By Father Corey Close
This past month I had the privilege of attending the March for Life for my second time and I am happy to say that I was blown away yet again. The experience amazes me. To see all of the young people who come out in droves gives me great hope for the future of our nation and our church!
This year’s march was a unique experience for me. When I attended in 2012, I lived in Washington, D.C., and it was easy for me to go. This year I needed to ride on a bus for 18 hours — one way — just to get there! I had never done anything like this before and wasn’t sure how I would react. Further, we would board the bus at 1:30 a.m. in Davenport; I had more than a few trepidations about the trip.
Everything went smoothly. Joining the bus and then falling asleep on it was easier than I imagined. Most everyone had two seats to themselves, so that made sleeping easier. When sunlight came, we prayed the rosary together, watched movies, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and played card games to pass time. It ended up being an awesome experience of bonding as we shared a common purpose and a common suffering (even if it wasn’t really that bad).
Father Jeff Belger (pastor of St. Mary parishes in Oskaloosa and Pella) encouraged us to offer up the pilgrimage for people on our minds and to also offer up our discomforts. That ended up being a huge part of the trip for me. While it wasn’t the most difficult pilgrimage imaginable, it was the most difficult one I had undertaken and it ended up being a transformative experience for me. I learned that something can be uncomfortable but profoundly satisfying if it is done out of love for God.
When we arrived in D.C., we stayed the night at a parish that graciously hosted us and then we went sightseeing the next day, the day before the march. We went to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, which, of course, famously defends the right to life of every citizen of this nation as a God-given right. We then went to the Holocaust Museum, which was a powerful re-creation of the whole history of the Holocaust. It reminded us that tyranny and destruction of lives considered “lives not worthy of life” can happen in any place and in any generation.
We then went to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Mass there was amazing. It took what seemed like forever for us priests to process up into the main nave and be seated in the sanctuary. It’s always an awesome experience to celebrate Mass in front of that many people, with hundreds of priests and dozens of bishops. It was a breathtaking experience.
The next morning we had Mass at the parish and then headed off to the march! This year we were blessed to have a 40-degree sunny day and it is estimated around 450,000 people came for the march. It’s amazing to see the miles of people and all the signs identifying parishes or groups of people. We had a really nice Our Lady of Guadalupe sign representing the Diocese of Davenport! It’s so great to see all of the youths holding signs reading: “We are the Pro-Life generation!” or “We are the generation that will end abortion!” It gives me great hope to see such exuberance from our young church! But they were not the only ones present.
One memory sticks out in my mind: I was especially sore and tired and just about to complain to someone when I looked over and saw an elderly woman with a walker, walking the several-mile march with us. That kept my mouth shut! It’s just a great experience of joining with others and, in what John Paul II called a “culture of death,” showing the world that we love LIFE and will fight for it!
After the march we went to the Lincoln Memorial and the war memorials (right next to it), which was a great way to end the trip. It’s a great testament to our nation that, despite its flawed founding which led to a great civil war, great men and women stood tall to keep it together and to fight for the good principles upon which it was founded. We continue that today at events like the March for Life.
I hope and pray that one day our nation will have a “rebirth of freedom,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, and I hope that any of you who have the opportunity to go to the next march take it, because it really is a life-changing experience!
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)