WASHINGTON, D.C. — Though not every participant at the annual March for Life in Washington is Catholic, the faithful presence of those who are is made abundantly apparent every year.
Among the annual marchers are Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and this year was no exception.
They were among the thousands of people from all walks of life who came together in unity to show their support for the lives of unborn children Jan. 21 for the 49th annual march and rally marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
The Franciscan friars traveled to Washington from multiple locations in New York and New Jersey, bringing with them lay associates and young people to gather on the National Mall to listen to rally speakers and then march as a group up Constitution Avenue.
“To be here and gather together with young people and old people, and to be encouraged by the witness. … We are here to promote the dignity of life. I want to be a part of that movement,” said Brother Thomas McGrinder, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal for the past 25 years.
“I am encouraged by what I see with all of the young people, it is always a great grace to be here with them and support their witness as well,” he said.
He referred to the current culture that surrounds youth as an “anti-witness to life,” because the lifestyles and habits they consume through social media and school does not, he said, promote the dignity of human life.
“To come here to D.C. for the March for Life is a beautiful gift because we see the magnitude of young people who show up. They see they are not alone, so praise God for that,” explained the brother, who for many years was director of the Alive Youth Group at the Most Blessed Sacrament Friary in Newark, New Jersey.
Through Alive, the religious order teaches young Catholics how to live out the true faith. With prayer, retreats and service to the poor, kids ages 12-18 get a glimpse into the life of a friar.
Opportunities for prayer as a group include saying rosaries outside abortion clinics in the friary’s surrounding neighborhood.
On a larger scale, members of the youth group are able to travel to Washington each year for the March for Life, an opportunity that exposes them to the size of the pro-life movement. They find inspiration in seeing the number of people marching for one cause.
One veteran of the Alive Youth Group is 15-year-old John Mustard. Like most teenagers at the March for Life, he attended this year to protest the evil of abortion.
The friars have played an integral role in his faith formation, including his choice to be pro-life, he said. He sees them as role models who have changed the way he and his family view God.
“In some ways, our generation is going in a bad direction. People coming to things like the March for Life can open their eyes to what is actually going on in the world,” Mustard told Catholic News Service.
Like Brother Thomas, Mustard is aware of the negative culture influencing the younger generation.
Even though he is just one individual among many at the March for Life, he said, he feels he is a symbol of the pro-life movement and an example of fortitude amid moral adversity his generation is facing.
Brother Simeon Sinoski recently succeeded Brother Thomas as the Alive Youth Group’s youth ministry director. He said he was already experiencing the blessings that come from inspiring young people, especially through participating in March for Life.
“We live in a world that is very comfortable. Particularly for young people, comfort and convenience is sort of the air that we breathe,” Brother Simeon told CNS. “Standing up for being pro-life is so necessary, but on top of that, I think it is important to partake in something like protest or resistance.
“Presenting the young generation as people who will stand up for something rather than just going with the flow and living comfortably is really important.”
He believes it is essential for the younger generation to defy the label of “comfortable” in their everyday lives. They need to be willing to stand up for what matters, in this case the pro-life cause, even if that means experiencing discomfort, he said.
Brother Simeon also discussed the blessings that come from being in a brotherhood like the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
Founded in 1987 by just eight Capuchin Franciscans, the religious community has grown to over 100 members with friaries in five countries. Their work focuses on working with the poor in impoverished areas, yet their support and presence on the Catholic pro-life scene is evident.
The late Father Benedict Groeschel, one of the co-founders of the community, was a leading pro-life figure.
Those to whom Brother Simeon and his brother friars minister are their family — since as vowed religious they give up having children and a family of their own.
This is “the family that the Lord has given me instead,” he said, which includes the young people they join for the pro-life march in the nation’s capital.
“To come here and fight for life with them and see that extended family … to see the way that the brothers bring together the family of the church and the family of the pro-life generation … it’s such a joy to look around and see my brothers,” Brother Simeon explained.