by Kathryn White
Special to The Leaven
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Over 350 Kansas pilgrims, from high school age to adult, journeyed to the nation’s capital last week to participate in this year’s National March for Life, themed “With Every Woman, For Every Child.”
Unlike in past years when many student groups made the 24-hour drive by bus, the entire group this year flew in order to save time and money, arriving Jan. 17. The change in travel plans meant the pilgrims arrived fresh and ready to hit the ground running, and in the days prior to the march, archdiocesan groups toured both religious and historical sites. Two of the groups had special tours of the Senate building and the U.S. Capitol led by Kansas Senators Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran and their staff.
The actual March for Life took place on Jan. 19. Kansas pilgrims began their day with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann at St. Dominic Church in Washington. The group then journeyed by foot the half-mile to the rally on the National Mall before marching the distance of the actual route.
The march route started between 12th and 14th streets and continued down Constitution Avenue. Due to the sheer number of participants — 100,000 were predicted — some marchers waited for nearly an hour at the National Mall for the march to reach their place in line. It continued peacefully to the end.
The route ended between the Capitol and the Supreme Court to signify the overturning of Roe v. Wade, while also witnessing to the nation’s legislators that the fight for the right to life will continue until every life will be respected.
The tone was different this year from in years past, though, said Deb Niesen, pro-life director for the archdiocese.
“The National March for Life is always a celebration of life and a chance for us to publicly and joyfully witness to the precious gift of life,” said Niesen. “Last year was very much about celebrating the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe. This year’s march again set the tone that there is still much work to do to make abortion unthinkable in our country.”
According to Niesen, we march, yes, for babies. But the message goes beyond that.
“Abortion not only ends the life of a child,” she said, “but it harms women. Love is the answer.”
Marchers were challenged every step of the way to be there for moms.
“‘With Every Woman, For Every Child’ means we are called to serve and support women who are scared and facing a challenging pregnancy so she can choose life for her baby and a healthier future for herself,” said Niesen.
Joseph Luke, a senior at Hayden High School and a parishioner at Most Pure Heart of Mary in Topeka, felt a sense of urgency as his takeaway.
“Seeing everyone march for one cause with the same ideology created a sense of urgency to fix the problem,” he said. “With education, there will be an end to abortion. We stand for the mother but do it for the kid.”
While the focus was supporting the moms and the babies and how to take action, the joy, enthusiasm and participation from those who attended remained the same.
“Life is good and we who support life are people of love and joy!” said Niesen.
Emily Jimenez, a senior at Bishop Ward High School and a member of Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, was there for her third march.
“My mom was a teenager when she was pregnant for the first time,” said Jiminez. “I know my parents had a hard time at the beginning. My mom even dropped out of school to be able to care for us.”
Nevertheless, they chose life.
“During the march, I loved hearing the chants, and people praying the rosary together as they marched,” she continued. “It was so loud! The laughing and singing was awesome — all for a common purpose.”
After the march, her group from Bishop Ward and ReachKCK celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation and attended eucharistic adoration, which helped everyone feel renewed.
“I hope to be able to share about my experience and make a difference,” said Jiminez.
The entire experience inspired a lot of reflection for all the teens who attended. Sydney Conrad from Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park and a junior at St. James Academy in Lenexa believed supporting moms, especially single teen moms, is about sisterhood.
“We have to be there for each other without judgment,” she said. “Most teens who find out they are pregnant will probably tell a friend first. Or maybe a teacher. We need to be educated and supportive without judgment.”
Leslie Villegas-Garcia, a young adult from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, agreed.
“We have to support women just as much as we support the babies who don’t have the voice to stand up for themselves.”
To view more photos from the 2024 March for Life, click here.