Pilgrims from across Omaha archdiocese join thousands for D.C. march

Youthful exuberance and faithful commitment were on display as hundreds of thousands of pro-life supporters converged on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the 46th annual March for Life Jan. 18.

About 460 of those people, mostly high school students, represented the Omaha archdiocese in the event, showing their support for the unborn. 

Groups organized by the archdiocese traveled from Omaha, Norfolk and West Point, and groups from St. Peter Parish and V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School, both in Omaha, and parishes in Columbus also traveled to the march.

Greta Purcell, a member of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha, a senior at Skutt High and president of her school’s pro-life group, said the experience strengthened her resolve.

“Seeing hundreds of thousands of people all there for the same reason and knowing you’re not fighting alone is powerful to see,” she said. “Sometimes being pro-life can feel lonely, you see a lot of backlash.”

For example, she said, while the group prayed in front of a Planned Parenthood facility in Washington the day before the march, a man riding past on a bicycle yelled out, “Why don’t you find something better to do with your time?”

“But knowing what we’re doing could change the world is a boost for our mission,” Purcell said.

That commitment is shared by Anna Kenney, a senior at Marian High School and member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, both in Omaha. As leader of the Students for Life club at her school, she made it her mission to increase Marian’s participation in this year’s march.

Through her recruiting efforts, the Marian group grew from eight students last year to 43 this year and, with their chaperones, filled an entire bus. 

“In our culture, it’s really important to make a public stance for life,” she said. “And to help these girls see that being pro-life is pro-women. It’s powerful to see young people standing up for that.”

With the theme, “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science,” the march began with a rally featuring several speakers, including conservative commentator and writer Ben Shapiro, who cited Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement that the pro-life movement is “out of line with society.”

Shapiro reminded the crowd that it’s OK to be out of line and that “righteousness doesn’t have to be popular, just righteous.”

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, made a surprise appearance at the rally and introduced President Donald Trump, who addressed the crowd by video feed. 

In his comments the president said he would defend life and promised to veto any legislation “that weakens the protection of human life.” 

Gabriel Schreffler, a homeschooled 12th grader and member of St. Peter Parish attending his second march, was moved by the sheer number of people from all over the country coming together to march and pray.

“It was very profound and had a big impact on how I think,” he said. “It increased my devotion and reminded me how precious life is and to thank God for what we have.” 

Deacon John Zak, also from St. Peter Parish, who has attended numerous marches including 15 with archdiocesan groups, said the trip was a very prayerful experience. His group shared morning and evening prayer as well as daily Mass.

The theme of caring for all human life and what happens when that perspective is lost underscored the group’s visits to Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Zak said.

Seeing the ravages and the destruction of life, they were able to correlate the dehumanization of the holocaust with that of abortion, he said. 

The trip also was a spiritual experience for the Columbus group, said Father Matthew Capadano, chaplain and teacher at Scotus Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Columbus.

He said his students appreciated the spiritual opportunities along the way, such as Mass and reflection time at the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmetsburg, Md., and eucharistic adoration during the “Life is Very Good” youth rally the evening before the march.

“They received a lot of grace, and I did too,” he said.

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