Addressing thousands of people assembled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., a man who became famous for playing Jesus Christ on television gave credit to the real Jesus for leading him to speak out publicly, for the first time, about his pro-life views.
“This guy made me do it,” Jonathan Roumie told the crowd at the 2023 March for Life, pointing at the sky. “And I’m a better man for it.”
Roumie, a devout Catholic widely recognized for playing the role of Jesus on the popular TV series “The Chosen,” approached the podium January 20 to roaring cheers from the crowd. He was the top-billed of the dozen or so speakers who addressed the attendees immediately before the 50th annual march got underway.
“God is real, and he is completely in love with each and every one of you,” Roumie told tens of thousands of marchers, many of whom clutched homemade banners and signs bearing pro-life slogans.
“History has been made. Life has triumphed in an extraordinary way,” he said, “and the light of world, who is Jesus Christ, the author of life, his light has burned so very brightly within each and every one of you, irrespective of your specific beliefs, compelling you forward for one reason or another to stand together today to fight for the worthiest and noblest cause possible — which is to allow the unborn the right to enter into the world, and defeat those earthly forces who seek to destroy the very evidence of them.”
The demonstration was the first national March for Life to be held since the overturning of Roe v. Wade last June, a Supreme Court decision that did away with nearly 50 years of precedent allowing abortion nationwide. The theme of this year’s March for Life was “Next Steps: Marching into a Post-Roe America,” which emphasizes the need to continue to work toward legislation, both at the federal level and the state level, that will protect the most vulnerable.
Roumie spoke primarily about the spiritual battle that is taking place in U.S. society over abortion and cautioned the crowd — especially young people — to take their faith seriously in the face of resistance, including from popular culture and the media. Satan, he said, “wants us to believe that abortion is not harmful,” and those who are not grounded in a solid faith in God are “ripe for corruption.”
“Just as God is real, Satan is also real … he pushes you to doubt, when you know in your heart the right thing to do,” Roumie warned.
While Roumie grew up Catholic, he has spoken openly about the deeper conversion he experienced around four and a half years ago, when he began to grow in his faith. He said “dwelling in the realm of spirit” has changed him “from the inside out.” Practicing one’s faith, you “begin to see the truth manifest itself in all areas of your life,” and you “can’t unsee what you’ve seen.”
As Christians, Roumie said, “we know how the story ends. God won.” He encouraged those listening to emulate Jesus by seeking to love and pray for their enemies and those who disagree with them. In concert with prayer, Roumie said those present have the ability to affect a pro-life culture and “reveal God’s truth” by using their “financial, spiritual, and temporal” resources.
“We are beautifully flawed, but not alone,” he encouraged. “God is love, and true love gives way to life, not death.”
Roumie’s fellow speakers at the 2023 March for Life addressed the march’s theme, “Next Steps.” They spoke to the attendees about the importance of building a culture, both legislatively and in each person’s personal life, of support for women and babies.
Tony Dungy, a professional football coach, father of 11, NFL analyst, adoptive dad, New York Times bestselling author, and Pro Football Hall of Famer, took the stage to speak about the recent health scare of NFL player Damar Hamlin, and the public outpouring of prayers that took place when it appeared that Hamlin’s life was hanging in the balance.
Unborn babies are not as visible and well-known as famous athletes, Dungy said, but “those lives are still important to God, in God’s eyes.”
Saving their lives is “not the end of the story,” though — mothers and babies need our help, he said. Dungy’s wife, Lauren, took the stage and spoke about their adoption experience alongside the couple’s now 21-year-old daughter.
“We are talking about lives,” Lauren Dungy said. “We need to pray for every woman who is in this situation … we have to pray that we have enough adoptive families to pray for these precious lives.”
Summer Smith, a student at Liberty University, spoke about the importance of supporting women in need, especially at crisis pregnancy centers.
“For me, being pro-life is personal,” she said, relaying the story of how she found out that one of her own siblings was aborted.
“Speak up about abortion in your family, your friend group, and on your campus. And speak up with love,” Smith said. “Our faith must be well-reasoned and well-informed.”
Several lawmakers spoke as well. State Rep. Trenee McGee (D-Connecticut), a leading pro-life Democrat, took the stage to decry what she called the “systemically racist abortion industry” and passionately encouraged the crowd to advocate for policies that “not only protect life, but sustain life.”
