WASHINGTON — Even before marchers gathered in Washington for the March for Life on Jan. 25, pro-life marches and walks took place around the country as companion events.
They began on Jan. 19, with one of the larger ones in the country in Dallas, where Roe v. Wade was decided and the pro-life movement began.
"It was our biggest yet," reported Karen Garnett, executive director for the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, the respect-life ministry of the Dallas Diocese (ProLifeDallas.org).
The overflow crowd was so big that, after the Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin Farrell at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, it took an extra five minutes for the throng to leave the cathedral plaza to join the march.
Conservative estimates put the crowd at more than 10,000. Garnett said the police escort agreed. She was told, "You guys are really bringing them in this year."
Garnett noted the diversity in this year’s crowd that headed to the Earle Cabell Federal Building and courthouse where Roe was tried. More Spanish-speaking people were present, and joining the speakers was the fatherhood-ministry coordinator from Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, the first year the Dallas mega church attended the event.
"He had a great message for men and fathers to stand up and defend life," Garnett said.
Rally speaker Angela Martinez Balderez also shared a pro-life message as an abortion survivor of 25 years ago.
Garnett noted that at the rally "Bishop Farrell was awesome. He said: ‘This holocaust has to come to an end.’"
This year’s new "Exodus 20:13" T-shirts worn by marchers sold out.
"No question about the enthusiasm of the pro-life movement," said Garnett. "The pro-life movement is pumped. We’re ready for this to be over."
Similar enthusiasm translated into a great surprise on the south California coast on Jan. 19 for the first-ever San Diego Walk for Life.
Thomas McKenna, the founder and president of St. Gianna Physicians’ Guild, told the Register that more than 3,000 participated in this walk. They gathered in downtown San Diego’s Balboa Park to hear nationally recognized speakers like Walter Hoye, Issues4Life Foundation’s founder and president, and Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.
Yoest told McKenna in an audio interview for the Register: "It’s deeply significant that San Diego has launched the first-ever San Diego March for Life on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This really demonstrates such a dynamic momentum we’re seeing all across the country. The pro-life movement is here to stay. And by launching this march, San Diego pro-lifers have made a powerful statement about that."
Yoest added that this march also underscored that "the real dynamism of the pro-life movement right now is at the state level. Grassroots pro-lifers are really digging in and are very committed, and we’re seeing real opportunities opening up for us at the state level. In fact, the abortion lobby is really, really concerned about the rising tide of state-based pro-life legislation that they’re seeing sweep across the country."
Seeing the high numbers for a first-time event, she emphasized, "This march today is a dramatic marker of the ongoing vitality of the pro-life movement."
Among the many young people walking was Melinda Collins. She was with fellow students from San Diego’s John Paul the Great University.
Collins was very happy to take part "because it’s a public statement of what we believe is a really important truth that is fundamental to the good of our society and family," she said. This show "of public support is so important to display that people believe in life and believe in the importance of life — and we’re not fighting a losing battle."
St. Augustine, Fla.
On the Atlantic Coast the same day, larger numbers also swelled the March for Life St. Augustine (MarchforLifeStAugustine.com).
"It was awesome," said an elated May Oliver, the march’s founder and coordinator. This year, on the night before the march, triple the number of people prayed the illuminated Rosary at the Great Cross on the grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios and the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, near downtown St. Augustine, Fla.
"I knew it was going to be a success at the Rosary on Friday night," Oliver said. "I knew Our Lady was with us."
"We had close to 3,000 for the march this year," she reported conservatively. "Last year, there were 2,000."
Marchers arrived from all around the state and as far south as Miami. People came from Georgia, including 100 students from Savannah who helped swell the huge number of young people taking part.
Oliver noted that St. Augustine Bishop Felipe Estévez said how profoundly happy he was with how many young people were there.
This year’s theme, "Be Courageous and Protect Life," was aimed not only at keeping everyone’s courage high after 40 years of legalized abortion, but also at bringing men to where they should be: protecting, not abusing, women. The theme and speakers like Mark Houck, co-founder of The King’s Men, resonated with the throng.
"People really came away renewing their resolve to become more active," said Oliver. "It was a blessed year."
Upwards of 6,000 people gathered Jan. 19 for the Nebraska Walk for Life in Lincoln, according to Greg Schleppenbach, director of pro-life activities at the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
"It was one of the bigger ones in a long time," he said.
The old cathedral of St. Mary’s Catholic Church was packed for the pro-life Mass. The overflow crowd heard their new Bishop James Conley give a moving homily; Omaha Archbishop George Lucas and diocesan priests concelebrated.
Everyone then joined the walk across the street at the state Capitol sponsored by Nebraska Right to Life.
Pointing out that, like many marches, this one was largely dominated by young people, Schleppenbach concluded, "Obviously, that gives a great sense of hope and encouragement to all of us."
The March for Life Denver on Jan. 20 drew 1,500 for the rally in front of Colorado’s state Capitol, according to police estimates. Then the crowd marched peacefully though the streets of downtown Denver.
