True National Treasure

(photo: CNS PHOTO)

My attendance — both in Washington and at the 2011 March for Life — was as a first-time pilgrim.

My official title yesterday was chaperone, accompanying a group of more than 50 pilgrims from the St. Anne Shrine for Mothers in Waterbury, Conn. I was confident that Tim Drake, Steven Greydanus, John Burger and Joe Pronechen would admirably fill the bill by getting our readers the comprehensive coverage they deserve.

I had decided that, for me, this was to be a “come-and-see” event. I was going as a witness.

On the bus trip southward, friends — veterans of the event — prepared me for the rigors of the day. Less than one year removed from major back surgery, and armed with my rosary, hand warmers and thermal wear, I thought I was ready.

However, nothing in my 30-plus years in journalism or my 50 years of being Catholic prepared me for the events that unfolded — as they have been for the past 38 years — in Washington, D.C., at the March for Life.

As I write this, I’m still trying to process the barrage of images — and the affirmation of God’s grace on my fellow Americans — that I witnessed less than 24 hours ago. The entire day revealed God’s grace at work.

To begin the morning, we were fortified body and soul by Mass with Hartford Archbishop Henry Mansell and other pilgrims from the archdiocese. The archbishop told me afterward that the providential significance of the day couldn’t be overlooked, with the influx of pro-life Congressmen, the growing number of pro-life governors and state legislatures and increasing pro-life sentiment of the U.S. populace. Especially among young people, he added.

The walk to the mall was surreal. Friends served as travel guides: “There’s the Washington Monument, of course. And there’s the National Archive building and the Smithsonian ‘castle.’ Lincoln Memorial’s over there.”

As we walked by the White House, I felt like I was on the set of National Treasure, not in the capital of our country. And in being surrounded by so many people, from so many walks of life, all devoted to human life from conception to natural death, words failed me. This was our country.

The ceremonies at the mall provided me with the opportunity to chat with folks from Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts and North Carolina. I saw homemade signs from almost every state in the union. I saw professional-looking banners from student groups from Christendom College, John Carroll University and Franciscan University of Steubenville.

If only there were student groups from non-Catholic colleges, I thought. There were: I noticed signs from pro-life student groups from Yale, Purdue and Rutgers.

People offered their congratulations, having heard that the Register wasn’t going under and that it was teaming up with EWTN, “joining forces,” as one put it.

Walking to the Capitol was the culmination. Reinvigorated by at last moving tired limbs, the actual “march” offered the chance to see just how large-scale this pilgrimage is.

“When you get partway up Constitution Avenue, take a look back,” a fellow pilgrim advised. The sea of humanity that met my gaze is one I’ll never forget. Let the mainstream media describe the crowds any way they want. Unless you’ve been there, there’s no real way to describe it.

Today, the day after, I know how the Pevensee children felt when they came back through the wardrobe. They had lived a lifetime in Narnia, and were transported abruptly back to their own age.

But with treasure stored in their minds and hearts for the rest of their lives.