By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Two dozen Catholics from throughout the Diocese of Davenport journeyed together to pray for the unborn and participate in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22.
Donna DeJoode, director of religious education and youth minister at St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, organized the bus trip, which made various stops in the diocese to pick up supporters.
“We had 12 youths and 12 adults participate from Oskaloosa, Pella, Fort Madison, Iowa City, Davenport and Clinton. We had teenagers to people in their 70s, first-timers to repeat pilgrims.”
During the trip, the group spoke on Catholic radio while heading to Washington, D.C. They met with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, but arrived late so they missed visiting with new Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. They viewed the Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives, attended Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, toured the Holocaust Museum and the war memorials and “marched with hundreds of thousands of other people who believe that the dignity of life is worth standing up for.”
The group ate simple meals and slept on hard floors at St. Elizabeth Parish in Rockville, Md. “We went without showers and little sleep, offering up our discomforts in prayer for those impacted by abortion,” DeJoode said.
The group concluded its pilgrimage with a tour of the Women’s Choice Center, a pro-life center in Bettendorf, and prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in front of Planned Parenthood’s clinic across the street.
“From a personal perspective, it all left an impression. But, two things made me think ‘is there any better way to celebrate a birthday than to be in D.C. standing up for those who won’t celebrate a birthday because of abortion?” DeJoode compared abortion to the atrocity of the Holocaust and wondered how the atrocity of abortion could continue, legally, for over 40 years. “Nearly 60 million people, male and female, dead. And we call it free choice.”
Donna Tylkowski of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa said prayer led by her pastor, Father Jeff Belger, and others, was the center of the pilgrimage and reminded participants of their purpose. “Each of us must ask God’s blessings for individuals thinking of abortion to save the dignity of the unborn. Life is precious and we must pray that the laws will be changed.”
She said prior to the vigil Mass they toured the Holocaust Museum “which today reminds me that we still have a Holocaust of abortion of the unborn child.” She described the vigil Mass as awesome because of the thousands of faithful coming together in prayer.
The March for Life rally impacted Tylkowki, too, because so many people were marching to end abortion, “to make our purpose known that Roe v. Wade will be overturned to again save the lives and dignity of the unborn child. We shall overcome indifference with love.”
Joe Peitz of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison shared this observation: “To be in the middle of a seemingly endless sea of people who are there for the same cause is something impossible to forget. I still feel the energy from it.”
He said he was impacted by the visits to the Holocaust Museum and the Lincoln Memorial. Three pictures at the Holocaust Museum will remain with him. One depicted a 4-year-old girl with a handicap being undressed in a hospital room. The photo’s caption explained that because of her handicap, she was labeled “life unworthy of life” and therefore must die. Shortly after the photo was taken, she was taken to another room and strangled to death, Peitz said. “Today you get aborted for the same (reason).”
Another photo showed a young Jewish child who had been murdered a month after the war. The third photo showed 20 to 30 burnt corpses in a death camp that U.S. GIs had just liberated. The corpse of one man grabbed Peitz’s attention. He described the victim’s death stare, which seemed to “charge all who saw him with the task of telling all of the horror that took place there, so it may never be repeated.”
Gail Devereaux of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton served as a chaperone on the pilgrimage. “It was moving to see the students I traveled with say the rosary as we were marching. Seeing a teenage girl carrying a sign that read ‘Conceived in Rape’ with a big smile on her face that said she is happy to be alive. Talking to women who are involved with a group called Living Exceptions. Their mission is to change the way people view their lives and others who are conceived in rape or incest.”
Devereaux said she will remember most the story of a woman who was adopted after a failed abortion. Her mother had been brutally raped at age 17. The younger woman’s story “reveals that all life has purpose and our value isn’t based on how we were conceived.”
Diocesan Vocations Director Father Thom Hennen, who also teaches religion at Assumption High School in Davenport, participated in his third March for Life. “Each year there are improvements to our trip and Donna makes it all happen,” he said.
Fr. Hennen concelebrated the vigil Mass at the basilica. “It was impressive. It was 30 minutes solid of priests processing in.” The basilica was filled upstairs and downstairs with people praying.
During the March for Life, Fr. Hennen said he was able to walk alongside a fellow classmate.
The march gets bigger each year, with more young people attending, he observed. “This was an important witness to be there and I plan to keep doing it every year.”