By Jessica Langrell (Pilgrim Leader)
4 Days is simply not ample time to “see” a city, no matter where in the world, but to claim to cover the great city of lights in 4 consecutive days? Crazy! Alas, we did more in those 4 days than many travellers would do in year’s travels. Aware of our limited time we managed to see a Broadway show, ice skate in between of the tallest of buildings, dine with local New Yorkers, spend a whole day in service to the prolife work of the Sisters of Life, eat with the producers of ‘The Human Experience,’ and spend a full day in the stunning surroundings of Connecticut in prayers and reflection on retreat! Did I mention the shopping? This too, was not neglected.
Aware of an early start and 5 hour bus ride to the capital of Washington DC at the crack of dawn, we as per usual were up till late! With alarm sounds ringing on and snooze buttons acknowledged, we packed our bags once more and headed to the bus. Rated as one of the most difficult mornings to rise, this struggle was quickly dispensed when we opened our rooms blind to see gentle flakes of snow falling on the dark city roads! Aware of just minutes before the bus departed, some took every second to run and jump around in the slippery wet snow and those still trying to awake themselves took pleasure in the drastic weather change from the other side of the bus windows!
Arriving just after lunch in the somewhat slightly warmer city if Washington DC, we headed straight to the Catholic Information Centre for our daily private Mass with Bishop Comensoli (still an unbelievable blessing) followed by a free afternoon strolling the capital streets enjoying a hot cup of Starbucks coffee and sweets. Gathering later that evening for our first official event in collaboration with the March for Life, we joined a couple thousand young people in the Hyatt Hotel for the Life Youth Rally. This event featured short addresses, testimonials and groups that were working separately and uniquely yet with a shared vision to end abortion and enhance the dignity of life in the main states and campuses of the USA. Like many typical youth events, it was loud, there was music, much socialising and networking, all setting the groundwork as we build up to the great event two days later.
An unexpected yet strangely fortunate disruption occurred during this Youth Rally. As we were listening to one of the speakers present, several people equally dispersed throughout the crowd began to stand and yell in protest of the event. A moment of uncertainty and awkwardness for the speaker and audience as we watched the protest unfold was soon so eloquently taken care of. The protesters were indeed angry, they were staunch and unwilling to converse but rather simply there to disrupt. Several young people approached them with smiles and openness to listen to their concerns but it was quickly made known they were not there to share or receive, but simply disrupt. Security was called and quickly it got more physical with some strongly refusing to move and yells getting louder. Personally uncomfortable in this strange and what felt like helpless situation, Lila Rose (Director & Founder of Life Action – http://liveaction.org/) took centre stage. Immediately she gained our attention and asked each of us to join us in prayer. To pray for the end to abortion, for the women in their distress, and more importantly we prayed for those in protest. We saw unfold in front of us and witnessed our greatest weapon of the prolife movement; prayer. Lila led us in prayer as we heard yells of anger and distress from the protestors slowly be replaced with a feminine, peaceful and gentle voice back by thousands of young people. Soon after the protestors left and the rally resumed.
With our first hand experience of the prolife scene in the US, each of us was eager to seek and know more about how this battle is being lived out by the youth. We all dispersed to our American families who so generously welcomed us into their homes as we rested overnight, to join back early Sunday morning for the Cardinal O’Connor Conference in Georgetown University. The highlight of this conference was not only getting a public acknowledgement from the guest speaker Archbishop Charles Chaput, but it was his presentation called “Disability; A Thread for Weaving Joy” (http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/01/4575), which I highly recommend for reading.
Leaving us on a note of inspiration and purpose, the following words gave direction as to why half a million Americans (and now internationals!) show up each and every year in the freezing cold to walk down a street;
“These children with disabilities are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us. They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our humanity. Whatever suffering we endure to welcome, protect, and ennoble these special children is worth it because they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy. Abortion kills a child; it wounds a precious part of a woman’s own dignity and identity; and it steals hope. That’s why it’s wrong. That’s why it needs to end. That’s why we march.”
Following this great conference we made our way to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Basilica for the National Prayer Vigil and Mass for Life run by the Washington Archdiocese. Words will never give justice to the mystery of the Mass and at this Mass we joined at least 30,000 other Catholics in what was simply indescribable.
The pews of this enormous Basilica were filled without an inch spare 7 hours before it began, the procession alone of seminarians, deacons, priests, bishops and Cardinals took what would justly fill the time of a Sunday Mass a whopping 45minutes to just reach the sanctuary. Who said the Church is diminishing?
