Last weekend, Joe Block, a seminarian at Mundelein Seminary and the Ambassador Coordinator at Word on Fire, attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Read his insightful reflection on the experience here.
Upon returning from the 2011 March for Life with my fellow seminarians, I sat down at the computer to survey the media response to the event. I was astounded. My web-search on Google News provided so few results that I had to revise the terms of my initial search (Come on, who has to revise a Google search for an event attended by almost 500,000 people!?). Upon some intense scouring of my revised search, the news I found added to my disenchantment. The headlines rarely mentioned the “Pro-Life March” but instead consistently and negatively coined the event as an “Anti-Abortion” event. Why would the media change the name of the event in their headlines? And why did one particularly large news website display a large picture of the only two unusual marchers I personally saw the entire day – two men peculiarly dressed as George Washington and Captain America? These two men were an absolute anomaly amongst throngs of very normal and self-composed peaceful marchers. This same website posted only one other picture - a picture of counter-protesters, a group which was so small in number that I did not see a single member of this minuscule minority the entire day. So what can we conclude? Although I can only guess at their reasons for their lack of coverage of this event, I can easily assert that the media evidently has no interest in promoting Pro-Life values. After all, this March had between 400,000 and 500,000 attendees and was also well attended by members of Congress.
Yet, as I was recovering from my initial shock and dismay at the poor media coverage, I began to reflect upon my experience at the March for Life. The event was simply astounding. On Saturday night, we attended the Opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (try to say that ten times fast). The priests and deacons and seminarians were fortunate enough to have received seating in the Apse of the Basilica, though thousands of other mass attendees had to wait in the Basilica for hours and hours to get into the Upper Church for mass. Even the overflow seating in the Crypt Church was already full when we seminarians prepared to process into the Upper Church an hour before mass. It was impossible to ignore the yearning for the Kingdom of Heaven present in the hearts of the multitude of deeply devout and committed Catholics who personally sacrificed their free time to attend this holy Mass. The Liturgy was breath-taking: the singing was beautiful, the Basilica artwork was astounding, the prayers were reverent, the homily was riveting, and the entire Mass was perfect. Chills even ran up my spine when I realized during the Penitential Rite that nearly 10,000 people were simultaneously admitting their own sinfulness and asking God for mercy and forgiveness. In a society that tries to convince us of our own independence and strength, the humble request of God’s mercy by so many unified voices was utterly poetic. Later that evening, we seminarians were additionally blessed with the opportunity to attend Eucharistic Adoration from 2 AM to 3 AM in the Basilica Crypt Church (admittedly, a shot of caffeine in my blood was a major help for such an hour).
The next morning, 30,000 people, most of them high school groups and their chaperones, attended the Youth Pro-Life Rally and Mass at the Verizon Center. After Mass, 30,000 energized Catholics filed out of the arena and excitedly walked to the Washington Mall, where we happily waited in the cold for 2 or 3 hours praying the rosary, singing hymns and prayers, and generally enjoying the company of our Pro-Life brothers and sisters. On the flat Mall, it was impossible to look around and see the size of the crowd, but when the march finally kicked off and we began making our way up the inclined street towards the U.S. Supreme Court Building, I was astounded to look down the hill and see the sheer number of people present on the road. And during our march, it was a unique treat to join large numbers of strangers praying the rosary together with a sort-of unspoken bond of strength and joy silently flowing amongst us. Upon our arrival at the Supreme Court building, the stream of people just kept flowing and flowing and flowing by us. I simply could not comprehend so many people being present for this event! This was not a mere “Anti-Abortion” event attended by a few people. No, this was a movement. A large movement. A powerful and hopeful and peaceful movement.
I left Washington D.C. the next day filled with hope. I was filled with hope that truth will win in the end, hope that Christian charity and Christian values will not be suppressed under the dark cloud of dogmatic “choice” or “freedom,” hope that Christians will in fact be “the city upon a hill” that Jesus calls us to be. The Church has been that lamp on a lamp-stand shining brightly through the darkness of abortion in this country. And every year, this lamp grows brighter, and brighter, and brighter. 32 years ago, the first Pro-Life Vigil Mass in Washington D.C. was attended by only 50 people. In 2011, the Vigil Mass was attended by almost 10,000 people. The first March for Life held 38 years ago was attended by 20,000 people. In 2011, the March was attended by almost 500,000 people. The momentum of the truth and the power of charity cannot be stopped and cannot be ignored. Jesus Christ conquered the power of sin and death on the cross. Abortion in this country will come to an end. Life will win. Life has already won.
Joe Block is a seminarian at Mundelein Seminary and the Ambassador Coordinator for Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.