An opportunity to live our faith: a pilgrimage for life Print
Year of Faith
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

By Michelle Nillson

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I will never forget the events surrounding the first time I attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Six months earlier I had taken a position as the director of religious education in a small rural community just outside of Canton, Ohio. I was armed with a new master’s degree in theology and all the hope in the world that all Catholics could fall deeply in love with God and the Church.

Early one morning I received a call from a friend, a professor at the college down the road and the moderator for the campus pro-life group. He called begging me to drive a group of college students to the March for Life in D.C. My immediate response was, “Are you crazy?” In Ohio, it is only a six-hour drive to our nation’s capital, but I wasn’t prepared to go to march for so many reasons.

Effects of abortion on my family

Even though I had grown up in a faithful Catholic family, I did have personal knowledge of the effects of abortion on a family. We were devastated when one of my siblings chose this option when faced with an unexpected pregnancy. It caused an avalanche of turmoil in our family.

As time went on, the pain and suffering in my family seemed to dull and although we all coped with the loss and hurt, we all remained a little broken. As a result, I personally found it difficult to get active in pro-life ministry. It hurt me to attend a rally or pray at an abortion clinic.

Naturally, when my friend called me that morning to attend the march, fear went through me. Reluctant to go, I thought of every reason to get out of the job. However, within about two hours it was settled; I was going to D.C.

The March for Life

The March for Life occurs annually in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade (the legislation that passed in 1973 allowing the legalization of abortion) on January 22.

I had been aware of the pilgrimages that were organized to take the faithful to D.C. and stand up against this decision, but I had no idea how many people attended the march each year. I had never seen an article or public newscast of the event. I thought, “Maybe a few hundred people will be there.”

The trip to Washington, D.C., was enjoyable; the kids in my van were pleasant and prayerful about their purpose. On the day of the march, we attended the rally where pro-life Congress people and many others gave testimony to the horrors of abortion and offered hope for those who had been personally touched by abortion.

As I stepped out onto the street where hundreds of thousands of people were marching to the Supreme Court steps, I was stunned. As I looked down Constitution Ave., there was a sea of pilgrims. Over 350,000 people were estimated to attend the march that year.

Standing up for our faith

How could I have been a pro-life person, a faithful Catholic for so long, and not have understood the importance of standing up for my faith in this manner? There were people from all over the country, from all vocations: priests, bishops, religious, and married walking in peace while praying and singing together as a human family. I remember thinking, “This is what we are called to do as Catholics.” We stand up in the highest arena for God and the Truth.

And now, in the Year of Faith, this is what the Holy Father is asking of us: to make pilgrimage, to make public our proclamation of faith, and to live the faith that we have been entrusted with. It is understandable that not everyone needs to go to Washington, D.C., to prove their commitment to the faith, but the opportunity could be life-changing and exactly what God is asking of us.

Diocese offers pilgrimage

The Office of Evangelization and Catechesis is offering a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., and the March for Life in January for those who are interested. There will be both a high school youth and adult bus offered for pilgrims to attend.

If you would like to register for the March for Life or want more information for yourself and/or parish, contact Michelle Nilsson or Lindsay Becher in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis at 608-821-3160. Information is also available online at We look forward to seeing you there!

Michelle Nillson is associate director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Madison.