Before the rally, many filled the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception across from the Capitol to attend the respect-life Mass celebrated by Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila.
Lynn Grandon, respect-life director for the Denver Archdiocese, described how, after the Mass, an extraordinary event began: 26 seminarians sang a hymn before Archbishop Aquila spoke to a number of people, blessed them and then led them to an abortion facility.
"Everyone solemnly processed over and laid flowers at the second-largest Planned Parenthood (Stapleton abortion facility) in the United States," Grandon said. "I think the Holy Spirit overtook the seminarians. It was not planned, but they started singing the Salve Regina so gently, sorrowfully and beautifully that everyone started weeping."
"It was so poignant," she explained. "One gentleman with tears in his eyes said to me, ‘I feel like we’re standing outside Auschwitz.’ It was such a comparable place of such human loss. It was a very moving event."
Two days later, in his pastoral letter released on Jan. 22, Archbishop Aquila movingly related how, as a college student working as a hospital orderly, he witnessed the horrible effects of two abortions and how it has impacted him to this day.
"Today, we recognize the impact of those 40 years," he wrote. "Tolerating abortion for 40 years has coarsened us. … Today, we must recognize that 40 years of sanctioned killing has given the culture of death a firm footing and foundation in our nation."
"Today is a day to repent," he insisted. "But with repentance comes resolve to start anew. The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a day to commit to a culture of life. Today, the Lord is calling us to stand up."
Stand up — that’s what people did on Jan. 22, the Roe v. Wade anniversary, in Sarasota, Fla., for the Venice Diocese’s 15th annual Prayer Walk for Life.
More than 300 people attended Mass at St. Martha Catholic Church; then shuttle buses ferried them a half mile away to Florida’s largest Planned Parenthood business.
"It was a prayerful time, as we were circling the block," said diocesan respect-life director Jeanne Berdeaux. She credited St. Margaret’s pastor, Pallottine Father Faousto Stamtiglia, for the inspiration.
"It was his vision 15 years ago to circle the block in prayer instead of just standing in front of the building," Berdeaux said.
The march unveiled the new "Respect for Life" umbrellas as another show of unity. The blue umbrellas carried that three-word message with letters forming a cross and teardrops.
Also on Jan. 22, in Atlanta, people overflowed the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Church and poured into the basement for the 24th annual Mass for the Unborn.
According to the archdiocese’s director of the respect-life ministry, Mary Boyert, Archbishop Wilton Gregory celebrated the Mass for "Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life." Among the concelebrating bishops was Atlanta’s auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama.
"One of the most touching moments during the Mass," said Boyert, "was a profession of remembrance, when one person born each year from 1973 carried up a white rose and placed the roses in vases on the altar. In some cases, people walked for someone during that year — one woman who had an abortion during that year walked for her unborn baby."
Most everyone then joined the Georgia Right to Life events at the state Capitol nearby.
Jan. 26 brought two special events, held coasts apart in major cities.
The first in Washington was the inaugural Nellie Gray 5K race to honor the March for Life founder who died last year. The second in San Francisco was the Walk for Life West Coast, the largest pro-life event outside the Washington March for Life.
According to Pat Castle, president and founder of National LIFE Runners, who co-sponsored the race with Vitae and the March for Life, in 2012, Gray herself asked him to consider a March for Life walk/run.
The request came to fruition in Washington’s West Potomac Park. The race directors were Jeff Pauls and Jeff Grabosky, members of National LIFE Runners.
Grabosky, who ran across the United States from January to May in 2011 to promote prayer and the pro-life message, noted that 154 participants, from youngsters to people in their mid-60s, finished the 5K run. They came from 30 states.
Many wore jerseys emblazoned with "Remember the Unborn." Grabosky said the jerseys are meant to be worn around the country wherever the runners participate in races as a way to promote the sanctity of life.
He noted, "Before the race started, Father (Frank) Pavone said a prayer, then got a phone call that the last abortion mill in Mississippi had closed. It was unbelievable timing — a fantastic moment."
More fantastic moments took place the same day in San Francisco at the ninth annual Walk for Life West Coast (see story on page 14).
"It was our largest event ever," said an elated Eva Muntean, co-chair of the walk, which she co-founded with Dolores Meehan. "We had between 50,000-55,000 people there."
Launched in 2005 with 7,500 participants, by 2012, this Walk for Life (WalkforLifeWC.com) had grown to more than 40,000.
Muntean said that because Justin Herman Plaza at the end of the route was unable to hold the throngs of walkers this year, police opened an adjoining area.
"We had gone about one and a half miles of the two-mile walk, and [we learned] the tail end of the walk just got onto Market Street," said Rebecca Bessette, a senior at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., who headed the walk with fellow students. "We were filling the entire street the whole mile and a half."
Fellow Thomas Aquinas junior Kristin Personius was also at the head and related that, at one point, a shout went through the entire line of the walk.
"That really struck me personally," she said. "This was giving a voice to those having no voice and being a voice for those babies who are murdered every year and have been murdered. I did start crying."