Local pilgrims stuck in snowstorm following march

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, February 7, 2016

For hundreds of pro-life advocates, the trip to this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., turned into a bit more of a pilgrimage than they expected.

Hundreds of vehicles were caught on the Pennsylvania Turnpike late Jan 22 and Jan. 23 in Winter Storm Jonas, and more were turned off the road to wait the storm out. Those stranded included dozens of buses carrying marchers back to the Midwest.

For 165 pilgrims from St. John Cantius’ Crusaders for Life, base camp was an Econolodge in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, Father Joshua Caswell reported on the parish’s website. Father Joshua Caswell and his brother, Father Nathan Caswell, both canons regular of St. John Cantius, celebrated a sung Mass in the motel bar and heard confessions under a “Bud Light” sign.

The congregation of more than 200 included pilgrims from Pittsburgh and Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as the Crusaders for Life, the website reported.

Unable to leave on Jan. 23, young people played in the snow and went on a hike. The group entertained itself and other hotel guests that evening with a talent show.

Father Joshua Caswell expressed gratitude for the hospitality shown by the hotel staff — including those who volunteered to do laundry for the group — local restaurants and residents. One couple drove seven miles through severe conditions to deliver supplies for the Mass, he said, and the local Hardee’s filled an order for 250 hamburgers with a total of two staff who were able to make it to work.

Those who were snowed in on the road itself said that emergency workers, area residents and the most able-bodied of the stranded were instrumental in making sure everyone had food and water.

News of a Mass celebrated alongside the turnpike on an altar made of snow went viral. Father Patrick Behm of the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, was the main celebrant of the Mass, but he credits pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis with the idea and the construction of the altar.

“Those Minnesotans really know how to build stuff out of snow!” he told Catholic News Service.

The several hundred worshipers at the turnpike Mass included people from dioceses in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Behm said.

Most of the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Chicago made it back ahead of the storm, said Ray Pingoy, coordinator of youth outreach for the archdiocese’s Respect Life Office. The five buses sponsored by the office itself left Washington, D.C., by 1:30 p.m. Jan. 22, and the other groups he had heard from had also come back on time or early.

While Behm’s group made it back to Iowa late on Jan. 24, the St. John Cantius group was turned back by emergency officials again that day and told to remain in Breezewood until the turnpike was cleared.

“Spirits were crushed,” Father Joshua Caswell reported. The young people and their chaperones, sleeping eight to a room, were exhausted.

After checking back into the hotel, the group gathered for Mass again and Father Nathan Caswell preached, telling them: “We all want to go home, but heaven is our real home. And this is something that we can only do together.”

The Crusaders finally boarded their buses home on Jan. 25. On the last leg of the journey, the young people were asked what they had taken from the trip.

“Now that our trip is ending I truly realize what it is to be a Crusader,” Josh Sullivan wrote. “Being a Crusader means that we give everything. It means suffering discomforts for the sake of those who need a voice to have the right to life.”

Marley Wellworts wrote, “I think the biggest takeaway is that God works all things for good, because our capacity for joy is our capacity for suffering. I saw miracles happen on this trip, not the big spectacular kind, but the almost more important kind. I saw hearts touched.”

“Every life has its Breezewood,” said Natalie Glitz, “we just need to make the best of it, love those around us, and remember that, eventually we will all come marching home.”

Contributing: Catholic News Service


  • pilgrimage
  • st. john cantius
  • march for life
  • crusaders for life

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