WASHINGTON D.C. — For about 200 people, subfreezing temperatures, blistering winds, and a recommendation to stay home didn’t matter. They joined about 60 pro-life advocates for the 48th National March for Life from the Museum of the Bible to the Supreme Court on Jan. 29.
The 60 invited participants marched quietly. Led by the usual March for Life banner, many held roses that were eventually placed on the sidewalk behind the fenced-off Supreme Court building. Others held rosary beads and signs as they marched, flanked by the Knights of Columbus.
Those who joined along the way came with peaceful chants, hymns, posters, and flags.
Many of them — advised by the event organizers to participate virtually at home earlier this month due to COVID-19 and the recent events at the Capitol — were there to uphold a tradition they didn’t think was as meaningful on a computer screen.
“I see it as a tradition and it’s a yearly commitment to recommit myself to defending life from the moment of conception until natural death,” said Mickey Kelley, who came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to participate. “Even though the march is virtual, I believe that some of us still have to make a stand one way or another.
“I do appreciate the advance in technology and everything but you still need to be interactive with people, a little interpersonal so to speak.”
Ed Hanks traveled with his wife and six kids from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for what he considers the family’s “annual pilgrimage.”
“Even though it was canceled, we couldn’t just not come. It’s the solidarity. It’s everybody coming together for this cause at the nation’s capital where real change could be effected,” Hanks said.
Hanks and Kelley eventually came together with about 50 others on the National Mall before the march started. Typically filled with thousands for the event, this year it was a cluster of about 50 people on an otherwise empty National Mall. They all prayed together and shared testimonials of why the cause was important to them before joining the march.
One woman in particular posed the question to the group, “why do women feel that this is the only option?” referring to abortion. She then highlighted the need for society to be more supportive of women both before and after pregnancy.
Rev. Arnold Culbreath, the director of Ministry Engagement at the Douglas Leadership Institute in Montgomery Village, Maryland, was one of the people invited by the march organizers. He called it “powerful” that hundreds joined along the way.
Others in the core group of marchers were president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund Jeanne Mancini, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph L. Coffey of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, and former NFL player Benjamin Watson.
The night before the march, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, led the opening Mass of the annual National Prayer Vigil for Life.
In his homily, Naumann told the story of his own mother choosing life even after his father was murdered while she was three months pregnant with him.
He also took the opportunity to condemn President Joe Biden, a Catholic, for his pro-abortion actions and promises. On Thursday, Biden reversed the Mexico City Policy that blocked United States funding for foreign nongovernmental organizations that perform or actively promote abortion as a form of family planning.
“Sadly, President Biden is the perfect example of the religiously and ethnically incoherent straddle, claiming to believe that human life begins at conception and personally opposing abortion while doing everything in his power to promote and institutionalize abortion not only in the U.S. but around the world,” Naumann said.
“We must not yield to discouragement. […] We must also not indulge anger or attacking those who disagree with us. We speak the truth with firm resolve but with compassionate love as well,” he continued. “We must pray and fast that the president will cease attempting to confuse people about Catholic teaching by trampling on the sanctity of human life while presenting himself as a devout Catholic.”
Hanks said it was “very symbolic” that Biden announced the decision to overturn the Mexico City Policy the day before the March for Life and said the president was “making a point.”
The president, however, was hardly a topic of the marchers. Their chants — such as “we are pro-life” and “we love babies, yes we do, we love babies, how about you?” — were focused exclusively on their personal beliefs.
As were signs that featured phrases like “human rights begin in the womb,” “baby lives matter,” and “life is precious.”
This piece first appeared in The Tablet, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg