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Photographer shares eye-opening experience in first March for Life

Mary Sharpnack, a senior at St. James Academy in Lenexa, proudly holds up her “I am the post-Roe generation” sign as she marches with her classmates up Constitution Avenue to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

by Kathryn White
Special to The Leaven

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Surprisingly, in all my years serving in ministry, I had never attended the national march in Washington, D.C. So when the opportunity came to travel with the archdiocese as The Leaven’s photographer this year, I couldn’t say no.

Traveling across the country in a bus stuffed shoulder-to-shoulder with teenagers is not for the faint of heart. It was crowded, uncomfortable and, if I am being honest, a little smelly.

But every ache, pain, smell, frozen finger and toe, every icky bathroom at random gas stations on the way, all the sleeplessness, was offered as a sacrifice for children who never got the luxury of it all.

This was a pilgrimage. We prayed and we persevered.

Bishop Ward senior Juan Vazquez volunteered to lead a decade of the rosary on the long bus ride to the March for Life. To the right of Vazquez is Ward’s campus minister, Deacon John Williams, and behind is Ward senior Leslie Villegas. After the march, Villegas said, “Hearing the speakers at the rally helped me realize all life is sacred, including the old, young, poor, special needs, black, white — you name it.” LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

During the days of our pilgrimage and march, I jumped in with as many groups from our archdiocese as I could. It was amazing chatting up the teens and finding out their reasons for coming to this event in a world where they could be Snapchatting, chilling and staying in the comfort of their own homes during these cold January days.

The theme for this year’s march was: “​Equality Begins in the Womb” and in my interaction with the teens on this trip I could see that they truly believed that.

Bishop Miege High School, Roeland Park, sent 31 students, three faculty members, and one priest to the March For Life. “It was really empowering to see so many people come together to support one cause. I remember seeing little kids on one side of me and mothers on the other, all joined in prayer and advocating for life. It’s definitely something I will never forget,” said Delaney Johnson, junior, pictured fifth from the right. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

Margaret Ledom, a sophomore from Hayden High School in Topeka, shared views that were similar to most.

“I came to the March for Life to take a stand on my beliefs toward abortion,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of something impactful that had the ability to change policies for the lives of the unborn.”

The day following the march, a group of Topeka’s Hayden High School students make their way to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, for a day of sightseeing. Margaret Ledom, a 10th grader at Hayden High School, pictured on the far right, said of her march experience: “I wanted to be a part of something impactful that had the ability to change policies for the lives of the unborn.” LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

When we set out to march, it was a bitter 20-something degrees, but our hearts were warm with intent.

Witnessing the young people around me cheer for Katie Shaw, a 37-year-old pro-life advocate from Indianapolis who has Down syndrome, I was overtaken with emotion. By lobbying for state legislation and speaking with her legislators, Shaw advanced a state bill that prohibited abortions based solely on gender or disability.

Katie Shaw, a 37-year-old pro-life advocate from Indianapolis who has Down syndrome, inspired the crowd gathered at the March for Life with her story. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

“Knowing that 80% of people diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted, and then seeing how full of life Katie is, just shows how much we must fight to save every life,” said Emily Eckerberg, a senior from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.

“Everyone is deserving of getting a chance to live outside the womb,” she continued. “[Katie] has experienced so many amazing things, and it is all because her parents chose life for her.

“Every child deserves this chance.”

From left, St. Thomas Aquinas, Overland Park, students Aubrey Berger, Anna Przybylski, Anna Borchert,  Mary Sanchez and Thomas Kluck cheer for Father Mike Schmitz, one of the speakers at a rally before the march. Father Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, is a popular Catholic speaker and author and is the host of “Bible in a Year” podcast. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

And when Toni McFadden shared her story about having an abortion with her boyfriend when she was young, only to reunite with him nine years later to get married and light a candle at their wedding for their child, the crowd went wild with support and love for her.

Everyone was cold, there was no doubt. But I couldn’t tell it, because collective warmth, joy and fortitude fueled our mission: peacefully stand for those who can’t.

From left, Tom and Teri McGuire, members of Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish, Wea, march with Deb Niesen, director of the pro-life office; Emily Lopez, lead consultant for the office of adult evangelization; and Ann Marie Alvey of the pro-life office. The couple joined the archdiocese’s adult trip to the March for Life, co-sponsored by the office of adult evangelization and the pro-life office. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

I saw babies in carriers, toddlers on parents’ shoulders, grandmas and grandpas shuffling along with looks of determination on their faces and marchers gently passing them by.

I saw all races and ethnicities, walking in solidarity.

I saw people cheer and give thumbs- up to a group of moms who raised signs that read: “I regret my abortion.”

The conviction was palpable.

Solidarity and support flourished at every turn.

Women hold”I regret my abortion” signs at the 2022 March for Life in Washington, D.C. The solidarity among the crowd of tens of thousands was palpable at this year’s march. LEAVEN PHOTO BY KATHRYN WHITE

So often as Catholics we hear: “Catholics don’t care about women; they only care for the babies.” I will forever be brought back to this March for Life and share differently.

We traveled over a thousand miles by bus, each person averaged 15,000 steps by foot, and we spent over six hours on our knees in prayer for both mothers and their children.

We do value them both and believe in equality for all, starting in the womb.

To view all of Kathryn White’s photos from the March for Life trip, click here.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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