Boston pilgrims participate in 49th annual March for Life

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After sitting out last year's much smaller event, pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Boston were once again able to make the journey to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life, now in its 49th year.

The national March for Life marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. in 1973. The march route stretches from the National Mall, where there is a rally with music and a speaking program, to the Supreme Court. The 2021 march had much smaller in-person participation due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this year the crowds looked more typical, with tens of thousands of people from across the country gathering to protest Roe and bear witness to the dignity of human life.

This year's march, which had the theme "Equality begins in the womb," took place on Jan. 21. A group organized by the archdiocese's Catholic Schools Office traveled by train to participate, staying in Washington, D.C., through Jan. 20-22. Dozens of people came on the pilgrimage, including students, teachers, youth groups, families, and several priests and seminarians.

Upon arriving in D.C., the Boston pilgrims celebrated a Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. This church has long been a staple of the Witness to Life itinerary since it was where Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley served as a young priest. After the Mass, the pilgrims enjoyed a pizza dinner in the church basement and went on a nighttime walking tour of the local monuments, including the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.

On the morning of Jan. 21, the pilgrims went to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Cardinal O'Malley celebrated the closing Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life that had begun the day before. Many Boston priests and seminarians processed in with him and assisted in the Mass.

Caitlin Murphy, a sophomore from Fontbonne Academy in Milton, later said she thought this event was "a very fruitful time."

"I had a lot of moments of consolation there, like seeing all the young people, (and) seeing all the priests come out," she told The Pilot.

Afterward, the pilgrims went to St. Anthony of Padua Parish to hear Mother Olga Yaqob, foundress of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, and Father Matthew Conley, a diocesan priest, share reflections about vocations. Boxed lunches were distributed in the church basement, and then the group went by bus to the National Mall for the rally preceding the March for Life.

The speakers at the rally included current and former members of Congress; Lisa Robertson, a cast member of the reality show Duck Dynasty; actor Kirk Cameron, best known for his role on the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains; and Father Mike Schmitz, host of the popular Bible in a Year podcast. Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, offered the closing prayer.

Cardinal O'Malley met the group from the archdiocese as the march began. Mother Olga and other Boston pilgrims took turns carrying a banner that announced their home diocese, though many of them mingled with the crowd making its way down Constitution Ave toward the Supreme Court.

Elizabeth Gill, a high school senior from Resurrection Parish in Hingham, said she thought it was "impressive" to see so many youths, college students, and even families with young children participating in the march.

"It was cool to see that people who are so young were so educated on the topic," she said.

Caitlin, who, like Elizabeth, had never participated in the march before, said she liked it because "no one there was really marching for themselves, (it was) everyone coming together to protect the most vulnerable, which was really special."

Upon arriving at the end of the march route, the Boston pilgrims prayed a Chaplet of Divine Mercy together outside the Supreme Court.

After a short rest at their hotel, the group reconvened that evening at St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, Virginia, for dinner and small group sharing. They were joined once again by the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth and by women religious of another order, the New York-based Sisters of Life.

After dinner, the group went up to the sanctuary, where Sister Marie Veritas, SV, gave a talk about vocations and the sanctity of life. She also led the pilgrims in praying the Litany of Trust, which was on prayer cards that the Sisters of Life distributed.

Then, the pilgrims had the opportunity to share their thoughts about the trip with the entire group. Some had participated in the March for Life many times, while others said it was their first time. Some became tearful as they spoke about the vulnerability of the unborn or shared stories of adoption or abortion in their own families.

Bryson Mildrum, a sophomore at Hingham High School from Resurrection Parish, said hearing people speak about their experiences stood out to him, particularly when some revealed that their parents had contemplated aborting them.

"Just the thought that you wouldn't be here. I think that's crazy," he said.

After this time of sharing, Father Matthew Norwood led the group in Eucharistic adoration. Priests were also available for confession, but since so many people wanted to receive the sacrament, priests made themselves available afterward.

The final destination of the trip was the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, where Father Norwood celebrated Mass for the pilgrims. They then took self-guided tours around the building, which houses replicas of famous sites in the Holy Land, and the grounds, which feature a Portiuncula and a roofed walkway with mosaics depicting the mysteries of the rosary.

"It kind of felt like you were in the Holy Land seeing all that," Elizabeth said afterward.

During the train ride home, Bryson, who attended the March for Life for the first time this year, said he "definitely" wants to come again.

"I thought it was great, and I definitely recommend for people to come do it," he said.