Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Youth Bring Strong Contingent to Pennsylvania’s Largest March for Life Rally to Date

There was no denying the message of the multitudes of pro-life Pennsylvanians who converged around the state capitol complex on Monday, October 16, for the annual Pennsylvania March for Life.

Their presence in voice and in number demonstrated a prayerful and peaceful witness for the sanctity of human life, for support and care for women facing unplanned pregnancies, and for an end to abortion.

An estimated crowd upwards of 7,000 people filled the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, spilling into the grass, streets and sidewalks of the complex. Women, men, children, families, clergy, religious, seminarians and students from across the Commonwealth displayed signs with pro-life messages and banners representing their parishes, schools and organizations – their combined witness sending a message to legislators about the dignity of human life.

The event, now in its third year, was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the National March for Life. Speakers included representatives from the National March for Life, 40 Days for Life and pregnancy care centers. Several Senators and Representatives also addressed the crowd, with additional elected officials marching among those gathered.

At once passionate, prayer-filled and joyful in celebrating life, the day was fittingly bookended by the celebration of Mass at St. Patrick Cathedral, just steps from the Capitol and the rally stage.

Hundreds upon hundreds filled the cathedral to standing-room-only for both liturgies, the morning Mass celebrated by Bishop Timothy Senior and the afternoon celebrated by Bishop Larry Kulick of Greensburg. Both Masses were streamed live on the Diocese’s YouTube channel.

In his homily during the morning Mass, Bishop Senior fortified the congregants to continue their unwavering advocacy in the pro-life movement, and to do so with what Pope Francis has called a “revolution of tenderness.”

“It isn’t easy to take up this cause in our culture today, but we do so with confidence that the Spirit is with us, that God will bless our efforts as we seek to speak on behalf of the voiceless, the most vulnerable in our world,” he said.

“We live in an age where violence has seemed to become the norm…. We speak on behalf of that violence that is so often silent and overlooked, and in numbers that are overwhelming,” he said, referring to the estimated 63.5 million lives taken by abortion since its legalization in 1973.

“We speak on behalf of the voiceless – the unborn child. We do so by responding to the Spirit, knowing that even though it seems so often that we’re swimming against the tide, the Lord is with us. He calls us as disciples of Jesus Christ to bear witness to Him, and that always will put us in conflict with the culture that works against that truth and goodness,” Bishop Senior said. “But we have hope. We have hope and we are impelled by our faith to bear witness to the truth.”

“Pope Francis calls us to a ‘revolution of tenderness,’” he said, which the Holy Father, in an April 2017 TED Talk, defined as “the love that comes close and becomes real…a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands.”

“As we march today on behalf of the cause of human life, let’s remember this challenge from the Holy Father, to bear witness to a revolution of tenderness in our world, of compassion and concern for all human life, from conception to natural death,” the bishop said. “Let us march together confidently, let the Holy Spirit work through us, and look for ways in which we can very concretely make that revolution of tenderness a reality in our world.”

Youth Movement

The vast number of young people at this year’s rally and march was especially prominent and promising. Students from Catholic elementary and high schools from all over the state were active participants at the March for Life, dressed in sweatshirts and jackets and carrying banners proudly displaying their school’s name.

Standing in front of St. Patrick Cathedral after the morning Mass, David Stefanow and Isaac and Eden Lin of Lancaster Catholic High School told The Catholic Witness why they were eager to join more than 50 of their fellow LC Crusaders for the march.

“Life is the greatest gift that God has given all of us…and we have to do everything we can to protect the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable,” Isaac said. “I hope that at this march, people look into the issue and then stand up in our society – especially our politicians, that they would step forward to enact legal change to protect every human life.”

“A lot of people don’t recognize that an unborn child is actually a human person and has a soul. I think this march is important to show that these babies are real,” said Eden. “I also want people to know that there are plenty of people who care about this pro-life message and that women, especially those facing an unplanned pregnancy, have support here. We want them to know that we really care and do want to help them.”

“It’s important to show support and raise concern for unborn children,” said David, “and we believe as Catholics that there’s nothing unplanned; every child is from God for a reason and purpose in life. We’re here to fight so that every child can live out that life. We’re not going to stop marching until every unborn child is protected.”

