by Barb Fraze
Special to The Leaven
WASHINGTON (CNS) — More than 7,000 gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here for the March for Life Vigil Mass held Jan. 18.
A great many of them stayed on for the National Holy Hour of Life afterward, led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
Among those who remained to receive a message of encouragement from the archbishop, former chair of the USCCB’s pro-life committee, were many student marchers from his own Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
After eucharistic adoration, recitation of the rosary, additional prayers and hymns, Archbishop Naumann told those gathered on the eve of the 2024 March for Life that they should take their example from David in the Book of Samuel. He said he thought it was appropriate that the weekly liturgical readings had included Samuel anointing David.
The Philistines were threatening the Israelites, and none of the soldiers would stand up to the Philistine giant Goliath.
“It’s the boy David, who can’t even wear armor, who believes that God is with him, just as [God] was with him when [David] was doing his shepherding,” said the archbishop.
Yet David hit Goliath with a single stone from his slingshot, then killed Goliath with the giant’s own sword.
“And you know, I think that image is apt for us where we are right now in the pro-life movement,” Archbishop Naumann said.
The forces pro-life advocates face can seem overwhelming, like a giant, like Goliath, he said.
“We’re facing a billion-dollar industry that’s willing to spend everything, anything, to defend its livelihood — the killing of children. We have propagandized generations of children, now young adults, through our public education, through higher education, through the mainstream media, through the entertainment industry. . . . But what we have is something more powerful.
“It’s Jesus and it’s truth.”
“And we can feel overwhelmed and discouraged that the enemy is too big. And what can we do? But we have something stronger and more powerful, more powerful than even the Torah of the Old Testament. We have Jesus Christ,” the archbishop continued.
He said the late Jean Garton, who for years was head of Lutherans for Life, used to refer to the story of David and Goliath and say, “You know, the soldiers of Israel looked at Goliath and said he’s too big, we can’t fight him. But David looked at him and said, ‘If he’s so big, how can I miss him?’”
As laughter resounded throughout the basilica, Archbishop Naumann told the crowd: “We have to have that same attitude. With the Lord upon our side, we will conquer, we will prevail.”
With the monstrance still on the altar, he also spoke of the of the importance of the years of the National Eucharistic Revival, which will conclude with the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis July 17-21.
“The Eucharist is this incredible miracle that God has given to us,” Archbishop Naumann said. He spoke of various opportunities, especially for young people, to get to know God in the Eucharist.
“To me, it’s so encouraging to see our young people’s love of the Eucharist,” he said.
But the Eucharist is not only for young people, he noted, adding, “We need our older people to be witnesses.”
He spoke of two instances from his childhood in St. Louis that made an impression on him. He said his father died when his mother was pregnant with him, so she was a single mom and a Catholic school teacher.
When he and his brother were in high school, their mother would get up and go to 5:30 Mass every morning before returning home to prepare breakfast for her children. Later, she went to 8 a.m. Mass with her students, but she told them she was unable to “focus on the miracle of the Eucharist” at that Mass; she had to pay attention to what her students were doing.
The archbishop also spoke of his maternal grandfather, who lived downstairs.
“It always intrigued me that on Saturday morning at 2 a.m., he would go to our parish church and spend an hour in [eucharistic] adoration,” said Archbishop Naumann.
He said he tells adults: “Your children are watching. They’re watching what is important to you.”
After the Holy Hour, Steve Wirtz of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood called the archbishop’s reflection “amazing.”
“I think his story about David and Goliath — I’m going to use it for five years,” he told The Leaven.
And he praised the archbishop’s unflagging passion for his pro-life work.
“He’s a lion!” said Wirtz.
Wirtz said few people know that when the archbishop was a priest in St. Louis, he provided the money to start Our Lady’s Inn, a maternity home. Wirtz said his wife Maureen had visited St. Louis to see the inn’s work and now was working with pro-life advocates in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
The Wirtzes were among nearly 400 people from the archdiocese who attended the vigil Mass at the basilica Jan. 18. Before the Mass, some of the high school students in attendance spoke to The Leaven about why they were attending the March for Life, even after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in 2022.
Katelyn Kuckelman, a senior at St. James Academy in Lenexa, said: “We all recognize here that this movement is not just about people who are unborn, but it’s about everyone who deserves to live.
“And that includes not just myself, but the young, the old, of all shapes and sizes, of all creeds, of all religions. . . . It applies to everyone, and that’s really what we’re fighting for.”
Layla Ludwig, a sophomore at St. James, spoke of marching for prisoners who have received the death penalty. She said she thought it was “wrong to take away that human life, no matter what they’ve done.”
Sophomore Abby Schaffhausen said besides the unborn, they were marching for “people who are being euthanized. Because just because they’re old or have a life-threatening disease, it does not mean that they deserve to die then. It doesn’t mean that another person gets to decide when to end their life, only God decides when somebody’s life ends.”
Farther back in the church, amid students from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, senior Nathan Dreiling expressed a similar opinion.
Dreiling told The Leaven he was marching “to be the voice that the aborted are not able to have.” He said he had heard the phrase “my body, my choice,” but paused, choosing his words carefully.
“It’s not the fact that I’m male or female, it’s the fact that it’s Jesus’ child,” he said.