Hope and optimism pervade pilgrimage to March for Life

Once again, a winter storm couldn’t dampen the pro-life spirit of pilgrims from the Omaha archdiocese.

Weather prevented about 75 pilgrims from making the trip to the 44th annual March for Life Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C., but it didn’t deter the departure of about 250 youth, their adult chaperones and others as they traveled to join tens of thousands of other pro-life supporters for the march.

Archbishop George J. Lucas also joined the group in Washington for a prayer rally, Mass and the march. And another 27 people from St. Peter Parish in Omaha traveled separately.

Last year, a winter storm halted travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for nearly 24 hours, stranding six of seven buses from the archdiocese’s group as they returned from the event. The delayed travelers prayed, played games, supported one another and held a Mass in the snow as they waited for the highway to reopen.

This year, a winter storm in northeast Nebraska, with up to 16 inches of blowing and drifting snow and icy roads, canceled the excursion leaving from Norfolk. But 29 people living south of the heaviest part of the storm who planned to leave from Norfolk joined the group departing from Omaha.

And those left behind were encouraged to pray for the travelers, who experienced clear roads and good weather the rest of the trip.

As part of their pilgrimage, the group attended daily Mass, prayed the rosary, took part in spiritual exercises and reflected each day on how they did or did not fulfill God’s will for them, said Whitney Bradley, coordinator of the archdiocese’s Respect Life Apostolate.

"The young people were amazing," she said. "I was overwhelmed by their spirit, hope and sense of optimism.

"The Omaha group is often noted as a fun group for others to be around," Bradley said, "because we chant and pray and are full of the spirit of life that we’re marching for."

Once in Washington, they attended the Jan. 26 "Life Is Very Good" prayer rally featuring music, speakers, eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation.

"The rally was super fun and really got us pumped up," said Grace Neiman, a member of St. Mary Parish and a senior at Guardian Angels Central Catholic School, both in West Point.

Eucharistic adoration also helped focus people’s attention, she said. "It was a great start."

Sarah Daskiewicz, a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha and a home-schooled junior, also noted the eucharistic adoration, and the many people gathered at the March for Life.

"Seeing the monstrance, Jesus carried through the crowd, really moved me," Daskiewicz said.

The group began the day Jan. 27 with Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with groups from Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., then attended the march beginning on the National Mall.

Brent Podliska, a member of St. Leonard Parish in Madison and a senior at St. Francis High School in Humphrey, said it was inspiring to be united with so many people from around the country in support of life.

"I really enjoyed shouting out our cheers as we marched," he said. Making his second pilgrimage, he also noted that, unlike last year, he saw several news outlets covering the march.

A memorable moment for Neiman was being confronted during a lunch stop by a group of young women who challenged her pro-life stance. "I explained our beliefs and that in America we have the right to express our views," she said. "This was the first time I’ve ever had to defend my faith."

During the return trip, the group stopped in Philadelphia to pray at an abortion clinic and tour historic and religious sites, including the shrines of St. John Neumann and St. Katharine Drexel.

Kennedy Schuttler, a member of Holy Cross Parish and a senior at Bancroft-Rosalie High School, both in Bancroft, said the pilgrimage brought her closer to God and touched her personally.

"I have a friend who was almost aborted, and my own mom was told for 10 years that she couldn’t have a child," she said. "And praying before an abortion clinic and seeing people come in and out knowing what happens in there, when so many women want to have a child, I can’t fathom that."

The shrines made a big impression on Preston Sueper, a member of Holy Family Parish and a freshman at Holy Family High School, both in Lindsay.

"We went to Mass at the shrine of St. John Neumann, the first American saint, and went down to the chapel where we could see his body," Sueper said. "And seeing where St. Katharine Drexel is buried and where she sat in her wheelchair to attend Mass was awesome."

The group returned home Jan. 30, with Podliska and others tired but exuberant.

The trip was exhausting at times, but worth it, Podliska said. "We were able to offer up our struggles and inconveniences as a prayer to end abortion."


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