Boston pilgrims to attend national March for Life

BRAINTREE -- For nearly half a century, the high point of each year for the pro-life movement has been the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that made abortion legal nationwide. But since the Dobbs v. Jackson decision reversed the Roe decision in June 2022, people have wondered whether the march would continue. While some groups and individuals are choosing to focus on pro-life efforts in their state, a delegation of pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Boston will still participate in the national march, which will take place on Jan. 20, 2023.

Between 200 and 250 people from the Archdiocese of Boston are expected to attend the national March for Life, with the majority registering through the Catholic Schools Office. All Catholic school students from grades six through 12 were invited. Smaller groups from the seminaries and parishes may travel separately and meet them in Washington, D.C.

Colleen Donohoe, a longtime respect life educator and the CSO's superintendent of Catholic Identity, said she has run into churchgoers who were confused to learn that the march is still scheduled to take place this year, seeing it primarily as a protest of Roe v. Wade.

"It'll be interesting to see the difference in the focus this year," Donohoe said.

She said she has always seen it as "a celebration of life."

"We've used it as an experience to teach our young people what it means to be a witness to life, and how to celebrate the dignity of the human person as God created us, and also to understand our wider Church, what it means to be Catholic," Donohoe said.

The archdiocese also tries to include themes of vocation by having clergy and religious involved with the trip.

"We want that exposure for our young people so that they understand God has a plan for their life," Donohoe said.

The pilgrims registering under the CSO will travel by bus to Washington, D.C., and stay at a hotel in Virginia for two nights.

They will depart early in the morning on Jan. 19. Upon arriving in the area that night, they may take some time to tour the national monuments, giving the travelers a chance to exercise after sitting on the buses all day.

Many events that typically preceded the March for Life are not taking place this year. For example, the Diocese of Arlington canceled its Life is VERY Good Rally, which has been part of the Boston pilgrims' itinerary in past years. The Archdiocese of Washington also canceled its youth rally for the morning of the march.

In light of these cancellations, a new event has been organized, which the Boston pilgrims will attend.

On the morning of Jan. 20, the day of the march, the Sisters of Life will host the first-ever Life Fest, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. Life Fest will feature music, talks from the sisters, and Mass with bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians from across the country.

The pilgrims will then attend the March for Life, which begins with a rally on the National Mall. According to the March for Life website, the rally this year will feature Coach Tony Dungy, a Pro-Football Hall of Famer, and Jonathan Roumie, an actor, director, and producer best known for portraying Jesus in the multi-season drama "The Chosen." The musical group We Are Messengers will also perform during the rally.

The March for Life has traditionally followed a route ending at the Supreme Court as a sign of opposition to the Roe decision. Since it has been overturned, making abortion a matter of legislation, the march will instead end in front of the U.S. Capitol, "a new front in our battle for life," the March for Life website reported.

After the march, the Boston pilgrims will visit Sacred Heart Shrine for dinner and a period of reflection and discussion. There will be eucharistic adoration and opportunities for confession during this time.

Donohoe said this part of the trip is meant to "give the kids some processing time, allowing them to talk through their experiences, how they saw God that day, and how they learned more about upholding the dignity of the human person, letting them kind of talk through all of that. And then ultimately we bring it to the feet of the Lord."

On Jan. 21, the group will visit the St. John Paul II National Shrine for Mass and a brief tour. This visit was on last year's itinerary but had to be canceled due to cases of COVID at the shrine.

"We're blessed to be able to do that this year and to see the legacy that this beautiful saint has left for our young people and the legacy he's left with our church and teaching us about the dignity of the human person," Donohoe said.

The pilgrims are to return to the Archdiocese of Boston on the evening of Jan. 21.

"I think we'll have a good experience for our young people," Donohoe said.