Youth presence awesome at annual March for Life

By Joyce Duriga | Editor & Mark Pattison | Catholic News Service
Sunday, January 29, 2012

When Kelsey DiPietro helped to start a chapter of Students for Life at the University of Illinois-Chicago in November she knew that attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C., was a must.

“I knew that going to the march would be a huge step in building that group,” she said adding “and living out my pro-life message.” And she wasn’t disappointed.

DiPietro attended the march on Jan. 23 as part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s pilgrimage sponsored by the Respect Life Office. The annual pro-life demonstration marks the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion across the nation. The office had a record turnout for the pilgrimage with 10 buses and about 470 pilgrims — 75 college students and 345 teens in addition to the adults.

The archdiocese’s group was supposed to leave after an evening Mass on Jan. 20 but a snowstorm delayed their leaving until 7:30 a.m. the following morning. The group arrived in Washington, D.C., around 11:30 p.m. and celebrated Mass at 12:30 a.m.

The next day, the college students who went on the pilgrimage with the archdiocese attended the Cardinal O’Connor Conference for Life at Georgetown University, which is held the same weekend as the March. There they heard the message that their generation can end legalized abortion.

“We can get rid of abortion. That message was just mind blowing,” said the 20-year-old DiPietro.

She said she was surprised by the number of youth and young people that attended the march. She knew in her mind that there would be a lot of youth but seeing the tens of thousands of them all together was “mind blowing,” she said.

There is one message in particular that DiPietro said she took away with her from the whole trip and that was that, “Every single person I meet has dignity and they deserve respect.” She said, “Being pro-life is something you do and not just something that you say.”

On the morning of the march, pilgrims from the archdiocese joined tens of thousands of other pilgrims, mostly youth and young people, for Masses and rallies at the Verizon Center and the D.C. Armory. Mass used to only be held at the Verizon Center, which seats more than 20,000, but the number of attendees increased so much that a simultaneous Mass and rally had to start at the Armory.

“I had never been to something as large as that. It was amazing to see everyone’s fervor and how they were praising God,” she said. “It’s powerful to attend a Mass with that many people, DiPietro said.

To see that youth exist in the Catholic Church and see that they are excited about their faith inspired her. She was also one of many who lined up the morning of the march before the Mass to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

Craig Osburn, 24, from St. Isidore Parish in the Diocese of Joliet, was also moved by the long lines for confession and the sheer number of Catholic youth proud of their faith.

“The lines [for confession] were enormous,” he said. The lines moved quickly as many priests heard confessions in a restaurant area inside the Verizon Center but youth and young people kept getting in line, he said.

Osburn, who joined the Chicago group along with a friend, said Mass at the Verizon Center was a highlight.

“It was pretty remarkable seeing tens of thousands of young people that aren’t just practicing Catholics. They adore their faith. They hang on to it. They need it.”

Osburn first attended the march when he was a freshman in high school. He said the tone of the pro-life movement was different at this march.

“In high school I was thinking abortion is bad,” and now, like DiPietro, he said it’s not about if Roe v. Wade will be overturned, but when.

“Basically, it’s got to end. All of the signs and indicators tell us that it is going to come soon,” Osburn said.

Participants at the annual March for Life were urged in advance of the march not to let themselves be compromised in their beliefs as the federal government pursues regulations that Catholic leaders say constitute an attack on conscience and religious liberty.

“I beg and pray for the young people present and all youth and young adults not to be compromised in your dedication to the protection of life of each human person, born and unborn,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. “Keep it before your eyes and in your hearts immediately. Threats against life and against the consciences of those who say ‘yes’ to life must be met with timely and unwavering action, in our families and institutions, and yes, in the public square.”

Cardinal DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, made his remarks during his homily at the Jan. 22 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life. The overnight vigil, which included a closing Mass Jan. 23 and hourly Holy Hours in between, was conducted at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

The cardinal linked the 39-year struggle to end abortion on demand with Jan. 20’s announcement from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that most religious organizations would have to cover contraceptives and sterilization free of charge in their employee health plans, rejecting appeals from Catholic groups to widen the exemption.

“Never before in our U.S. history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs,” Cardinal DiNardo said, adding that the issue is “the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty.”

Cardinal DiNardo said Pope Benedict XVI addressed the issue when meeting with U.S. bishops from the Mid-Atlantic.

“Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience,” he quoted Pope Benedict as saying.

“In light of last Friday’s announcement about health care mandates, it seems that the Holy Father has nailed the issue in advance,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

“His calls for courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the church’s participation in public life and debate have targeted the issues we face in our pro-life efforts, to defend those who defend human life and to defend their religious liberty.”

Cardinal DiNardo pointed to gains made by pro-lifers, including “a record number of state laws that now restrict abortions. State prosecutors have begun to prosecute late-term abortionists who deny life and injure and maim women.”