk for Life.
Said Deacon Sandner: “By marching in the streets of a city that has chosen to deny the value of the unborn by distorting the very meaning of human life, you will be a powerful and visible proof to those who despair that God has forgotten them.
“Your very presence, even if only for a day, will remind those who suffer from a lack of hope that there is an alternative to the kind of thinking that has resulted in an average household that statistically contains barely two people. … By your presence here today and with your prayers, you give encouragement to each other and you increase the likelihood that one day each child will be received into the loving and protective arms of his parents.”
Students made the seven-hour journey to San Francisco for the West Coast Walk, where they attended Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral first, then, as in the past, helped the walk’s organizers with security.
Franciscan University and Christendom College and others are also participating in the Washington March for Life
After a spiritual start of Eucharistic adoration and confession, nearly 300 Benedictine College students and staff headed from their Atchison, Kan., campus on Saturday for a 1,000-mile trek to the national march.
“It’s the most we’ve ever sent to the march,” said director of student activities Matt Litt. The college has been sending students to the Washington march since 1985.
This year, the college group also coordinated the trip with more than 200 area high-school students in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.
“Benedictine College has the largest group attending from the greatest distance away,” said the college’s president, Stephen Minnis, who joins the students again this year. “Seventeen percent of our student body is willing to take a 48-hour round-trip bus ride in support of life. We’re proud of that.”
“This is an important mission for us,” said Michael Green, president of Ravens Respect Life, before leaving. “We go to show the leaders of our country what we stand for; that is, the dignity of all people, from conception to natural death.”
Added Stephanie Trouba, this year’s March for Life coordinator for Ravens Respect Life: “The first time I attended the March for Life was the first time I realized that there really was hope, that even if we weren’t the majority in Congress, we were passionate; and we were not going to give up. I’ve continued my involvement in pro-life groups and my prayers for an end to abortion in part because of the hope I found among the hundreds of thousands of people I marched with.”
Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.