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Pro-life advocates march on despite blizzard

By James Graves, OSV Newsweekly

Despite a blizzard that dropped more than 20 inches of snow and brought driving winds to the Mid-Atlantic region, the Jan. 22 March for Life, the annual peaceful protest of the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the nation’s anti-abortion laws, went on, drawing thousands of dedicated pro-life participants. While March for Life leaders declined to give a specific estimate of crowd size, regular participants such as Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life, and Teresa Tomeo, who does live interviews for EWTN along the march route, speculated that the crowd was about one-third its typical size.

Yet the day was still a success, said Morana: “It was cold and wet, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirit. Everything went according to plan.”

Cancellations

The snow began falling at noon as the march’s kickoff rally was beginning, and a few hours later, it was falling heavily.

The weather led to many cancellations of diocesan-sponsored trips. Some diocesan cancellations included the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia; the Archdiocese of St. Louis; the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana; and the Diocese of Saginaw, among others, in Michigan. The Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, tweeted Jan. 21 that due to extreme weather, the bishops of North Carolina would not be attending the event, and other dioceses, including the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York, saw some buses being canceled, either by the organizations or by the bus companies themselves.

The Diocese of Richmond, which encompasses a large portion of the state of Virginia, had anticipated a strong turnout for the event. Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond thought the more prudent course was to cancel all parish, school and campus ministry-sponsored trips as well as trips sponsored by outside organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus. He said it was a difficult decision to make, but he encouraged all parishioners “to continue praying unceasingly for an end to abortion.”

The Catholic Youth Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis had hoped to attend with 3,000 youth, chaperones and other friends of Life on a Generation Life pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., but announced that after “prayerful consideration of numerous factors” the trip would be canceled. The archdiocese instead held a Rosary procession to a local Planned Parenthood facility led by St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, followed by a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

And, while the march always draws a large number of religious men and women, some of them opted to stay home as well. Father Andrew Apostoli of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, for example, said, “I wanted to be there, but with my bad knees, I thought it wasn’t a good idea to go out in the snow. So, I stayed home and prayed.”

‘Determined to march’

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said that despite the challenges, cancelling the march was never an option. “We respect the decision of those who stayed home because of the weather,” she said. “However, we had many thousands who came regardless and were determined to march.”

The march had to make adjustments for the cold weather, Mancini said, including switching stages as the original hydraulic-powered stage they planned on using wouldn’t work when the temperature drops below freezing, as was the case the week of the march.

Additionally, the March for Life incurred tens of thousands of dollars of additional costs this year, including the costs of snow removal and the fact that the stage equipment had to be taken down immediately after the rally.

Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, began attending the March for Life in 1976, when he was a high school student. He has attended nearly every one since and has seen the full range of weather.

“We’ve been through blizzards before, but we’re willing to trudge through the snow to give witness to life,” he said before the march began. At the close of the march, he was able to catch one of the last planes out of the area to attend the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco the following day.

Morana agreed that braving the weather was worth it.

“We’re never going to give up until every baby, woman and man is saved from abortion,” she said. Echoing Father Pavone, she added, “We’re not here to fight abortion, we’re here to end it.”

‘Pro-life generation’

For Morana, it was her 26th march. She’s seen harsh weather before; in 1994, a severe snow and ice storm shut down the capital. A Mass planned ahead of the March for Life in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was canceled that year, she recalled, “but everyone showed up anyway. Cardinal John O’Connor greeted us, joking, ‘Welcome to the canceled Mass.’”

Morana noted that there was a strong turnout of pro-abortion counter demonstrators this year in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. She estimates about 40 showed up for about two hours, up from about a dozen last year. She speculated it was due to the release of the undercover Planned Parenthood videos over the previous year. “

It tells me we must be winning,” she said.

She also noted a strong turnout of young pro-lifers for the march, a trend that has been noticeable over the past few decades.

“They really are the pro-life generation,” she said.

Abby McIntyre, 18, was among the young people marching Jan. 22. She is a full-time “pro-life missionary” with Stand True Pro-Life Outreach in Troy, Ohio. She began marching two years ago in “miserably cold” March for Life weather.

“We were all miserable being outside,” she said, “but being there shows how passionate we are for life. Our attitude is ‘bring it on, we’ll stick it out.’”

As a pro-life missionary, McIntyre’s duties include praying at an abortion clinic in Dayton, Ohio, and counseling women against abortion.

“We want to educate people to be on the pro-life side so that having an abortion will be unthinkable,” she said.

For Bryan Kemper, president of Stand True Pro-Life Outreach and organizer of the youth rally, skipping the march was never an option.

“Several thousand babies die in abortion clinics every day in the country, so we must be out there,” he said. “We must bring an end to abortion.”

March’s impact

Although abortion is still legal, March organizers and participants believe their movement has borne much fruit.

“We’ve made tremendous progress since Roe v. Wade, both in terms of legislation and changing public opinion,” Father Pavone said. “We have every reason to be hopeful for the future.”

Mancini agreed. “The March for Life has made a tremendous impact, converting many to our cause and motivating people to get involved.”

And while the storm cut down this year’s number of participants, Mancini knew there would still be significant participation.

“We have a good base of pro-lifers who are very motivated,” she said. “They’re not afraid of a storm.”

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.

 

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