The day is Friday, January 19th of the year 2018. Tens of thousands of people are crowding the streets of Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, marching with a purpose. All around are people holding signs, people singing, people chanting, people laughing and people crying. With one common goal in mind, these strangers band together to make a difference in the world. With people from all walks of life, walking for life, their message is strong and bold. Welcome to the 45th annual March for Life.
Let’s go back to the beginning. In 1973 the Supreme Court’s ruling of the Roe V. Wade case legalized abortion, the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, in the U.S. In response to the ruling, Catholic and Activist Nellie Gray organized the first ever March for Life, which was held on January 22nd, 1974, in hopes to “provide all American’s with a place to testify to the beauty of life and the dignity of each human person,” the movement’s mission. The first March for Life gathered close to 20,000 participants. 45 years later, the fight continues, with thousands of walkers each year. The 2018 March for Life had an estimated 100,000 participants.
This year, our very own school, Chaminade College Preparatory, sent a strong group of students and chaperones, under the leadership of theology teacher Mrs. Struckhoff, to D.C. to participate in this annual event as part of the St. Louis Generation Life pilgrimage, and I was honored to be one of them. We had students from all four years of high school, including R.J. Jackson, a freshman who decided to go because he wants to “speak for those who can’t speak or don’t have the opportunity to speak,” as well as take part in “a powerful experience.”
Wednesday and Thursday
Our trip began Wednesday night with a mass in the Skip Viragh theatre. Chaminade was a departure area, meaning that several different groups going on this march would meet up and load their busses in the Chaminade Weber lot, with all participants gathered for mass. Our Chaminade students, being the gentlemen we are, helped set up for the mass, directed traffic, and prepared for our departure. The atmosphere was full of energy and excitement, all of us ready to begin our trip.
Soon enough, the buses were loaded, and with one final wave goodbye to Chaminade, we set off towards D.C. The busses drove for fifteen hours, give or take, with a few stops for breakfast and restrooms here and there. During this time, the Chaminade gentleman played games, watched movies, and sang songs, all while growing closer as a brotherhood of men. The first thing we did in D.C. was visit the Arlington Cemetery. We went as a group to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb. After Arlington, we finally drove to our
hotel. We unloaded our bus, obtained the room key and pairings from Mrs. Struckhoff, set a meeting time in the lobby, and then we were released.
After we unpacked into our hotel rooms, we met with the group in the lobby to go over the plans. That night would be an entertainment session, led by Rachel Leinger of the REAP Team, but we had time before it began. We were given permission to go into this underground mall called Crystal City, which was located underneath the hotels. This underground mall had everything, from restaurants, to toy stores, to chocolate factories, to pharmacies. Our group split up into tinier pairs of four or five, and then went off on our own, deciding on where to eat dinner for the night.
We met up again in the lobby, and went to the ballroom for the session. A band played numerous Christian songs from artists such as Matt Maher. The whole room, filled with hundreds of St. Louis high school students and chaperones, was so full of heart, ready for the next day. We prayed and asked for God’s guidance and strength on the march, and asked the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds as well as others. Before we knew it, the session was over, and we went off to our hotel rooms for the night, eager to begin the next part of the journey. The next morning the mood was obvious: excited, nervous, and happy. It was time for what we all came for: the March for Life.
We woke up, met in the lobby, then split up for breakfast. After breakfast, we attended mass in the same ballroom we had the entertainment session. After mass, we all walked down to the metro, the train that would take us all over D.C. Our first stop was to visit the White House. We had plans for a tour, but unfortunately, that did not work out. We then went to the National Mall, which is, in fact, not a shopping mall, but a length of land with national museums on either side. There, we ate lunch, and waited for the March for Life Rally to begin. Before we could officially start our walk, all 100,000 Pro-Life marchers grouped up into the grassy area that runs through the middle of the National Mall. There, a stage was set up, with big screens and speaker systems set up throughout the crowds.