“Pro-life for the whole life, baby!” she proclaimed, to loud applause.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, urged those gathered to vote to support pro-life candidates and lawmakers.
“We ought to continue to march. You know how much is at stake,” Scalise said.
Another member of Congress, Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), said he attended the first March for Life in 1974.
“This rally stirs us all to prayer and hard work, and inspires us to do more and more and more in defense of life,” he said.
Smith also decried the continued instances of violence and intimidation against pro-life entities that have taken place since the Dobbs decision, and said they have heard merely “crickets” from the Justice Department in terms of arrests and prosecutions of the many documented crimes against pro-lifers.
Smith said the legality of abortion throughout pregnancy, as many states still allow, is a “barbaric” outlier on the world stage. He encouraged all those in attendance to continue to pray and advocate for an end to abortion.
“The injustice of abortion need not be forever, and because of you, it won’t be. God bless you,” Smith concluded.
The speeches even included one from the daughter of a canonized saint, St. Gianna Beretta Molla. St. Gianna, a doctor, became ill while pregnant with her fourth child and was encouraged to abort the baby in an attempt to save her own life. St. Gianna chose life and passed away a few days after giving birth. In 1962, she died at 39 years old.
“I would not be here with all of you, if I had not been loved so much!” the saint’s daughter, Gianna Emanuela Molla, who is also a medical doctor, told the crowd.
“The gift of life is truly the greatest, the most precious, and the most sacred gift we always owed to honor, respect, and defend!”
Sister Mary Casey O’Connor, a member of the Sisters of Life, spoke with her twin sister, Casey Gunning, who has Down syndrome.
“I came from all the way from Colorado to announce to America and to the whole world that life is good and that life is a gift!” Casey Gunning said, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
“Your child will be a blessing to you and to the world,” she said, referring to parents with children who have Down syndrome.
Locals Give Witness
Busloads of parishioners and high school students from the Diocese of Harrisburg journeyed to D.C. to be part of the pro-life demonstration.
Father Dwight Schlaline, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Conewago, led a bus of 46 parishioners, who connected with members of the Diocesan Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization during the pre-march rally.
“Even though Roe vs. Wade has been overturned this year, we still need to march for life because we need an amendment to the Constitution protecting all of human life, from conception to natural death,” Father Schlaline said.
“We also need to continue to make sure that every woman who is pregnant is assisted and that every life is protected – including the woman’s life – in those difficult situations,” he added.
Looking at the sea of people around him before the march stepped off, Father Schlaline said he was excited to see the number of young people witnessing to a culture of life.
“This is a young movement; that means it’s here to stay,” he said. “We are not going anywhere. We are not going to be letting abortion return…. The young generation is solid on the life issue, and I’m excited about it.”
Father Schlaline’s father, John, was also part of the contingent.
“Every time we come here, it’s very joyous and very heartwarming to see all the people involved, young and old,” he observed. “The beauty of this is, there are a lot of youth here, which means we’re going to carry on the message of life.”
“With the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, I’ve heard that people who aren’t pro-life don’t understand why we’re down here, which is slightly concerning and troubling because abortion is still going on,” Schlaline said. “We need these groups to testify to the truth, which is that we are still killing babies in this country legally. The overturn of Roe has been a very important and necessary step, and a strong beginning. But I’m hoping that someday in the near future, we can come down here not to convince the powers that be that we have to make abortion illegal, but that we can come down here to celebrate a 100 percent victory that we’re not sanctioning the killing of babies.”
Kris and Ari Keck, members of the Mater Dei Community in Harrisburg, have been involved in life-affirming work in their professions – Kris as a nurse in pregnancy centers, and Ari as a pediatric nurse.
“[Abortion] is a really big issue, and even though I’m just one person, I have a way to amend it and try to right this grave and unjust act,” Kris said.
“Each person can do something – march, or get involved in pro-life activities,” Ari said. “I’ve taken care of a lot of medically fragile children as a pediatric nurse, and that strengthens the pro-life argument, in my mind. They’re human beings and they have a place in this world. Every life matters, even if it’s not perfect.”
(Photos courtesy of members of the Secretariat for Catholic Life and Evangelization, Trinity High School, Bishop McDevitt High School, and Lancaster Catholic High School)
By Jonah McKeown, Catholic News Agency