As the several dozen students from Lancaster Catholic made their way toward the rally, Mia Bailey joined 15 fellow students and their chaperones from St. Patrick School in Carlisle in a group photo above the Capitol steps.

“I’m here because I think it’s important to raise awareness around the fact that just because you can’t hear or listen to the unborn, they are here,” said Mia. She has previously attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., but this year marked her first at the statewide event.

“I want people to know that God has a plan for each one of us, and if we destroy God’s plan, that life will never reach its full potential,” she said.

A group of students from Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown sat on the Capitol hillside, cheering as speakers rallied the crowd to make their voices heard.

Students Josie Schussler and Annalise Woolford told The Witness that, as members of a movement that is counter-cultural, they were inspired to see so many people their age among the crowd of several thousand.

“It’s great to be here because you see so many people from everywhere, and it’s really cool to see that everyone here cares about the same thing, and we’re all trying to change it together,” Josie said. “It gives us hope that one day abortion will be banned.”

“It’s awesome to see the masses of people that share similar beliefs and are willing to fight for the same cause. It’s also nice to act as a large voice of peace,” said Annalise. “Personally, I think a lot of people feel that our generation is immature and doesn’t have the best morals, so I feel they think of us as the odd ones out. It’s inspiring to see so many people here in my age range because we know we’re not alone in this fight – we’re all together.”

‘She Matters’

Rally speakers spurred the crowd into action – not only by their cheers, prayers and walk along the march route that encircled the Capitol, but by their continued outreach to women and families facing an unplanned pregnancy.

There are some 160 pregnancy resource centers across Pennsylvania who serve and care for pregnant women and their families every day through free ultrasounds and pregnancy testing, educational resources, clothing, diapers and infant items, and a place for much-needed care and support.

But those centers are losing their funding, after Governor Josh Shapiro said in August that the Department of Human Services is ending its 30-year contract with Real Alternatives, the non-profit organization that administers Pennsylvania’s Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program.

Speakers at the rally decried the decisions, but promised that pregnancy support centers will not abandon their mission nor the women and children they help in their time of need.

“We are here to remind Pennsylvania and the country that being pro-life means being pro-woman and that we embrace, empower, support and love expectant mothers and meet them where they are,” said Dawn Fitzpatrick of the National March for Life.

“When did it become okay to celebrate cutting off a lifeline to people in their most vulnerable state, making a decision that could benefit not one, but two lives?” asked Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York County). “It should never be okay to gloat when we rip away resources that help vulnerable mothers and their babies.”

“Supporting struggling women and families should not be controversial,” said Jill Hartman, Executive Director of A Woman’s Concern, a pro-life pregnancy support center in Lancaster.

“Patients seeking our services deserve knowledge, support and accurate information so they can make an informed decision. She matters, and so does her health,” she said.

Gathering as the Body of Christ

Galvanized after the rally and march, hundreds of people returned to the Cathedral for the closing Mass, celebrated by Bishop Larry Kulick of Greensburg. Looking out into a standing-room-only congregation, the bishop marveled at the sight of so many gathered for the cause of human life.

“This beautiful gathering really represents the Body of Christ in the best sense of its diversity,” he said, expressing particular gratitude and encouragement to the young people who were present.

In his homily, he reflected on what members of the pro-life movement can do in their continued efforts to advocate for life.

“Many times, our pro-life advocacy can be reduced into philosophical thoughts and argumentations. In the midst of all the polarization we’re seeing in the world around us, we need to remind ourselves that we do not find the heart of our advocacy simply in philosophical or theology terminology,” he said. “I would contend that where we must renew ourselves is at the very heart of what I believe is part of the challenge today – Christian anthropology. How does the world see and understand the human person?”

“For us as Christians, our whole pro-life ethic stands on the fact that we believe that every life – from the moment of conception – is human life…. Humanity and human life is different that any other life, created in the image and likeness of God. In the gift of the Incarnation, God chose to come to us in our human form,” he said.

“We recognize and understand that what we advocate for, what we pray for, and what we accompany others for is not only a greater understanding and acceptance of the human soul, but a magnificent and beautiful affirmation of salvation itself,” Bishop Kulick remarked.

“I believe the conversion of hearts, the education of young and old alike, and the accompaniment of our brothers and sisters calls us all to remind ourselves that the Mystery of the Incarnation calls us…to help our brothers and sisters who, like us, are created in the image of God.”

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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