Annual march in Washington, D.C., draws 100,000, with heavy participation by
Catholic New York
Archdiocese of New York
By CLAUDIA McDONNELL
Several thousand New Yorkers, undeterred by distance, icy winds or a blizzard
the previous day, traveled to Washington, D.C., Jan. 24 to participate in the
32nd annual March for Life.
Buses departed from more than 30 locations, including parishes and high
schools, in the early hours of a brutally cold morning. George Gredell, who
chairs the pro-life committee at Sacred Heart parish in Monroe, said that when
the bus left at 4:45 a.m., the temperature was around zero.
But if the thermometer hit a low, spirits went the other way. A big reason
was the large number of young people who participated. Adults who have been in
the pro-life movement for years said they are deeply impressed by the commitment
and reverence - for God and for life - of the youngsters who are becoming
The total number of marchers was estimated to be about 100,000.
President George W. Bush, speaking to marchers via telephone from Camp David
in Maryland, said that the federal government is "working to promote a culture
of life, to promote compassion for women and their unborn babies."
The president spoke for about five minutes at the beginning of the rally. "We
know that in a culture that does not protect the most dependent," he said, "the
handicapped, the elderly, the unloved or (those who are) simply inconvenient
become increasingly vulnerable."
Bush pointed to laws passed during his first term in office, including the
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003. Implementation of the law has been held
up by three separate federal district courts - in New York, Nebraska and
California - which have declared it unconstitutional.
In an allusion to federal funding for cloning and for stem-cell research,
Bush added, "We're also moving ahead in terms of medicine and research to make
sure that the gifts of science are consistent with our highest values of
freedom, equality, family and human dignity. We will not sanction the creation
of life only to destroy it."
The March for Life usually takes place on the Jan. 22 anniversary date of the
Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton decisions that legalized
abortion virtually on demand. When the anniversary date falls on the weekend, as
it did this year, organizers choose the following Monday so participants can
lobby their respective legislators on life issues.
On the eve of the March for Life, Cardinal Keeler celebrated a vigil Mass
opening the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. He told a capacity
congregation of more than 5,500 people not to give up hope in their efforts to
change the country's abortion laws. "The evil must end," he said.
Brother Paul O'Donnell, a member of the Franciscan Brothers for Peace,
addressed the rally the next day on behalf of
Terri Schindler Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose case was
appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court Jan. 24 refused to reinstate a
Florida law that permitted her feeding tube to remain in place over her
husband's objections. The decision clears the way for the tube to be removed;
the woman's parents, who want her on a feeding tube, have been battling her
husband over the matter.
"Terri Schiavo has a right to life," Brother O'Donnell said. "Today is not
the final word."
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said he and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., would
introduce in their respective chambers the
Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act to require in part that women seeking
abortions at 20 weeks' gestation or longer be informed that the child in their
womb can "feel excruciating pain, two to four times more pain than you or I
would feel from the same type of assault."
Eileen Peterson of Stony Point has seven children; five went to the march
with her. She told CNY that through the years she has seen an increase in the
the number of children and teens who make the trip.
"But this year," she said, "the ratio of young people to senior citizens was
incredible. And their spirit, their love, their energy! The youth are going to
win this victory for God."
The young people joined in reciting the Rosary and singing hymns such as "Ave
Maria" and "Immaculate Mary." Although marchers were packed tightly together,
there was no shoving or rudeness.
"Such respect and reverence and politeness," she said. "The love just touched
Gredell also was heartened by the sight of young marchers.
"It's encouraging to us who are in our mature years," he said. He added that
the youngsters "really seem to understand what they are talking about" on
Rosemary Tirone was the march organizer for Our Lady of the Rosary parish -
known as Holy Rosary - in Port Chester. On board the bus were students from the
parish school and St. John the Evangelist School in White Plains. They watched a
pro-life video en route to Washington, and they received a printed list of
responses to common arguments in support of abortion. The objective, Mrs. Tirone
explained, is to drive home the lesson that abortion takes a baby's life.
She said that the children were impressed by the size of the crowd and the
number of young people like themselves. But it wasn't only youth who reacted
favorably. Mrs. Tirone said that several adults on the bus were marching for the
"They were so enthusiastic," she said. "They said, 'We're going to do this
next year.' "
The archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office had distributed a gift for
each marcher before the event: a large, kelly green scarf made of soft, warm
fleece. Several coordinators told CNY that the scarves not only kept out the
cold, but also allowed New Yorkers to spot one another.
"Whenever we saw people wearing the scarves, we said, 'Hey - New York!' "
Mrs. Tirone remarked.
Gredell said that the driver on his bus kidded riders, "You can't get back on
without your green scarf!"
Inez Niblo, chairman of Rockland Right-to-Life, told CNY that this year's
march, like the previous ones, was "very peaceful."
"People associate this issue with confrontation," she said, "but there is
Also marching were the Sisters of Life, including Sister Mary Elizabeth,
S.V., director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office. She said that the mood
was "positive, upbeat and very hopeful." She was particularly moved by the "Silent
No More" demonstration by women carrying signs with the message "I Regret My
"They gave witness to the devastating and tragic effect their abortion had on
their lives and the lives of their families," she said. She added that many of
the women said that had been pressured or coerced into having an abortion, and
that many had found post-abortion healing through faith, especially in "an
encounter with the healing Christ." She also remarked that Pope John Paul II, in
his encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life") told women who have had
abortions that after they find forgiveness and healing, they will become the
most eloquent defenders of life.
"We're seeing a real shift in the march and the movement now," Sister Mary
Elizabeth said. "Not only are we speaking of the incomparable value of the
unborn child, and the tragedy that abortion is. Thirty-two years later (after
Roe vs. Wade), we're keenly aware of how abortion hurts women, and of the deep
suffering that both men and women experience after an abortion."
Gredell looks forward to the day when "we'll be going down to celebrate the
end of Roe vs. Wade."
"I think that will happen eventually," he said.
Catholic News Service contributed to this story.
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