Students travel to D.C. to pray, march and rally for life
February 6, 2020
About 450 high schoolers and their chaperones from archdiocesan parishes and schools traveled by bus to Washington, D.C., to lend their voices, ears, feet and hearts to witness to the value and dignity of all human life.
Other groups – such as a contingent from the St. John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha – went separately, and some traveled by plane for the annual January pilgrimage.
The archdiocese pilgrims knelt and prayed inside ornate churches and outside an abortion clinic. They were inspired at rallies by pro-life musicians and speakers.
Then they took to the streets with thousands and thousands of like-minded people for the 47th annual March for Life on Jan. 24, carrying signs and praying together as they walked, showing D.C. lawmakers and an entire nation that they stand for life.
Despite the somber occasion – the 47-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states – the march was joyful, said Father Kevin Vogel, chaplain for the archdiocese’s Respect Life Apostolate.
“It’s a celebration of life and a peaceful protest,” he said, where participants have “joy and confidence in God being able to overcome evil.”
Joy comes from doing something that is not for oneself but for someone else, which gives people their greatest purpose and meaning, said Father Vogel, who also is associate pastor of six rural parishes and a teacher at St. Boniface School and Pope John XXIII Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School, both in Elgin.
A light breeze and temperatures near 50 degrees were a contrast to last year’s cold and snow and helped lift spirits, said Breanna Bartak, a senior at Pope John XXIII.
The youthful crowd – which included high schoolers, college students, young adults and parents pushing toddlers in strollers – also was uplifting, said Bartak, who was among the 25 students at her high school (more than two-thirds of the student body) to go on the pilgrimage.
She and other students carried signs that said: “I am the pro-life generation.”
Her classmate, Conor Ramold, said the reason they were there was simple: to “defend life at all stages.”
March for Life participants faced tighter security at a rally just before the march, where President Donald Trump spoke. Trump was the first U.S. president to speak in person at the march.
Anastasia Cervantes, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn and part of a youth group at St. Peter Parish in Omaha, said she loved the prayerful, pro-life solidarity at the march and at events throughout the pilgrimage.
Her group prayed the rosary while marching, and to her delight, many others started joining in. “People we’ve never met,” she said. “It was a really cool experience.”
Some events on the pilgrimage were solemn, especially the prayer gathering outside the abortion clinic. That event also seemed to be one of the most impactful, Father Vogel said, based on what students said on the bus ride home.
The 50 or so students who were with him saw a young woman crying as she left the abortion clinic. A man who entered the clinic with a woman made a vulgar gesture at them.
Watching people going in and out of the clinic was difficult, Ramold said. “Just really sad.”
What the students witnessed, Father Vogel said, gave them a hint of “the reality of what happens there.”
The pro-lifers gathered for Mass at places like the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, where Archbishop George J. Lucas presided; and even at their hotel.
They attended a Life is Very Good rally with thousands of other young people from across the country at EagleBank Arena on the campus of George Mason University, sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. Bishop Michael F. Burbridge of Arlington headlined the event, which included eucharistic adoration and opportunities for confession.
Immaculée Ilibagiza, who survived genocide in Rwanda, was one of the featured speakers with her simple message of forgiveness and trust in God. Her talk was a highlight for Bartak and Cervantes.
“Just listening to her was so powerful,” Cervantes said.
Ramold said he liked the music provided by an Irish group, We Are Messengers.
Cervantes, a home-school student who is a junior in high school, said she was grateful to “spend a whole week with people so passionate about the pro-life movement and to be in prayer with them.”
The students on her bus talked about ways they could be more involved at home, including praying outside abortion clinics, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center or commiting to praying the rosary for an end to abortion.
For more coverage on the 2020 march for life, see this link of photos.