Hundreds of young people from the Diocese of Nashville plan to travel to Washington, D.C., later this month to participate in the March for Life, including the first-ever group of middle school students, from St. Joseph School in Madison.
“I am excited that we are the first school in Nashville to have eighth graders participating in the March for Life,” sad Natalie Eskert, director of instructional programs at St. Joseph.
The idea started as a class discussion, and when enough students and parents showed interest in going, Eskert decided, “I’m going to make this happen.”
Now, 17 students and their chaperones are planning to participate in the event that bills itself as “the world’s largest human rights demonstration” and “the world’s largest pro-life event.”
Thanks to the generosity of parish donors, the St. Joseph students will fly to Washington, D.C., to attend the March for Life on Friday, Jan. 24, as well as attend several other pro-life events that weekend.
St. Joseph eighth graders spoke at Masses in the fall about their plans for the trip and to request donations to offset costs. The response was so great, especially from the parish group Mothers of the Heart, that almost all of their travel expenses are covered. “The kids are excited. The parents are excited,” and there is great anticipation for the trip, Eskert said.
The St. Joseph group will join forces with the group organized through the Diocese of Nashville’s Youth Office, which consists of high school students from Pope John Paul II High School and other schools around the diocese.
Father Ryan High School and St. Cecilia Academy are also organizing their own trips and busses to travel to the March for Life, with about 250 people traveling in those groups.
The diocesan group of 90 will fly to Washington and spend five days on a “March for Life and human dignity pilgrimage,” according to Bill Staley, director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese.
In addition to the March, a pro-life rally, and Masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine, the Dominican House of Studies and a Franciscan monastery, the group will also visit monuments and other historical and cultural sites around Washington.
When visiting sites like the Lincoln Memorial, the MLK Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery, the group will learn about the people behind them and their historical context. They will also visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum “so we learn and don’t repeat history,” Staley said. This will be his fourth time to the museum, but, he said, “there’s always something new to learn.”
The trip led by Staley and the Youth Office “is a five-day spiritual retreat where we will get a whole view of what the faith teaches about respect for life, from womb to tomb,” he said.
A number of the students going on the trip are repeat travelers to the March for Life. Whether it’s their first time or their fourth, “I think they find it just as enriching, if not more, every time they go,” Staley said.
University Catholic, a college campus ministry program that serves Vanderbilt, Belmont and other university students, is also organizing a trip to D.C. for the March for Life. They plan to attend the Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the March for Life, and a pro-life conference at Georgetown University.
Additionally, the Knights of Columbus are sponsoring a bus from Nashville to the March for Life for the first time. In past years, they have sent busses from Memphis and Knoxville, with Nashville marchers being picked up along the way.
This year, Tom Kimball, a parishioner at St. John Vianney Church in Gallatin coordinated the bus trip for the Nashville Diocese, which is open to anyone, not just fellow Knights and their families. “This trip is for anyone who wants to participate and believes in life,” he said.
The group riding on the Knights’ bus is small this year, but Kimball hopes to grow participation in the future.
“There’s a tremendous amount of young people filled with enthusiasm and excitement, filled with joy” at the March, said Kimball. “It’s great to be able to stand up and be counted, to be with all the people that are there.”