Hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates flooded the National Mall Jan. 25 for the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Among them were 130 youth and chaperones from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who traveled by bus more than 1,000 miles to attend the event.
This year’s march marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states. Marchers held signs reading “40 Years Too Many” and “Stop Abortion Now.”
One sign in particular struck Phillip Reid, 25, a seminarian from St. Jude of the Lake in Mahtomedi: “Young people are going to be the generation of life.”
All generations should be generations of life, said Reid, who is studying pre-theology at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul.
“It’s awesome to see so many people embracing, and really working for, the gospel of life in the world, and it’s great to have a sense of hope that this could change because we want it to change,” he said.
This was the third year the archdiocese has coordinated a trip to the march. Bill Dill, coordinator of marriage preparation and youth ministry in the Office for Marriage, Family and Life, led the group, which included 11 people from the Diocese of Superior, Wis.
The youth and adult leaders attended a morning Youth Rally and Mass for Life at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md., sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington, before joining other marchers on the National Mall.
The size of the crowd — which some early estimates have placed as high as 650,000 attendees — impressed Joe Munsterteiger, 16, who attended the event for the first time.
“I didn’t realize so many people were pro-life,” said Munsterteiger, a parishioner of St. Henry in Monticello. “I don’t get how the government can just not look at this and realize that they need to stop [abortion].”
Archbishop supports youth
Archbishop John Nienstedt walked alongside the archdiocesan youth as the crowd made its way down Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court Building. He said he marched to show support for the young people, whose enthusiasm he found inspiring.
“It’s important for the bishop to be where the people are,” he said. Archbishop Nienstedt concelebrated Mass the night before at the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The main celebrant was Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities.
Abortion is among the “key issues of our times,” Archbishop Nienstedt said during the march. “In the future, hopefully we can have a society without abortion.”
A group of 25 first-year theology students from St. Paul Seminary also marched with the archdiocese.
Father Jeff Huard, the seminary’s director of spiritual formation, said it is valuable for men who will be priests to see the march’s impact on young people, and “the potency it has to convert hearts for life, for a lifetime,” he said.
Some marchers found significance in the number ‘40,’ which in Scripture denotes a period of suffering or trial. “We’ve been wandering in the desert for 40 years,” Cardinal O’Malley said during his homily Jan. 24, referring to the Israelites’ tribulation after escaping Egypt.
Father Huard is hopeful for a pro-life Promised Land, but said there is much work to be done.
“There is a new day and there is a new movement among young people clearly in a pro-life direction, but I think we need . . . a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and a lot more Blessed Mother Teresas to affect the world and make the change,” he said.
Father Erik Lundgren, an associate priest at Divine Mercy in Faribault, served as the chaplain for the archdiocesan group. The national march was the seventh he has attended, he said.
“The first time I ever went, there was a lot of momentum in Congress and in the presidency, and there was a lot of hope we could change [abortion laws] soon,” he said. “There’s a very different climate now, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s as serious an issue as it ever was, so we really need to dig in even deeper.”
Young people have responded to that call, he said.
“The youth are called to lead the charge in changing our world and building up the gospel of life,” he said. “It’s really on them.”
Strength in unity
While in Washington, the group also visited the Holocaust Museum and attended the Students for Life of America National Conference, which featured pro-life speakers and workshops. The group returned to St. Paul Jan. 27.
Karen Holdvogt, 28, a Spanish teacher at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria, brought seven students from the school’s pro-life club on the trip. She said she hoped the experience gives them a sense of unity in the pro-life movement.
“It’s so important because they see so many people from throughout the country, and they don’t feel so isolated in their own cause,” she said.
Holdvogt was a 21-year-old college student when a pregnant, unmarried friend gave her baby up for adoption rather than abort. The action fortified her own pro-life convictions, she said.
“Walking through that and seeing how important life is just really solidified for me how important it is,” she said. “It was a hard thing to do, but it was a beautiful thing to do, too.”
This year’s 40-year anniversary causes her to wonder what needs to be done to end abortion, she said. There have been an estimated 55 million abortions in the United States since Roe v. Wade.
“How do we need to change our prayer, action and our education to get this to stop?” she asked. “Forty years is way too long.”