Over the past several years we’ve had weather worthy of a walking sacrificial pilgrimage of the middle ages……..rain, sleet, cold --enough to freeze our feet and hands off--, so much snow on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to strand a miles long line of buses for 18 hours. We expected to have much of the same, but the Lord gave us a big surprise and a welcome break. The weather was absolutely gorgeous after a big snow a few days before, not even one cloud in the sky with a bright blue surrounding the sun.
A pilgrimage is a prayerful journey to a destination of prayer. Indeed our March for Life was that. On Thursday, January 18 the South bus was due to leave at 4:15 am from Gallipolis and the North bus at the same time from Cambridge. We met in at the bus depot outside of Parkersburg. On the way we prayed the rosary as well as the Chaplet and saw the video, “Rediscovering God in America”. Newt Gingrich, a historian himself, took the viewer all over Washington, particularly the Capitol rotunda and the Supreme Court, to show that America is indeed a nation under God. On the way back we saw the “13th Day” which is the Fatima story and Mary’s message.....pray the rosary daily for peace, repent, and offer sacrifices such as the daily trials to the Lord through Mary for the conversion of sinners.
The Vigil Mass at the Basilica. After checking into the Comfort Inn in Sterling, VA, we took a subway to the fabulous Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. We saw the beautifully painted Dome of the Holy Trinity that was just dedicated. Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York was the main celebrant and homilist while hundreds of bishops and priests concelebrated, including Cardinal Shawn O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., who gave special recognition to the work of the Knights of Columbus.
It was standing room only at the beautiful Mass televised live by EWTN. The overflow had to watch it on TV in the crypt. 36 cadets from West Point and 30 Midshipmen from the near-by Naval Academy at Annapolis (male and female) looked really sharp in their uniforms. The cadets bivouacked in sleeping bags on the floor at a nearby Catholic school. They were great witnesses for life. It’s amazing that the West Point cadets were excused from class after doing extra work. Thus they marched the next day, but not in uniform at what could be construed as a political event. The vigil Mass preceded all night adoration and prayer.
The Knights of Columbus played an active part in the March for Life on Friday January 19. A large honor guard in full regalia processed at the Vigil Mass at the magnificent Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with hundreds of cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians all of which was televised on EWTN. At the end of the Mass Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington publicly gave special recognition to the Knights of Columbus for their work. They paid for many of the signs in the March. At the March itself a local council from Virginia acted as the marshals for the March and collected money in a bucket to alleviate the cost of the March. Pictured above are the knights from the Diocese of Steubenville after the Vigil Mass in front of McGivney Hall of the Catholic University of America which was financed by the Knights of Columbus. The statue of Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the order, overlooks the group. The Council from Cambridge brought the greatest number of knights in the diocese. Our own Council 3335 was represented by Michael Stapleton, Paul Sebastian, and Mike Merry. Tim Stapleton came separately with his family of seven children in his stretch van. We missed our chaplain, Fr. Thomas Hamm, who was unable to attend. Both he and his predecessor, Fr. Bill Myers have been very faithful to the March over the years. Start planning now to participate in the March next year. Photo thanks to Susanne Patrick.
The next day we had a choice of three different Masses by our three priests (we missed Fr. Tom) to start the day…….the early bird 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 am. The participants had the choice of seeing the sights or attending the Right to Life Rally on the National Mall at 11 am. Among the speakers were Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Vice President Pence, and President Trump, all of whom spoke remotely on the big screen from the White House.
Inspiration in the Archives Building on 7th and Constitution Avenue, where I met my godson. It give a fascinating overview of the History of the United States in hundreds of expositions, including the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Gettysburg Address. They all point to the dignity of the person and to the inalienable God given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
That’s why we and at least 100,000 more were there…….to proclaim together in a loud voice the right to life from the womb to the tomb…….to witness for the life of the most defenseless person, the unborn. Who has the right to snuff out the life of God’s most magnificent creation (see my blog #183 at paulrsebastianphd.blogspot.com)? Every person, from the unborn to the handicapped and the aging invalid has such dignity and value because each one is created according to the image and likeness of God whose son suffered and died for us in order to open the gates of Heaven for everyone who chooses to follow the Lord.
Diversity and East Meets West. Most of the participants were younger people, but all ages and races were represented, including babies in carriages, kids from Catholic Schools, disabled on wheelchairs, and more women than men as in our two buses. The marchers were predominantly Catholic, but there was a Lutheran group and an Anglican group. I met or saw university students from Catholic University, Franciscan, Christendom, Benedictine, Ave Maria, and Notre Dame either this year or last. There were many nuns, priests, and seminarians. Buses came from Missouri, Indiana, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York which has the most liberal abortion inclusions, and neighboring states.
“I love storks”; it’s not a choice, it’s a life”; babies can feel joy (of the mother) in the womb”; “students for life”. The local Knights of Columbus from Virginia were the parade marshals who kept order and collected buckets of money for the March for Life and rally expenses. We missed our pastor, Fr. Tom and our pastor emeritus, Fr. Bill who attended some 30 of these Marches since 1974. The extended Stapleton family has been very faithful over the years. This year the Scott & Bernadette Lewis family less the two babies and the Tim & Chrissy Stapleton family were all there with their Uncle Mikey. Maureen Murphy Kormanik and her granddaughter were also present. The witness of the kids is special, especially babies. Mike Merry, the President of Right to Life of Gallia County attended his 25th or so. John Spencer has done a great job in organizing at least two busloads of people to make the March in each of the past several years.
Even Germany is represented. The fight for the right to life, God’s greatest creation and gift, from the womb to the tomb has no boundaries in this world of ours.
I met a small group of Polish Americans with a sign in Polish, “Zycie zawsze, jest dobrem (Jan Pawel II)” or “Life is always good”. Scott Lewis saw a group of Polish seminarians. There was a group of Germans with a sign in German, French Canadians with signs in French, and Latin Americans with signs in Spanish as “Pro Mamá; pro bebe; pro vida”. A group of Vietnamese Americans were praying the rosary melodically in their language of birth. I noticed a group of Filipino Americans, a Hibernian group, and Iraqi-Americans with their banner of the Chaldean Rite of the Catholic Church. They were violently persecuted by ISIS and other radical Islamists in Iraq.
Milan Lach SJ, Bishop of Parma, OH and part of his flock. Born in Slovakia, he blends our ancestors, Carpatho-Rusyns who immigrated to the United States, and their descendants, Ruthenian-Americans.
What really caught my eye was the banner of “Eastern Rite Catholics” from the Parma, Ohio Diocese about a third of the United States. One of them recognized me. Five of them are my relatives (grandchildren of my cousin Martha Loya) from Cleveland. What a happy chance reunion! I gave a warm hug to all five of them. The boys are tall and handsome and kid sister, the last of the eight children, is blossoming into a beautiful young lady. I marched with them around the Capitol building to the Supreme Court building where they conducted a singing prayer service in their Byzantine Rite. They sang the beautiful Akathist Hymn in English to the Theotokos, the Mother of God (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJipuoCREPE) and I sang along with them…….all 22 pages of it.
Byzantine Ruthenian Catholics of Parma, Ohio sing the beautiful Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, the Mother of God in front of the Supreme Court building.
Then their Bishop Milan Lach SJ gave us a blessing. The prayer service attracted attention and Latin Rite seminarians and religious joined in. Indeed East met West. As St. John Paul II said: the East and the West are the two lungs of the Catholic Church……unity in doctrine under papal authority, but diversity in customs, culture, and traditions. Somehow, I was not the last one to board our bus. Every March is different; every March is an adventure and a new experience. Come and join us in 2019.