Pam Tebow, mother of former NFL Quarterback Tim Tebow, spearheaded the rally, which lasted about an hour. She, among many other notable speakers, spoke on the topic of abortion, the reason we were all there. She even went as far as calling it a holocaust, saying that we need to end the “holocaust of abortion.” Pam also went on to explain how we are “the pro-life generation,” and how it was up to us to keep fighting the fight. Other speakers took the stage to strengthen our hearts, including Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler. She challenged us, as a nation, to find ways to “end the baby’s disease, and not the baby’s life,” with one of the main causes of abortion being that the baby would be born sick.
Near the middle of the rally we had speech from President Donald Trump himself. Trump was speaking from the Rose Garden, which was only a few blocks away. He was broadcasted live into the big screen next to the stage. He spoke about working on passing laws and bills that will help strengthen our cause and help us to progress forward in our movement. He also spoke to us about why we were marching, and why it was important to never stop until our fight has been won. “It is the miracle of life,” Trump explained. “That is why we pray. That is why we march.” And so, we march.
The march itself started between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive, went along Constitution Avenue, and ended at the Supreme Court and Capital Building. It started off slow, with our group standing in the same spot for nearly ten minutes. And then, with the sun shinning above us, we began moving forward. There was cheering everyone, with phrases such as “Hey! Ho! Roe V. Wade has got to go!” and “I love babies yes I do, I love babies how bout you?” in which another group would reply by saying the phrase over. As we marched on, the cheery mood of the crowd only grew and strengthened. And not only was there happiness with us, but there was also an air of mad respect for everyone else on the march. Each person respected the people surrounding them. Brendan Robert, a Chaminade alum and prefect, noticed that “everybody, not just Chaminade or St. Louis people, but everybody together respected each other… and everybody came together as one, human family. And that’s what it’s all about, respect life.”
Marching as one, unified group is unlike any other experience. All around you are people, each with their own story as to why they are marching. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “there is no sound more powerful than the marching feet of a determined people.” And this march surely proved that statement true. Not only was it the sound of marching feet, or the cheers of the crowd that moved people, though. Throughout the march were signs and pictures promoting the anti-abortion movement. One of the harder segments of the walk was through an area in which pictures of aborted fetuses were being displayed, with the sounds of aborted babies. Toby Swarzbauer, a junior from Trinity who came with Romans 8, his youth group in St. Louis, called the march “life-changing” and said it “showed how real abortion is, and how much it needs to change.”
Despite how strong we felt about our reasons for marching, we did grow tired from walking for so long. There is one hill along the route that is close to the end, and when we got there, we knew we were almost done. Walking up the hill was tiresome, but the top was an amazing view. You could look back and see the line of the thousands of marchers behind us, with signs and banners being help up high. “I don’t want to forget standing on top of the hill and looking back to see everyone marching,” explained Maria Ferretti, a senior from St. Catherine I had the pleasure of interviewing, “or the sheer number of people that showed up to march and share what they believe in.” We made it to the end of the march, all of us proud of each other, happy and smiling. Mrs. Struckhoff and the other chaperones (Mr. Salvaria, Mrs. Bowler, Dr. Barnidge, Mrs. Ostermueller, and Brendan Roberts) led us across the city to Union Station, where we would be eating our dinner for the night.
Despite how tired we were, we all walked with a bit of a pep in our step, talking excitedly about the day. When we arrived at Union Station, Mrs. Struckhoff gave us a meeting time and location, and then we were off. Union Station had an array of food options, from Shake Shack to Chipotle. We met back up, and then headed back to the hotel for the final entertainment session. When we got to the hotel ballroom, the band was already playing music. A group of students had congregated next to the stage and was singing and dancing. Some of our group went up as well, myself included, and went full out. Kids were standing on chairs, we were laughing and singing and hugging and swaying, so full of joy from being surrounded by so much love.
The session went on, with Rachel and the other speakers continuing the talk on abortion. Knowing our fight is not yet over, they encouraged us to bring the Pro-Life movement back home, and to keep spreading it wherever we went. We ended the night with adoration, which personally, to me, was one of the most powerful experiences on the trip. The music, the lighting, and the atmosphere, combined with all the hundreds of teens from St. Louis singing out with their hearts and souls, was so powerful and moving. Some people smiled, others cried. Some even laughed out, giddy with joy. In that moment, we all knew that we were there for a reason. “It’s not just about a woman’s body,” explained Breanna Murphy, a sophomore from Marquette High School, “it’s about a baby’s life inside the woman’s body.”