This cohort of devout Catholics and men who have given their lives to God alone could change the world. The faith began with 12 committed disciples, so a packed Basilica filed with youth and religious can transform the world in no time. Watching hundreds upon hundreds of priests bowing before the altar as they approached the seminary with tens of thousands of onlookers singing with every breath they had filled me with great excitement to think of how this would compare to heaven.
This cohort of pro-lifers now joined together at the Supper of the Lamb to worship and give thanks to the God of Life would make any man tremble at this sight. Leaving the Basilica being sent forth in peace to proclaim the Gospel truly felt like God Himself was again commissioning us as He did on the Day of His Ascension, bestowing on us the most important mission of our time; to protect and enhance the dignity of life.
Departing once more again, which felt more like floating; we joined our local American families for what literally felt like seconds of rest to meet at 6am in the city for the day all of us had been preparing for – the March for Life. I honestly awoke this morning questioning just how good could this day really be? How could our days continue to be so good when we had seen with our own eyes the miraculous tilma, had the most remarkable time with the orphaned children in Mexico and spent such an incredible week in New York not to mention the past 24 hours we just experienced! Indeed God cannot ever be outdone in generosity – today was the icing on the pilgrimage of a lifetime.
We began typically with coffee and donuts as we gathered at the Verizon Centre (which is a huge entertainment arena usually occupied of concerts and sports games) for the Youth Rally & Mass for Life before embarking upon the streets to march. We were blessed with the best seats in the house, just 1 row from the centre stage; it was party time for life as we listened to some of the most talented Christian singers and artists including our good friend Jackie Francois (http://www.jackiefrancois.com/).
Collecting ourselves after hours of joy filled fun and laughter, all 30,000 of us reached for our rosaries and prepared for the Mass. This moment alone was utterly affirming and incredibly inspiring to hear pin drop silence as a packed stadium of faith filled young people and religious contemplated on the life of Christ through the eyes of Mary in the Rosary.
Following this we were led immediately into the Holy Mass which saw again another cohort of seminarians and religious and our very own Bishop Comensoli make their way to the altar.
Before the Mass began, the principle celebrant read out the Holy Father Pope Benedict’s words of acknowledgment and support, and then acknowledged each Bishop present which was immediately followed by an earth shaking roar from the Bishops diocesan youth who had accompanied them to the March. For the first time and from the longest distance, we were honoured to be a part of this moment when they welcome Bishop Peter. Expecting just a humble scream from what was predominantly a small group of women and a few men from Australia in our pilgrimage group; we were suddenly accompanied by the whole arena with vocal support as they welcomed us as part of their movement for life!
Following the Mass, it was hardly bearable to march, with every experience of the last 10 days building up to this event, we were ready to run! Joining what has now been known, as close to 500,000 people marching together for the prolife movement in the USA alone, we joined a nation in their stance for the most vulnerable. This march was not a solemn walk; it was a celebration of life and love. Songs were singing, friends reuniting, amps blasting beats from the backs of friars, flags were waving, children running round everywhere, university banners flying – the whole march echoed unity and hope.
This led me to understand the real solution to building a civilisation of life and love, in Australia, in our schools, in our work and universities is rooted in the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe and indeed we have seen the fruits transforming the Americas is being prevented by despair and disunity but is more now than ever before being redeemed and transformed in hope and unity.
If you can think back again for a second about the atmosphere here in Sydney World Youth Day… the abundant joy, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, uncountable religious amongst the youth, colourful banners and flags and an overwhelming sense of unity and hope – you’d be able to understand the vibe of the March for Life.
But even more so humbling was the contagious joy, limitless confidence and pride each young person boasted in their faith and that is the most profound and genuine witness to life; people being honest and proud about what they believe in and not being afraid to embody these beliefs in their daily life.
15 Aussies, 2 Leaders & 1 Bishop took to the streets today of Washington DC today to stand for life. How far we have come in the last 10 days. Never before so hopeful, never before so passionate, never before so at peace. Watch out Australian soil, we’re on our way home!
“Never give up the struggle that the March for Life embodies. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many times you march—it matters, eternally. Redeeming and converting a civilization has already been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling you and me to do it. He chose us. He calls us. He’s waiting, and now we need to answer him.” Archbishop Chaput
United in prayer & mission for Life,