More than 600 from archdiocese participate in the 41st annual March for Life
by Marc and Julie Anderson
WASHINGTON, D.C. — They came by car, bus and plane. Some had come many times before; this year marked the first for others. Some came as part of official diocesan-led pilgrimages; others in school groups. Some came as families; others, all on their own. They faced snowstorms, flight delays, car and bus breakdowns and single-digit temperatures to get there.
Nevertheless, this year’s March for Life saw veritable army of people at the annual pro-life rally protesting abortion — and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was well represented.
Held Jan. 22 — the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal — in Washington, D.C., the 41st annual march drew hundreds of thousands, the vast majority of them being high school and college students. More than 600 were from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
The honor of leading the march went this year to a school of the archdiocese — Benedictine College of Atchison — which took eight busloads of students.
Prior to the march itself, archdiocesan pilgrims participated in several related events, including: the opening Mass of the National Vigil for Life held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; a Mass for more than 800 Kansans celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann; and Life is VERY Good, an evening of prayer, eucharistic adoration and music featuring two-time Grammy nominee Matt Maher.
According to nearly all of the archdiocesan pilgrims interviewed, the common message they took away from the entire experience was a powerful one of faith and hope, but, most of all, a message of love for every human life.
For Evan Sutherland and Angela Hockenberry, both seniors from Topeka’s Christ the King Parish, that message was first heard at the opening Mass of the National Vigil for Life celebrated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
Sutherland, a home-schooled student, said Cardinal O’Malley’s homily touched his heart and reminded him of the true message of love inherent in the movement itself.
“Cardinal O’Malley explained how the pro-life movement is, by its very nature, pro-mother. We are there to support mothers and their unborn children,” he said.
Although Hayden High School did not send an official delegation this year, Hockenberry, a senior, was among those in D.C., having traveled with family. It was her first time to the march and first time witnessing and participating in such a large Mass.
The opening procession included hundreds of seminarians, deacons, priests, bishops and cardinals, she said. And the church was packed with thousands of laypeople, the majority of whom were high school and college students. The crowd was so large it spilled into side chapels, the crypt church and the aisles of the massive basilica.
“It was awesome,” Hockenberry said, adding she couldn’t believe the numbers of people who showed up to stand up for what they believe in.
“It was amazing, and way beyond my expectations to be part of such a faith-filled experience,” she added. “Everyone came together to stand up for what we believe in — that everyone has the right to life.”
Kyle Lavin, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park, agreed — right down to his use of the word “awesome.”
“I don’t know how else to describe it,” admitted the St. James senior.
For Allie Crank, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park and a senior at Notre Dame de Sion in Kansas City, Mo., the message of love resonated in a different way.
“One of the speakers at the Matt Maher concert talked about being pro-life. To be fully pro-life, she said, you have to respect all forms of life. I thought that was kind of neat because sometimes you forget to take time out of your day to see how other people are doing, and that’s a simple way to be pro-life.”
“I’m definitely going to try and be more caring about other people and value all aspects of life,” Crank continued, “and I will encourage my family to do the same.”
Getting involved was also something that students talked about, including Jensen Conner. Currently a junior at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., Conner was making her second trip to the march and said she was definitely inspired all over again.
“It’s eye-opening to see how many people come from all of the different states,” she said. “It’s an experience that everyone should be able to do at least once in their lives. . . . It’s a pilgrimage that I sacrificed some things for, and I know others did, too.”
“I think what I’ll take home with me,” added Conner, “is to share my views on pro-life and to stand up for those who cannot speak, by being more helpful in school with pro-life work or at the church — maybe volunteering at the county pregnancy center.”
Maddy Moore, a 17-year-old junior from St. Gregory Parish in Marysville, who was making the pilgrimage for the first time, said that she learned a lot on the trip.
“I thought it was an awesome experience. I loved it,” said Moore. “I actually learned about the history of the Roe v. Wade decision [through the trip]. I hadn’t known any of that before. Neither woman in that case or the other case (Doe v. Bolton) actually had an abortion.”
Going home, Moore said, she was going to get more involved in her faith.
“The one thing that really, really got me was when we had Mass at St. Dominic’s Parish. The priest talked about how we can come together to these things, but we need to give our whole lives to God,” she said. “That was big for me, knowing that I need to do more.”
Matt Butko, a sophomore and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, said the overall experience was for him powerful, moving and gratifying. The view from Capitol Hill truly impressed him. As it was his first time at the march, once he reached the top of the hill, he made certain to stop and turn around to see the crowds.
“It was so cool because I couldn’t see the end of all of the people,” he said. “The thoughts that went through my mind were just pure shock of how many people made the journey to express their views.
“The feelings in my heart,” he added, “were happy and sad — happy because that many people showed up and sad because we’re marching to get a law changed that allows such horrible things.”
Another first-timer was Stephen Akers, a junior at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison. Akers just moved to Kansas this past summer from Nebraska. In his former diocese, so many young people go on the pilgrimage that space is usually limited to upperclassmen. He was thrilled to be able to participate in the archdiocesan pilgrimage.
Describing the experience as “positive,” “upbeat” and “energetic,” Akers said the snow and freezing temperatures did not bother him one bit — nor did it seem to bother most people.
“People were just so energetic to be marching,” he said. “You did not notice the weather. I was out there. I could have gone for a couple more hours. It was great.”
The view from Capitol Hill also inspired him.
“I was at the very front, and I took a picture with my phone. There were people solid for at least a mile. Most of them were youth, which is awesome. We are going to win this. We are going to change Roe v. Wade.”