By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
About 400 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Louisville planned to bundle themselves against freezing temperatures this morning and board buses bound for Washington, D.C., for the 45th annual March for Life.
The march, set for Jan. 19, brings pro-life individuals together from across the country to mark the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States.
Among the pilgrims braving the frigid air and the long bus ride is Helen Daly, a junior at Sacred Heart Academy, and her mother, Moira Daly. This is Helen’s ninth trip to D.C. for the event she describes as an “awesome” experience. She is among close to 50 young women from Sacred Heart attending the march.
“It’s such a cool experience. You realize how important the issue is across the country,” said Helen in an interview Jan. 5. “I come away with a passion to do my part to end abortion.”
Helen is a member of “Youth for Life,” a club at Sacred Heart that coordinates the students’ trip. She said the pilgrimages have given her a better understanding about the issue of abortion and a desire to share what she’s learned with fellow students who have not yet attended the march. Young women at her school, many of whom aren’t sure what they believe about abortion, seek her out to talk about her experience, she said.
“What drives me is to get other girls to go and experience how strong the movement to end abortion is. It’s important to let them know how important life is from conception to natural death,” said Helen, adding that her parents taught her and her seven siblings about the sanctity of life.
Moira Daly, a member of St. Martin of Tours Church, said her parents did the same for her when she was growing up. They always prayed for an end to abortion and Moira Daly now carries on that legacy. The trip to the capital is not an easy one, but it produces a “very rewarding experience,” she said during an interview Jan. 5.
“It’s an overwhelming experience to see the transformation of the people on the bus and the way the experience has affected them.” Attending the national march also serves to strengthen her in a ministry of prayer that she carries out at the downtown Louisville EMW Women’s Surgical Center throughout the year, she said.
Eddie Givan, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church, is also on one of the buses from the Archdiocese of Louisville. He is making his second pilgrimage to the march with his 14-year-old son, Nathan.
His first experience at the march was “transformational,” Givan said during an interview prior to the trip. “It was a pilgrimage. I felt it was where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing.”
The father of three said the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, held the night before the march, was a “powerful” part of the experience. Givan also described the march as “peaceful and family friendly.” He also said it is a “meaningful” experience to share with his son. He hopes the experience will help the teen grow deeper in his faith, he said.
Nathan is an eighth-grader at Immaculata Classical Academy and he joined close to 90 of his classmates on the trip.
Ed Harpring, the pro-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said more students are attending the march this year than in years past. In addition to Sacred Heart and Immaculata, about 20 students from Assumption High School are making the pilgrimage. For the first time, Trinity High School is sending about a dozen students, said Harpring, who is on his way to the capital too.
Though the march is the centerpiece of the trip, Harpring said the young people seem to especially enjoy the Mass celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Thousands pack the basilica and a long procession — that includes dozens of bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters and seminarians — is a “moving experience,” he said. This Mass shows off the beauty of the Catholic Church and makes the “pilgrim aspect” of the trip “come alive,” said Harpring.
The young people will also attend a Mass and rally the morning of the march. The excitement from the rally usually carries over to the march, which begins at noon at the Washington Monument and proceeds to the Supreme Court building, said Harpring.
“It’s moving to see the numbers of young people, who make the pilgrimage,” said Harpring. “There’s purpose behind this. It’s not just a political statement. We’re there to witness to the heartache (caused by abortion) and let them know there is forgiveness.”
He believes this trip teaches students about the “value of a human person from the womb to the tomb.” The numbers of people willing to travel to the capital “speaks volumes about the commitment to life,” he said.
“As Catholics, we believe in the sanctity of life, but it’s the movement of the heart that makes people take action,” said Harpring. This action leads people to the march or to do more to help vulnerable people, such as refugees, immigrants, single mothers and the homeless closer to home, he said.
Phyllis Donlon, a teacher at Sacred Heart Academy leading the group of students, agrees that the march provides a lesson about the value of life that cannot be taught in the classroom.
“They see hundreds of thousands of high school-age and college-age young people like themselves who are united with a desire to see change in the country,” said Donlon during an interview prior to the trip. “They can research it online and write about it, but nothing takes the place of the experience of being there.”
Oftentimes, students on the trip are not sure what they believe about abortion, she noted.
“I have students come up to me and say ‘I’m not sure where I stand’ and I will say to them ‘come anyway.’ What they gain is an idea of how large the movement is outside their families and social circle,” said Donlon.
While in Washington, Sacred Heart students will also have the opportunity to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where they will speak with a holocaust survivor, said Donlon.
This type of experience, she noted, helps them to see that “being for life” also means taking into account how other groups, such as the elderly and minorities, are treated. Overall it “solidifies” their commitment to life, said Donlon. Sacred Heart has sent a group of students, to the march annually since 2009.