Young people walk with a banner past the U.S. Capitol during the March for Life in Washington in this file photo. The annual pro-life rally can be a call to witness and faith for many young adults, many within the Diocese of Trenton say. CNS photo/Bob Roller
Young people walk with a banner past the U.S. Capitol during the March for Life in Washington in this file photo. The annual pro-life rally can be a call to witness and faith for many young adults, many within the Diocese of Trenton say. CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Jennifer Mauro | Associate Editor

Those who have attended the annual March for Life in Washington attest to a similar scene – scores of young adults in matching jackets, sweatshirts or hats marching through the streets of the nation’s capital behind large respect life banners and chanting pro-life messages through bullhorns, the energy of youth fueling the different generations of faithful around them.

And for those who have never been – like Sabina Marroquin – it’s a scene not difficult to imagine.

“Seeing thousands of people united for life has to be an overwhelming image in the most beautiful sense of the word,” said the 24-year-old parishioner of Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd, Trenton.

Spending most of her life in Texas, Marroquin has never attended the March for Life, but imagines it to be a formative experience in a young person’s faith journey.

“When we stand up for life as Catholics, we say that each life is precious and loved by God,” she said. “I think attending the March for Life can be a powerful visual of God’s love … in our hearts in addition to our heads. When we earnestly feel God's love in our hearts, it is such a grace-filled realization that makes you want to be more involved in your faith.”

That’s exactly what Jerry Wutkowski, assistant coordinator of young adult ministry in the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life, is hoping for the younger generations who attend this year’s rally, which marks the 44th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

“Much of their understanding of faith is at the local level. We’re trying to show them that the Church is more than your parish,” he said. “We’re trying to tell them, ‘You’re not the only one making a statement.’ All of these thousands of people gathered for the same reason show them there are people their own age living their faith.”

That’s a scene Ellen Conaghan of St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant, has witnessed firsthand. Conaghan, one of a dozen bus captains from around the Diocese whose parish will be chartering a ride to the annual pro-life march Jan. 27, has been attending for 10 years.

“When you see these kids pull up in buses, they have this incredible energy. That’s what keeps this march going,” she said.

Conaghan, too, has being making more of a concentrated effort to reach out to young adults. After hearing Wutkowski discuss outreach a few months ago, Conaghan asked herself, “How do you find college-age kids who come to church who would be interested?” The very next day, she found herself sitting near a young man during daily Mass. She said she simply approached him after the service and started a conversation.

“If you just say hello and introduce yourself, they take over from there and tell you their story,” she said, adding that she discovered the young man was part of a young adult faith group at his college. “They’re more than happy, I think, just to be recognized. It’s up to you to make them feel visible.”

That opportunity for dialogue is something Wutkowski hopes the March for Life can accomplish, too.

“It’s about walking and standing up for the right to life but also seeing that young person grow in why life is sacred and seeing how they become more engaged into putting their faith into action,” he said. “This witness alone shows how that conversation can begin.”

Marroquin herself is open to that dialogue. She was recently featured in the “Now is the time” video produced by the Department of Evangelization and Family Life ahead of the March for Life.

“I do believe we all are searching for something more. Most of us have sought something out only to realize that it wasn't quite what we were looking for, or maybe we did find exactly what we were looking for, but it was in a totally unexpected place,” she said.

“It's taken some trial and error, but I have come to find that my something ‘more’ is found in being Catholic. Growing in my faith and trying to live it out is where I find my greatest peace, purpose and joy,” she said.