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WASHINGTON -- "It's not a vacation, it's a pilgrimage!" That was the message the hundreds of youth and young adults who traveled with the Archdiocese of Boston to the 2017 March for Life were told again and again travelling by bus to Washington, D.C.
But though it wasn't a vacation, that didn't mean there was no fun to be had.
From live music to faith-sharing and reconciliation to sightseeing, the nearly 500 high schoolers and middle schoolers who travelled with the archdiocese's Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support experienced a number of events and activities during the three day Witness to Life pilgrimage, Jan. 26 to Jan. 28.
For many of the young people, the pilgrimage, which revolved around the Jan. 27 March for Life in Washington, began with an early morning bus ride on Jan. 26 from the greater Boston area.
Ten buses departed from the area, and, not counting brief stops during the about 10 hour ride, their first destination was in Chantilly, Va. for a Mass at St. Timothy Church celebrated by Father Anthony Cusack of St. Mark and St. Ambrose Parishes in Dorchester.
From there, the pilgrims traveled to George Mason University's Eagle Bank Arena in Fairfax, Va. for the annual "Life is VERY Good Evening of Prayer."
The 10,000 seat arena was nearly full as young people from across the country gathered to hear live music, listen to renowned speakers, and for eucharistic adoration.
Musical groups included singer-songwriter Ben Walther as well as the band The Afters, while speakers included Mark Hart of Life Teen International, Father James Searby of George Mason University, and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington.
Bishop Burbidge, who also presided over the period of adoration, called the young people in the arena an "inspiration to all of us," and thanked them for their "faithful witness."
"In a world that is so divided more than ever, they need to see your witness," he said.
The adoration closed out the event, and the pilgrims with the Archdiocese of Boston were bused to their hotels.
The next day, Jan. 27, began with a Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.
A yearly tradition, the Mass united all of the pilgrims travelling with the archdiocese, with the youth with the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support joining more than 300 people with the Hispanic Apostolate, as well as seminarians from St. John's Seminary, Redemptories Mater Seminary, and Pope St. John XXIII Seminary.
"My hope and my prayer for all of us here today is that we will know that God has put us here with a purpose," he said to the hundreds of people who had travelled from the greater Boston area to march.
"Choose life, take care of each other, don't be afraid of criticism -- be afraid of failing to embrace your vocation, your purpose, then your life will make a difference," he continued.
Following the Mass, the young people, along with many of the seminarians, travelled to the Lincoln Memorial to take photos before the beginning of the March for Life. They arrived at the march's starting point, the Washington Monument, just as it was beginning and just after a rally that featured remarks from Vice-President Michael Pence came to a close.
As the hundreds of people with the Archdiocese of Boston marched with the hundreds of thousands of people from across the country, they prayed, sang, and held up signs and chanted pro-life messages.
The march came to an end at the Supreme Court, where Father Matt Williams, director of Faith Formation, led the Boston group in prayer.
Maryellen Sweeney, a young parishioner of St. Margaret Parish in Lowell, was amazed at how many people from across the country were marching with her.
"This a lot of people!" she said, looking around all of the people walking beside her.
It was her first time at the March for Life, as she said she was too young to attend last year with her family.
"It's been very fun, it been very meaningful to me," she said.
Brady Quinn, a student at Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen, echoed Quinn's sentiments.
"It was really cool and inspiring to see... it's good to see that there are actually more pro-life people out there," he said.
"They're all our age, too, which is really nice to see," he added.
After the march, the young people traveled to Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna, Va. for faith-sharing, reflection, and a period of eucharistic adoration, before returning to their hotels.
While much of the next day, Jan. 28, was spent driving back to Massachusetts, the youth began it with a Mass celebrated by Father Williams at St. Paul Chung Church in Fairfax, Va. that was followed immediately by a talk from Father Eric Cadin, assistant vocation director of the archdiocese's Vocation Office.
The talk focused on vocations, as well as the inherent dignity and greatness that all are created with.
Following the talk, the group went to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, a National Air and Space Museum that trip organizers said would give the young people a chance to see the "greatness" people can accomplish.