A Pro-Life Pilgrimage: March for Life 2019

People descend on Washington in droves to stand up for the unborn at the 46th-annual event.

Thousands and thousands of pro-lifers gather Jan. 18 in Washington at the March for Life 2019.
Thousands and thousands of pro-lifers gather Jan. 18 in Washington at the March for Life 2019. (photo: Kathryn Mihaliak Wallice photos)

“I Regret Lost Fatherhood” signs were some of the last seen as marchers rounded the corner of the Supreme Court building. I have always found these to be very moving — the humility of this acknowledgement is something that takes real courage.

At today’s March for Life, my attention was especially drawn to spiritual fathers — as in the amazing number of young priests, Roman collars and all, who led their faithful from parishes, youth groups and schools to today’s rally. 2018 was a tough year for our “Fathers,” and, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if as many would come. I find profound consolation in being around the many good and holy priests, and our young priests are not going to let their fatherhood be lost. Scandal or not, lies and misinformation notwithstanding, the place for a shepherd is with his flock. Being a father is tough, and some days are tougher than others. But seeing these courageous and noble men today — both those with and without physical children — I can’t help but think that I now better understand what it means to be a father in the best sense of the word.

And standing with thousands and thousands of pro-lifers was a beautiful witness — the culmination of a pro-life pilgrimage.

I came from Hartford, Connecticut, on a bus to Washington’s pro-life main event and offer a pilgrim’s perspective of the journey.

After Delaware even the most excited young people started to settle down and sleep in the early hours of the morning. When we left this bus station, it was about 3:45am, and we were about four hours into our journey. The sleep that slowly settled on the bus was a deep one.

Then the bus braking jolted a few of us awake. Before us was the basilica, the grounds covered in a thick layer of snow. It was beautiful. The basilica itself is impressive and awe-inspiring, but the spotlights that illuminated its exterior were gentled by the soft white flakes off of which the light bounced.

For me, our arrival at this mother church is one of the most exciting moments of the trip. It’s a gradual buildup that summons memories of early Christmases and birthdays. It’s an expectation of something great and wonderful, with the certain knowledge of fulfillment: The people will come. Slowly, at first; gray and red buses lined up behind and ahead of ours, and pilgrims stumbled off to collect clunky signs and coats before shuffling into our national Catholic church. The buses processed in a steady loop, and the people kept on coming into the church doors.

It was about 5:45am when we entered the basilica, and we were immediately greeted by smiling volunteers of all ages in bright-yellow shirts.

They, too, had done this before. They extended a hospitality reminiscent of the Franciscan hostels and houses of the Holy Land, genuinely excited to greet us. They had a special role to play here, and help was graciously given and received.

Each group of pilgrims was distinguished by their scarves, their sweatshirts and their hats. The church crypt began to fill, and the chapels of the saints and tombs of bishops along the sides of the walls became meeting grounds for friends and family. College students rushed past to greet parents, and friends from different schools and parishes sought each other out. They might have only been separated for a few weeks or days, but the “being here” — being present at this spot, together, celebrating what is going on around us — makes you want those you love close by. 

The most beautiful sight was the number of clergy. As you wandered the halls, you passed a handful of monks, the parish priest in his long cassock, herding his literal flock before him with the help of his volunteer parents, and the sisters — the presence of religious exalted the experience to that of a great occasion.

The endearing terms of “Father,” “Mother,” “Sister,” “Brother” with which we greeted the religious around us, walked past them in line or sat next to them in prayer, brought the reality of our participation in this great, big, beautiful family that is the Church on earth into greater focus.

And then the Mass began. The pews were filled several minutes before it started, and the walls were lined with pray-ers, and the side chapels filled, as well. The bell clanged in the back, and we all rose, though few could fully see what was happening.

And then came the cross — lifted high above the heads of all the crowd. Praise Christ! We entered into the Mass, offering prayers for our unborn brothers and sisters.

Register correspondent Kathryn Mihaliak Wallice filed this report from Washington.

See more of Kathryn's photos on the Register's Twitter and Instagram pages.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.