A chorus of “Roe v. Wade has got to go” and “We are the pro-life generation, and we will abolish abortion” could be heard as tens of thousands of people from across the country traveled up Capitol Hill along Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., for the 49th annual March for Life on Friday, Jan. 21.
Among the peaceful protesters were several representatives of the Diocese of Nashville including 80 youth, priests, seminarians and adults from 18 churches who traveled with the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, 20 students from St. Cecilia Academy, 33 students and missionaries from University Catholic, and 84 students from Father Ryan High School.
‘What is your why’
“What is your why? What is your reason for being here?” Father Andy Bulso, chaplain of the Office of Faith Formation, asked those from the diocese and St. Cecilia Academy as they gathered before the march.
“We are about to go out and be really cold for a few hours. We’re going to be in a crowd of people. There is going to be a lot of discomfort, and we’re not going to want to really be there in a lot of ways,” he said. “Those are the moments when you want to reconnect with your reason, your why.”
“This is a day to get out of ourselves,” Father Bulso added. “Maturity and love involves getting out of ourselves and doing things for other people. This day is a real chance to do that.
“When you’re feeling cold, when you’re feeling uncomfortable, when you’re feeling hungry today, as we say as Catholics, offer it up,” he concluded. “Reconnect with your why and your reason for being here.”
Ally Lazo, a junior at St. Cecilia Academy, said she wanted to come because of the stories she has heard from others and wanted to see the movement for the defense of life firsthand.
“I’ve heard about Catholics being more aware about abortions that are happening, and I wanted to experience that perspective to see more and gain more knowledge and understanding of the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion,” Lazo said.
Ashley Saavedra, parishioner of the Church of the Assumption in Germantown who traveled with the diocesan delegation, said it was a way to save lives now.
“Since I was little, I’ve always felt like I was called to save lives, but that was by becoming a doctor in the future,” she said. “Once I figured out that this opportunity was available, I thought, ‘This is even better.’ This is a way to save the lives of those that people don’t often think about.”
The March for Life is an annual event, which began in January 1974 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade that made abortion on demand legal across the country.
What started as a small group of less than 100 people at the first March for Life has grown into an event that draws hundreds of thousands who march from 14th and Jefferson at the National Mall, down to Constitution Avenue before finishing on First Street NE between the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Capitol. Signs and banners of all kinds promoting the importance of defending life can be seen the whole way.
“Babies are completely helpless. They cry for food, clean diapers and sleep, so in a society that doesn’t understand love, I understand why that society would think nothing of killing the helpless and useless,” Father Andrew Forsythe, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Lawrenceburg, said in his homily during a Mass for the groups from the diocese and St. Cecilia on the morning of the march. “But we humans are all useless to a being like God. Of what possible use could we be to someone who has every possible good in his very nature? And yet here we are and despite being useless to God, he lays down his life for us anyway in pure gratuity to us, pure gift.
“When we only view others and things according to their use to us, that actually comes from a place of lust. Lust is about taking, consuming in order to satisfy oneself,” he continued. “Whereas love is defined as complete gift of oneself, which is a sacrificial approach that lays down one’s own life for the other.”
Referring to the morning’s Gospel reading, he said, “And so the merchant giving up everything for this pearl … this merchant really is like the kingdom of God because the merchant sacrifices everything out of love for the pearl,” he said. “And who is that merchant like but God himself who gives up everything, his own blood; and who is the pearl but you, a helpless, useless human with all your faults and annoyances, with your cries and demands according to the way you like it.
“He gave up everything for you. You were useless, but he loved you out of pure gift, never taking according to the ways of lust, but always giving according to the law of love,” he concluded. “We humans – babies, men, women, mothers, fathers, the elderly, the disabled – we must be of precious worth for we are not pursued by some mere treasure hunter. We were searched for and pulled out of the depths by God Himself.”
Music and speeches from politicians and several pro-life activists kicked off the events of the day for several attendees, including a keynote speech from Father Mike Schmitz, Catholic author, speaker and podcaster.
“We’re here because abortion and what it’s done has broken our hearts,” Father Schmitz said. “I know so many people here, you’re standing here because you know the dignity of human life.
“So many people are among us because this story is part of your story. Because you found yourself at one point in a place where it seemed like life was an impossible choice,” he said. “I know we’re surrounded by men and women who have chosen abortion. You need to know, you’re supposed to be here, you matter, you belong here. No matter what your past is, you are still loved, and you still matter.”
Upon sharing stories of those who chose life including his grandmother, another woman who chose her son, and the son who came from that choice, Father Schmitz posed a question: “We’re going to stand and we’re going to walk, what does it matter? What does it do?
“That willingness to stand, that willingness to walk, it has echoed into my life, it has echoed into the life of this young woman, it is incarnate in the life of this 12-year-old boy who wouldn’t be here,” he said. “Every child matters. Every woman matters. Every person matters. No matter what this does, no matter what this changes, your being here standing, your being here walking, it changes you, and you matter.”
The event was a first for several students from the diocese.
“I was excited to see many people who share the same belief as me with preserving human life from womb to tomb,” said Houston Hughes, a freshman at Pope John Paul II Preparatory School who traveled with the diocese. “I’m just happy to see everyone come out and protest against this sinful approach.”
Also a first-timer, Carlisle Brown, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville and a senior at Pope Prep who traveled with the diocese, said it was exciting.
“I’ve grown up Catholic, so I’ve learned about the dignity of human life all my life, and I’ve done a lot of retreats with the diocese,” Brown said. “I just love the people and seeing all the joy that comes with celebrating life and protesting for the sake of life.”
Pierce Creighton, a senior at Middle Tennessee State University who traveled with University Catholic, called the experience “welcoming.”
“As a first-timer, I was actually really nervous coming to the March because I didn’t know how many, if any counter protesters there would be,” Creighton said. “But once I got there, it was just so wonderful and the sense of community that no matter how many miles separated us in our normal day-to-day life and marching, it felt really welcoming.”
Several were veterans like Flanigen Phillips, a senior at St. Cecilia Academy, who came for her third trip.
“I love this community here. This is such a loving community and a really joyful one,” Phillips said. “I was so thankful to be here this year after not having it last year. I’ve always been passionate about this for as long as I can remember, and it’s stronger than ever now.”
Nicole Speyrer, a freshman at Belmont University who came with University Catholic, is on her fourth trip.
“Something I believe so much in is the human dignity and the need and the right to life, not just from a Catholic standpoint but a human standpoint,” Speyrer said. “It’s so important to notice that people are people. You can see that all across social issues but especially with the pro-life movement and with abortions specifically. It’s just something so important to me and my belief system and, therefore, to me as a person.
“Seeing everyone together can be very inspiring being pro-life,” she said. “Just being able to go to the March for Life almost helps me to be reinvigorated into that belief standpoint. I’m not alone in this, and this is the right decision and moral standpoint to have.”
The final march?
At the end of 2021, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments that may lead to the overturning of the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which would be a huge win to those who are part of the pro-life movement. A decision will come in mid-2022.
“For me personally, when we reached the justice building, I was like ‘Holy cow, in a couple months, Roe v. Wade could be overturned right there,’ which was really powerful for me,” said Kayleigh Langenstein, a junior at Belmont University who traveled with University Catholic. “This could be the last March for Life during the Roe v. Wade era. This could be a very real possibility that the next March for Life will be more focused on individual states.”
For more about the March for Life, visit marchforlife.org.
Photos below by Katie Peterson, along with submitted photos from Father Ryan, St. Cecilia, and University Catholic.