WASHINGTON — On Jan. 22, tens of thousands of people from around the country will travel to Washington to be part of this year’s annual March for Life in the nation’s capital.

But tens of thousands of adults, teens, school groups and entire families with children who cannot travel to Washington will be joining in spirit as they attend companion events from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast.

Several of the companion events, which precede or follow the Washington march, are ready to welcome even greater crowds as they commemorate the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down laws prohibiting abortion.

One of the biggest gatherings in the country will take place on Jan. 18 in Dallas, the city where Roe v. Wade was first brought to the courts.

Karen Garnett, executive director for the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, the respect-life ministry of the Dallas Diocese, said that this year called for a major change in the location of theRoe Memorial Mass that starts the event. (See ProLifeDallas.org.)

The attendance last year was so large that it filled the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, plus the cathedral’s Grand Salon and plaza, with an overflowing crowd of more than 3,000 people. Many more could not attend because of lack of room.

"To accommodate the ever-growing number of participants, and to ensure that everyone can experience the Roe Memorial Mass all together, I have made the decision to move the Roe Memorial Mass from the cathedral to the Convention Center," explained Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell in his pastoral letter about this year’s event. "So I ask you to please join me for this Mass for life, and please bring your family and friends!"

The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center will accommodate 9,000 people.

With the hope of an even bigger turnout this year, Garnett noted, "Just the fact that we’re moving the venue, even if we get the same numbers, is a huge improvement over the last few years, because so many — at least a thousand — couldn’t be in the same room with the bishop."

Bishop Farrell, who has not missed one of these annual events in the Dallas Diocese, further stated: "The theme of the 2014 Roe memorial events is ‘Stand4Life’ in recognition of the epic victories for life in 2013 — with the passage of the omnibus pro-life law regulating unsafe abortion practices and facilities and prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks in Texas — and the need for all of us to continue to ‘Stand4Life’ until every human life is protected."

Garnett pointed out that, along with the "Stand4Life" theme, all pro-lifers across the state are being asked to wear either something blue or the blue "Wristband for Life" provided by the pro-life office on that day. It’s a way "to remember we have to continue to stand for life until every life is protected," she said.

Before the Mass at 1pm, participants are invited to pray the Rosary in the morning outside the Southwestern late-term abortion facility and then attend a youth rally at the convention center led by World Youth Day singer and songwriter Steve Angrisano, who is from Dallas. In an official letter to parishes in the diocese, Bishop Farrell expressed the hope that the concert will be a way that many young people can participate.

He urged "families, and particularly young people, from schools, churches, organizations and youth groups, to attend the Youth Rally and Roe Memorial Mass and to bring banners to carry in the family-friendly, ecumenical Dallas March for Life."

At the memorial Mass, a representative born each year from 1973 to the present will carry a rose in the annual "Procession of Roses."

Following Mass, Bishop Farrell will head the march from the Dallas Convention Center to the rally outside the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse, housing the district court where the Roe v. Wade case was first filed in 1970.

Garnett shared what she called an exciting development for this year. A new pro-life group called Bikers for Life will be part of this year’s Dallas March for Life. Up to 250 riders will be on their motorcycles, with another 100 or more walking with banners.

She also noted that "we are celebrating a 16% drop [in abortions] in the state of Texas over the last five-year period. One abortion is too many, but to drop that much in the last five years, we thank and praise God."


Florida for Life

Over on the Atlantic coast of Florida, the March for Life St. Augustine, in the St. Augustine Diocese, also takes place on Jan. 18. While more than 2,500 attended last year — a number up by 500 from 2011 — even more are expected to come out this year.

Young and old come from the local area and northeast Florida, as well as from as far away as Palm Beach and Miami, St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast and from places in Georgia like Savannah.

"Buses come from all over the state," said May Oliver, the founder and coordinator of the St. Augustine march, which began in 2007. "We open our doors, and it grows every year."

Events begin on Friday evening, Jan. 17, with events especially for young people. Youth will lead the illuminated Rosary at the "Great Cross" on the grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios in the city.

Saturday events will begin with a Mass celebrated by St. Augustine Bishop Felipe Estevez at the Prince of Peace Votive Church on the grounds of the Mission of Nombre de Dios at 9am.

