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Boston youth march as witnesses to life

  • A student participating in the March for Life the Archdiocese of Boston gives a “thumbs up” during the march. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe
  • Pro-life pilgrims travelling with the archdiocese’s Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support march down Washington’s Constitution Ave. toward the Supreme Court building. (Pilot photo/Mark Labbe)
  • A Boston student holds up a pro-life sign during the march. (Pilot photo/Mark Labbe)
  • Cardinal O’Malley joins Catholic and Orthodox bishops on the main podium of the March for Life Rally on the National Mall. (Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy)
  • Seminarians from St. John’s Seminary pose for group photo in front of the U.S. Supreme Court at the conclusion of the March for Life. (Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy)
  • Boston pro-life pilgrims pray during the Mass celebrated by Cardinal O’Malley at Sacred Heart Shrine before the March for Life. (Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy)

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It was loud. Tens of thousands of footsteps slapped the pavement as the marchers walked, and though they walked at different paces, in different shoes, the movement created almost a rhythm. Over the beat were the voices, some chanting and some singing and others laughing and all creating a hum in the air.

Vibrancy was on full display at the 2018 National March for Life, as the thousands who marched witnessed to the value and beauty of life simply through the energy and emotion they emitted by their presence together.

Among the crowd at this year's March for Life in Washington Jan. 19 were over 600 people from the Archdiocese of Boston, including an estimated 275 school-aged youth traveling with the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support, 300 members of the archdiocese's Hispanic communities, and seminarians from St. John's Seminary, Redemptoris Mater Seminary, and Pope St. John XXIII Seminary. Dozens of additional youth traveled with Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton.

For the most part, the groups only saw each other briefly during the march, each maintaining different pilgrimage plans. For the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support youth, those plans included periods of adoration and music, vocation talks, and Mass.

"Remember," organizers said time and time again to the youth, "it's a pilgrimage, not a vacation." The march should be experienced through a spiritual lens, rather than through the lens of a camera. It's not a souvenir the youth should take home, but a deeper love of Jesus and of life, organizers told the young pro-life pilgrims.

For many of the youth who attended the pilgrimage, that is what they found.

The pilgrimage began Thursday night, Jan. 18, with a Witness to Life Rally held at St. Stephen Parish in Framingham that feature prayer, spiritual music, and witness talks from prominent Pro-Life speakers. Those registered with the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support boarded buses following the event, departing from the parish at around 10 p.m. Thursday night and driving overnight to arrive in Washington as early as 6 a.m. the day of the march, Jan. 19.

The youth had breakfast at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, run by the Capuchin Order in Washington, where seminarians and religious sisters gave short vocation talks.

As has been tradition, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley celebrated Mass later that morning at the shrine, which was standing room-only as the other Boston pilgrims joined the youth for the Mass.

The Gospel reading told of when Jesus commissioned the 12 apostles, and, in his homily, Cardinal O'Malley reflected on how, "like the apostles in the Gospel, Jesus wants to share his mission with us."

"It's a privilege, and it's a responsibility," said the cardinal. "The Gospel tells us Jesus calls the apostles to be with Him, and then to send them to preach and to drive out demons."

"Abortion is a demon, and we have to drive it out of our society," he continued.

Our mission begins by becoming closer to Christ through prayer, to reflect on his teachings, and to come to realize that everything we have is a gift from God, and to then give ourselves up as gifts in return, said the cardinal.

Jesus calls us to be disciples, to be part of his Church, and "The mission we embrace today is one of the most sacred tasks that we could have -- to be defenders and protectors of innocent human life," Cardinal O'Malley said.

"Every human being is important, and should be welcomed, cared for, and protected," the cardinal continued.

"Our witness will be powerful only if we see people with love and care about them. Our witness will be powerful when people see the Gospel will all of its demands live in our lives with hope and joy," he concluded.

Following the Mass, bagged lunches were provided for the youth, and they left for the Lincoln Memorial, where they posed for a group picture. They walked to the National Mall, and were able to faintly hear the end of a speaking program that included remarks from President Donald Trump, Vice President Michael Pence, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Then, the march began.

Tens of thousands of people moved slowly down the streets of Washington, posters and banners in hand proclaiming "I vote pro-life," "Defund Planned Parenthood," and "I am the pro-life generation."

It took the Boston youth longer than expected to reach the steps of the Supreme Court, the end of the march, finishing at around 4 p.m. after walking for over two hours.

During the entire march, the youth sang hymns, prayed the rosary, and shouted pro-life chants, encouraging nearby marchers from all across the country to join in. Father Matt Williams of the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Faith Formation and Missionary Discipleship led many of the chants, rallying the group with a megaphone.

At the steps of the Supreme Court, Father Sinisa Ubiparipovic, parochial vicar with the collaborative Parishes of Resurrection and St. Paul in Hingham, led the group in prayer and offered a blessing.

Marching in the crowds, with thousands of like-minded people near her, Anne Laurie Pierre, a freshman at Pope John XXIII High School in Everett, said she realized how large the pro-life movement is.

She had been pro-choice, she told The Pilot after the march, but recently had been thinking about what that means. She had never attended a March for Life before, but the more she really considered the movement, the more she came to realize that "life is really precious."

The numbers of pro-life supporters on the march surprised her. "You don't usually see pro-life people," she said. "It's mostly pro-choice, but (during the march) I got to see people's opinions, see people that strongly disagree with abortion."

Halle Boucher and Caroline O'Connor, both seniors at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, were also excited by the large numbers of marchers.

While it was their second time participating in the march, O'Connor said seeing the thousands of people around her "made me feel like I had people encouraging me," and experience that she described as "uplifting."

"I think sometimes it is one of those things that you kind of feel alone about, but when you see all those people you realize you are not alone and are fighting for a good thing," Boucher added.

Archdiocese of Boston evangelization consultant Rosemary Maffei led one of the buses of over 50 young people during the pilgrimage. New to her position in the archdiocese, Maffei hadn't attended this particular pilgrimage before, but said she had gone on the march many times previously.

For her, the pilgrimage was a "beautiful experience."

"I like the way it's taken a really spiritual approach to (the march)," she said, referencing the Masses and the time for prayer. "It's really encouraging with all the youth here."

The pilgrimage was a first for Kevin Chrisom, a senior at Boston College High School in Boston, who said he found it to be "a very enjoyable experience."

"I always knew the pro-life movement around America was a large movement, but to actually see it and to be a part of it, it's really special," he told The Pilot.

It was "eye-opening," he continued, and indicated to him that the "pro-life movement is here to stay."

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