By Anne Marie Amacher
When Donna DeJoode read a bulletin insert in 2012 about dignity of all human life and a focus on abortion, she had it in her heart to bring youths to the March for Life events in Washington, D.C.
DeJoode, director of religious education and youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, decided she would plan a pilgrimage to “provide a way to share Christ’s love and mercy in a new way.”
So in January 2013 she coordinated a bus trip of youths and adults and headed to the annual March for Life. She did the same again this year, and has tentatively started plans for 2015.
“I first attended the march in the late 1980s as a high school student,” DeJoode said. “I did not return again until last year.”
DeJoode’s goal is to have one bus full of high school students and chaperones and a second bus with adults. “We also hope that this pilgrimage will become a diocesan-wide event.
Thirty-six youths and adults from parishes in Burlington, Clinton, Davenport, Iowa City, Oskaloosa and Pella made the trip to D.C. this year.
Eighth-grader Journey Reynolds of St. Mary Parish in Pella attended the march for the second time. “I attended the March for Life to witness to what abortion really is. I went to speak for the unborn children of God and inspire others to do the same. The trip was great!
“I was amazed at how many people had come from different states and areas to celebrate life and to march. The rally was one of my favorite events my group and I attended. The reason why is because I listened to so many people who had experienced or witnessed the terrible things that abortion does. The rally truly left a huge impact on my thinking and my life. The march was cold, but was worth it. I felt so grateful that I was there to help make an impact on others’ lives. I would do this over and over even if it means facing the snow and cold.”
Joe Blauw, a high school sophomore and Pella parishioner, said the best part of the trip was to see all of the people. “If you look in front of you, you can’t see the front. If you look behind, it seems as if it never ends and it’s truly a moving sight.”
DeJoode said, “Each year it has meant something different to me. This year I am moved to more than just marching annually.”
Father Thom Hennen, diocesan director of vocations, participated in the trip and celebrated Mass beforehand at diocesan headquarters for all from the diocese who were traveling to March for Life.
He appreciated the opportunity to have conversations on the bus about vocations. “I build relationships.”
The group beat the East Coast snowstorm and stayed at St. Elizabeth Church in Rockville, Md.
Because of the weather, the group ended up at the American History Museum in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. The vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception “was packed to the brim,” Fr. Hennen said. The next day, the diocesan group attended morning Mass at Constitution Hall. Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, presided.
Prior to the rally and march, the group visited monuments and listened to Christian recording artist Matt Maher. Following the rally, they marched up Constitution Avenue. “The march was overwhelmingly youth and young adults,” Fr. Hennen said. “People probably thought this issue would die after a few years, but the young have picked up the torch and are witnesses to the sanctity of life.”
Father Jeff Belger, pastor of St. Mary parishes in Oskaloosa and Pella, was making his third March for Life trip because it is a cause close to his heart and he wants to bear witness to all human life.
He said it is exciting to see so many youths and young adults. The vigil Mass was “phenomenal and the music was off the charts. We arrived a lot earlier than last year and still found it hard to find a pew.”
The Wednesday morning Mass was “surreal. There was no music or homily.”
The two-mile March for Life was “an amazing experience,” Fr. Belger said. “We felt like sardines. There was no room to move except forward and at the pace the people ahead were doing. There was certainly no lack of people at the march.” He helped carry an Our Lady of Guadalupe banner.
Adult leader Brenda Bertram attended the march for the first time. Director of faith formation and youth ministry at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, she said she found the vigil service “very moving.” The group had “a great view of the altar” and much of the procession of seminarians, deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals and the main celebrant — Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
She was moved by his homily, which referenced the children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The cardinal shared that “we, the Church, were like the little boy who had seen the emperor in the flesh. We see the value of life that God has given us and recognize it as a life… from conception to natural death,” Bertram said.
“The pilgrimage left me in awe over and over again.”
Following the march the diocesan group went to the Holocaust Museum. After that visit, Bertram said she thought of “those who suffered and to walk the journey with them, which is what the pro-life movement resembles to me. All life is precious and should be respected and nurtured in all its forms from conception to natural death.”
Maria Dansdill, a student at the University of Iowa who attends the Newman Catholic Student Center and St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, went to the March for Life with a group from Iowa State University and students from several other universities in the Midwest.
“It was amazing to be walking on Capitol Hill, where so many other human rights protests have happened,” she said. “I felt like I was part of something really significant.”
She belongs to the Students for Life group at the University of Iowa, and attended a national Students for Life of America conference the day before the march. “There are only five of us here now in this group in Iowa City, but the march showed that there are people around the country advocating for life. I even met someone from Ireland who came here for the march.”
Joining Dansdill was Stephanie Pietig, a sophomore at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, who made her third March for Life last week. “Going on this march felt like my mission,” Pietig said. “We want to be able to tell our kids abortion is a thing of the past.”
She was struck by a speaker from the Silent No More awareness campaign who’d had two abortions and now advocates for life. “She said, ‘We’re the only people who broadcast our sins.’ These women are saying, ‘This is wrong and it happened to me, but I’m passionate enough about ending abortion to speak up.’”
(Contributing to this story was Celine Klosterman.)