The scene here in Washington Thursday seemed familiar — thousands of Americans gathered on the Capitol Mall, having traveled far distances to rally together and send a message to the nation. The faces in the crowd were young and old, filled with a sincere hope for the future but ready to bring change to society.
But this was not a rally for a newly-elected president, nor were all gathered for an historic inauguration. Instead, the 250,000 people gathered in the nation’s capitol commemorated a darker moment in American history: Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. This March for Life was a gathering in support of the unborn, the elderly, and all those in danger of an unnatural death.
I attended this year’s march, my fourth, with the College Seminary-St. Andrew’s Hall, where I am currently in my second year of studies for the priesthood. As my group was walking down Constitution Ave., I was able to see the vast expanses of the gathering, which stretched for blocks along the mall leading up to the capitol. I was struck by the size of the crowd, especially given the cold and crowded conditions in the city. Once again, the march seemed larger than ever.
Looking closer at the crowd, I saw that the signs and banners belied the stereotypes of the pro-life movement as old and dim. The gathering was youthful, with countless high schools, colleges, and seminaries attending, sometimes with entire student populations. The young people made the march their own, leading songs, prayers, and cheers as they walked down the avenues to the Supreme Court. Occasionally, entire families would walk by —with multiple generations walking together to witness for life.
It was then, as I watched the thousands pass, that I realized that this pro-life cause has become more than a simple political movement. It has transcended age, class, and location to bring these Americans to Washington in order to shout a message loud and clear to the nation’s lawmakers: “You have a sacred duty to protect the innocent, the unborn.” Amidst the taunting and derision of the modern world, they came.
They came in buses and cars, staying in homes, hotels, churches, and schools. They came with banners displaying not taunts and arguments, but messages of charity and truth. They prayed, alone and together, that the evil of violence against the defenseless might end. They carried out their actions so that, as John Paul II wrote, soon our country might have “the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love.”
I would be amiss if I said that this sight did not bring me hope for the future. In seeing that the next generation has taken up the cause of life as their own, I was reminded that the battle against abortion, euthanasia, and all other evils continues into this next decade of American history.
The late Catholic priest and intellectual Fr. Richard John Neuhaus once wrote that the culture of life would be spread “until every human being created in the image and likeness of God is protected in law and cared for in life.”
But “we shall not weary, we shall not rest,” he said. And while the challenges will be hard, and at times even seemingly insurmountable, we will not stop working for the unborn, the mothers, and all who suffer. The March for Life proved this: the hope for the future is here, and as we work together, with God’s help, the battle will be won.
Ben Emmel is a Diocese of Madison seminarian studying at the College Seminary-St. Andrew’s Hall at Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ.