Seminarians David Aufiero and Nicholas Twaalfhoven and Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley hold the banner for St. John’s Seminary at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Jan. 22. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Over 200 youth and young adults from the Archdiocese of Boston were immersed in a spirit of solidarity with other like-minded peers from across the United States as they participated in the Pilgrimage for Life.
The Jan. 21 to 23 event centered around the Annual March for Life in Washington, is organized by the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults.
“We’re all trying to promote something we believe in,” said Tanya Garcia, 15, a parishioner at Good Shepherd Parish in Fall River, who marched with the Boston group. “If there is a whole bunch of us all together and we really believe in it, then we can get our point across.”
“I’m tiny compared to all of them,” she added. “Every person counts. If everyone thought they didn’t count, there’d be nobody. Every person matters.”
Pilgrims boarded coach buses in the early hours of the morning on Jan. 21 to depart for the nation’s capital. During the course of their two-night stay in the Washington area, pilgrims attended the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Jan. 21 in the evening, with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, as the homilist. The next day, the group celebrated Mass with Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, attended the March for Life, and concluded the day with a holy hour at St. Mary Parish in Landover Hills, Md.
On Jan. 23, pilgrims had another Mass with Cardinal O’Malley at the National Shrine and toured the Holocaust Museum.
“It’s great to come with kids and see thousands of kids my own age supporting something we all believe in,” said Luke Bennett, 20.
Boston’s youth questioned how the U.S. government can enact policies that uphold abortion rights.
How can you have health care that protects everybody if it includes abortion? asked Heather Nicholson, a parishioner at St. Francis Parish in Dracut and a high school sophomore.
“On the surface, people say people should be able to choose, but they don’t really think about it,” added Allison Dolan, a senior at Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen. “It confuses me how the government is pro-choice. They’re all these people yet the government continues to go pro-abortion.”
On the morning of the march, Boston’s youth attended a Mass with Cardinal O’Malley, at which they were reminded of the importance of their presence at the March for Life. Cardinal O’Malley also spoke to the youth of the importance of defending their convictions in a democratic nation.
“In our country, which is a democracy, we’re not asked to risk our lives, but we cannot be neutral,” he said. “It’s not a matter of imposing our religious beliefs on anyone. It’s recognizing that human rights -- the right to life -- are the most basic and the most important.”
“We must extend ourselves to witness to that truth and say to the world once again, ‘thou shalt not kill,’” he added.
Ixcia Nelson, a junior at Cathedral High School in Boston, told The Pilot how teens can witness to the pro-life cause among their peers who may be in favor of abortion rights.
“As young people, we should talk to them -- not give them a speech, but give them insight and be there to listen,” Nelson said.
When asked if most teens are pro-life today, Toni Nyack, a Cathedral senior, said she feels most teens are undecided on the issue.
“They don’t know what to believe,” she said. “They don’t know what to decide.”
Nyack admitted to having been undecided on the issue herself.
“I shouldn’t be in the middle,” she said. “I’m actually now against abortion.”
Dolan said that she formerly favored abortion rights, but became pro-life two years ago.
“I always assumed since I was adopted my mother could have aborted me,” she said. “It makes sense others could have been aborted too. It just kind of clicked.”
Following the Mass, the youth enjoyed a brief lunch at local fast-food restaurants before joining the hundreds of thousands for the march, including Cardinal O’Malley.
“I’m loving it,” said Josh Stueve, a junior at St. Mary High School in Lynn, during the march. “I hate abortion. I don’t know why everybody is going for it. It’s murder. Nobody likes that.”
He encouraged young people to be actively involved in the pro-life movement, and bring more of their peers to the Washington events next year.
“Go for anything you can to help it out,” he said. “Support pro-life all you want. Go all pro-life all you can.”
“Talk to your friends. Get the church more packed than it was yesterday,” he added.
During the march, which is reported to be the largest yet, youngsters sang Christian songs like “Amazing Grace,” “Awesome God,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and “Here I Am, Lord.” Some also prayed the Rosary during the march.
As the young marchers reached the end of the walk -- the steps of the Supreme Court -- Fathers Dan Hennessey, the director of the vocations office for the archdiocese, and Matt Williams, director of the archdiocese’s Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults, prayed with them.
Afterwards, pilgrims boarded the buses for St. Mary Parish in Landover Hills, Maryland, where they had pizza and then participated in a holy hour.
During the holy hour, they heard praise and worship music by Colleen McCarron, a talk on vocations by Father Hennessey, and a talk by McCarron. Then, many went to Confession.
Heather Lesson, made the journey as part of the young adult group, spoke of the spirituality of the experience.
“It’s really been a spiritual pilgrimage, just reasserting all those basic moral things in everyday life that really don’t come up when you’re with your normal people -- coworkers, family, and friends -- because it’s such a sensitive issue,” said Lesson, a third grade teacher at Sacred Heart School in Newton.
“It’s been nice to be able to pray about it without feeling like a leper,” she added.