The grounds are the historic site where the first Mass was said in North America.

After Mass, Bishop Estevez and others will speak to the gathering, before the peaceful procession heads down George Street to the Public Plaza downtown by St. Augustine Cathedral-Basilica.

There, everyone will hear from keynote speaker Dr. Theresa Burke, the founder and director of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries.

March coordinator Oliver said the theme for this year is helping those who have had abortions, because "several of our coordinators of post-abortion healing work said they need to build up resources." Thus the choice of Burke, because of her pioneering of post-abortion healing with Rachel’s Vineyard.

Other speakers will include Rachel Burgin, the director of Florida Right to Life, and Missy Martinez, the national high-school program coordinator of Students for Life of America.

Newly added this year, in light of the theme, is a "Holy Hour of Hope and Healing" for post-abortion healing. Oliver said this year will also see workshops and representatives from Rachel’s Vineyard available for those who want more in-depth information.

"My hope is to really talk about the healing following abortion," said Oliver, "and to ask people to come out of their silence for these healings."

To reinforce the theme, she added that representatives from Silent No More and similar groups are all planning to attend St. Augustine’s march (MarchforLifeStAugustine.org).

Across the state on Florida’s Gulf coast, the Venice Diocese will have its 16th annual Prayer Walk for Life in Sarasota on Friday, Jan. 24, according to diocesan respect-life director Jeanne Berdeaux.

The day begins with Mass celebrated by Venice Bishop Frank Dewane at Sarasota’s St. Martha Catholic Church. The church is half a mile from the largest Planned Parenthood in the state of Florida.

The timing of this year’s Prayer Walk will allow Bishop Dewane to lead more than 200 youth from the diocese to the national March for Life in Washington the week before.

Berdeaux explained that, normally, the walk is held on the date of the actual Roe anniversary, but because this year that anniversary falls on the day the local Planned Parenthood facility is closed, the decision was made to move the walk to Friday, which is the day abortions are performed at the location. "We want to have as much impact as possible there," she said.

An expected 350-400 walkers will circle the block around the facility while praying, everyone from moms pushing strollers to the elderly with canes and walkers.

"Some people in their 90s come every year," said Berdeaux.


West Coast March

The second-largest pro-life event in the nation is scheduled to follow the Washington March for Life on Saturday, Jan. 25. It is the Walk for Life West Coast, which last year filled the parade route in San Francisco with 50,000 participants.

It is now one of the largest annual events in San Francisco. EWTN will be broadcasting the march live.

This year, Walk for Life West Coast (WalkforLifeWC.com) is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and expectations run high for an even larger turnout.

"Our hope is that it even motivates people further and focuses and concentrates on the fact it’s a banner year for the pro-life movement," said Eva Muntean, co-founder and co-chair of Walk for Life West Coast. The growth "is showing people are becoming more pro-life. We want to keep the momentum going and encourage people to get involved."

In fact, a powerful new short video encapsulating the history of this event and its dynamic growth in a few years hopes to inspire even more to join the swelling ranks of walkers in San Francisco. (See the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuzTcSBAMk4.)

The walk will be along the same highly visible route begun two years ago. It begins at Civic Center Plaza and proceeds down Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza by the waterfront. Muntean pointed out that this is the major parade route in the city.

"Market Street goes through the heart of the city and downtown," she said. "This year, we contracted to have our banners, 50 of them, on the light poles going down Market Street. These are about how abortion hurts women, and they will be up there for a full month. Our colors are very bright and will catch people’s attention. They will be a great witness."

On hand again will be most of the student body of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif. Yearly, the students help organize the march and carry a banner.

"It’s been invaluable to have them with us," said Muntean.

Speakers this year include actress Shari Rigby from October Baby; Monica Snyder, a representative of Secular Pro-Life; Rev. Clenard Childress, founder and director of BlackGenocide.org; and Grace Dulaney, founder of the Agnus Dei Foundation, which helps women in crisis pregnancies choose adoption for their babies. Silent No More has been an important part of the walk since its founding, too.

"We’re looking forward to having Dulaney especially focusing on adoption, which is such a good option for women in crisis pregnancies," said Muntean. "We’re definitely trying to raise awareness of that."