Sooner than I would have liked, the night was over. We went back up to our hotel rooms, tired as all get out. Even though the main reason of our pilgrimage was over, we still had a full day in Washington until we left. The chaperones had planned out a fun day visiting different museums. We also had to get up early in order to pack up our rooms and load the busses, so we knew that we needed rest. We checked our phones one last time, and then it was lights out.
Saturday and Sunday
The morning came quickly, and some of us scrambled to get all our belongings together and down to the lobby. Our bus arrived, and we quickly loaded it with our luggage. We would not be taking our bus, though, so we quickly returned to the lobby of the hotel. We got breakfast in the underground mall, and then went into the metro station, saying goodbye to the hotel one last time. Despite the chaos of the metro combined with the sleepy-eagerness of our group, we made it with no lost persons to the first museum, the National Air and Space Museum. Like usual, the chaperones designated a meetup spot and time, and then we were let loose. Splitting off into smaller groups, we explored the museum and gift shops, intrigued by the different airplanes and space shuttle models and replicas.
The next museum was probably one of the most moving museums in D.C., the National Holocaust Museum. The line snaked out of the building, proving how well-liked of a museum it is. We got into line, anticipating the next experience. When we got inside, we got in line for the elevator to take us to the beginning of the museum. Our group was too big for one elevator, so we split in half. As soon as the elevator doors opened on the top floor, a wave of solemnness hit our group, with the whole floor dead silent as visitors looked with pity and sadness at the horror of the Holocaust.
The museum had multiple catwalks with glass sides that connected the different parts of the building. On each catwalk, on the glass, were words. One catwalk had hundreds of towns and cities destroyed in the Holocaust, one had hundreds of names of people who lost their lives, etc. One room was three or four stories high, with a cat walk that was the path in the middle. Looking up and down all four walls of the room, one could see framed pictures of Holocaust victims, as if the walls were made of the memories of the dead.
“You hear about the destruction of the Nazis,” said CCP Sophomore Eli Steele, “but you never get to see the true impact, and how they actually did it.” That is, until you go to the museum. There was one exhibit that held the shoes of hundreds of victims, an exhibit that really moved Eli. “It was a very sobering experience,” commented chaperone Brendan Roberts. He also called it extremely important, in regards to the Pro-Life march, saying that “it was the ultimate definition of when life was not respected.” Freshman R.J. Jackson compared his experience at the museum as if he had “been put into somebody else’s shoes.”
After the Holocaust museum, we went to the National History museum, our last stop before dinner. We had decided to go back to Union Station for dinner once more, being told to eat as much as possible, since we wouldn’t be eating a full meal again until we got home. After dinner we went to the Cathedral, where St. Louis Generation Life would meet as a group one last time. There we celebrated mass, with a “ripped” Jesus watching over us, as CCP Freshman Shane Bolle said. After mass, we went to our bus, all of us ready to head back home.
The ride home was filled with karaoke, laughing, games, and a lot of sleeping. We got back to Chaminade and unloaded the busses. The trip was over, and we were all happy to be home. We were also sad that such a powerful experience could be over, but like all good things, an ending is a must. When asked about the march, Mrs. Struckhoff said she felt “inspired” by those around her, and that the “march was a celebration of life.” When asked what being Pro-Life means to her, Mrs. Struckhoff explained that “being Pro-Life is recognizing the inherent dignity that all human persons have… that must be protected.”
With a phenomenal group that certainly impressed our chaperones, Chaminade sent a strong group of young men who embraced the message and each other. A woman who was working at one of the museums said she could, “feel the love” from the march, and that’s what it’s all about, love. That’s why we march, that’s why we speak, that’s why we pray. In the wise words of Mrs. Struckhoff, “naturally, love propels us towards the other for the good of another.”
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