Father Daniel Kirk, left, pastor in St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson, takes part in the March for Life Jan. 19 in Washington with parishioners as well as pilgrims from member parishes in Cohort 2.  Photo courtesy of John Loftus

Father Daniel Kirk, left, pastor in St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson, takes part in the March for Life Jan. 19 in Washington with parishioners as well as pilgrims from member parishes in Cohort 2.  Photo courtesy of John Loftus

By Patrick T. Brown | Correspondent

In previous years, participants in the annual March for Life showcased their tenacious commitment to the pro-life cause by steadfastly bracing wind, sleet and snow on behalf of the unborn.

This year in Washington, D.C., temperatures in the high 40s helped marchers feel a little less frigid – but no less determined.

Under blue skies, hundreds of thousands of Americans, including many from the Diocese of Trenton, converged on the nation’s capital for the 45th annual March for Life. The event, held a few days in advance of the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states, calls for protection of all human life and an end to abortion.

“I have the opportunity to see so many students grow in their faith and stand up for what they believe,” said Deb Flego, moderator of Red Bank Catholic High School’s Respect Life club, Caseys4Life, who helped coordinate a group of 57 students to attend the March. “They support one another. ... We know that life is a gift and the foundation of every issue. We are beyond excited!”

Attendees packed buses and Metro trains and filled the streets of Washington with chants like “Hey hey! Ho ho! Roe v. Wade has got to go!” as they made their way to the annual March. Many of those attendees started the day boarding buses at schools and parishes across the Diocese of Trenton.

For students from Red Bank Catholic, their journey started the night before, with an overnight lock-in before an early morning bus ride to the nation’s capital. For the students, Flego said, “the experience of going and being part of the witness of thousands was life-changing.”

“Now they feel part of a community of students who see the value of life from conception till natural death. … We all feel like we are part of something bigger and more important than just our opinions.”

‘Change Can Happen’

During the rally on the National Mall, attendees heard from Rep. Chris Smith, who represents New Jersey’s 4th congressional district, comprised of portions of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

“Out of unconditional love and compassion and empathy, you and I are here to defend victims,” Smith told the crowd. “That is why we march. Love saves lives.”

Nineteen students from Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, accompanied by two faculty members and an administrator, started their time in Washington by meeting with staff members at the office of New Jersey’s two senators before making their way to the March.

The school “feels it is important that students attend the march in person because there is no way to explain with words what this experience is like,” said Eileen Hart, who teaches religion at the school.

Following the March, Hart said, one student told her that “the march showed me that change can happen if we make it happen.”

“Coming together as a community can really make a difference,” another student said. “To see so many students from so many states gathered in one place was incredible and truly inspiring.”

A group of students from Princeton University and New York’s Columbia University shared a bus down to the march, meeting at 6 a.m. to make the journey.

“Getting up early was a little rough,” said Belle Richardson, who attended as part of the group. “But it was worth it. Seeing how many people were there, and how much excitement and determination was in the air – it was all worth it.”

In Hamilton, Father Michael McClane, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish, led a group of parishioners on the trek. The contingent was decked out in scarves made by Lee Grodzki, a member of the parish’s Altar Rosary Society/Prayer Shawl Ministry. After being inspired by the personalized scarves worn by groups during the Diocese’s “Las Antorchas Guadalupanas” in December, Grodzki knitted about 40 scarves in a month for each of the members of the D.C. pilgrimage.

“While each scarf is being made, Lee prays for the person who will be wearing it and prays for today’s rally in Washington,” parishioner Peg Kowalski said. “She is an absolutely wonderful person who loves the Lord and Mary with all her heart.”

Standing Up for the Voiceless

On the bus from St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington, were about 40 faithful from the parish as well as surrounding parishes. Before boarding the bus at 7:15 a.m., the contingent attended a 6:15 a.m. Mass that was concelebrated by Father Christopher Picollo, pastor, and Father Michael Kennedy, parochial vicar.

Paul Ordog, a member of Sts. Francis and Clare Parish, Florence Township, who is the parish representative on the Burlington County Right to Life Council, was pragmatic when speaking about why he attends the March for Life.

“There are ‘Black Lives Matter, ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ but not ‘Tiny Lives Matter,’” Ordog said. “I feel someone has to stand up for those who cannot.”

Having only been ordained a priest last June, Father Kennedy said the 2018 March for Life was his first experience attending the march as a parish priest. Prior to that, he said, he attended the march six times.

After remarking on how St. Katharine Drexel parishioners “were great examples of the commitment of Catholic laity to life,” Father Kennedy reflected on how he is in awe of the number of people who attend the march.

“When we get to the top of the hill near the Capitol building, look back and see an ocean of people as far as the eye can see, it is an overwhelming tribute to the strength of the pro-life movement – a movement that continues to grow despite a glaring lack of media coverage and often media hostility,” he said.

“Being with those who were members of the community that I serve was special because I could see how important this issue is to people I know,” he said, adding how that group includes people of varying ages and backgrounds who perhaps face more difficulty and hostility in carrying this message than he might.

“When people see me in a collar, they expect me to be pro-life,” Father Kennedy said. “But our parishioners don’t have that to insulate them.”

Many Pilgrims, One Cause

While St. Katharine Drexel parishioner Jack Bell noted that he was attending the march for the third time, what made the 2018 event special for him was to travel to Washington with his son and first-time marcher, Patrick.

“Patrick and I had a strong bonding relationship experience on Friday,” said the elder Bell, who added how impressed he was to see “so many random acts of courtesy and kindness at every point.”

“There were frequent groups that sang hymns together and others that recited the Rosary. There were no signs of any vile or ugly behaviors,” Bell said. “To me, it is well worth the effort and time to go to the march. Each year, I come back refreshed that the pro-life movement is strong, vibrant and growing. The Holy Spirit is alive and present in the hearts and minds of all involved, including in those who pray for the unborn in lieu of marching.”

Following the rally, the attendees filed through the streets of Washington, past the U.S. Capitol building and ended their journey to cheers and applause in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, a throng humming with the unexpected warmth and unrelenting energy on behalf of the unborn.

“The broad level of participation always amazes me, especially with the number of young people attending,” said John Loftus, bus captain and member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson, which traveled to the march with member parishes of Cohort 2. “I’m always awestruck at the many organizations, parishes from around the country, schools, other countries, etc. that are represented.”

Dorothy Conway, business manager at St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, also praised the participation of younger generations, especially as 10 of the parish’s Latin Mass altar servers assisted in the annual Nellie Gray Mass, held in honor of the March for Life’s founder, which took place after the march in Washington’s St. Mary Mother of God Church.

“We had a spectacular day,” she said, explaining that nearly 100 pilgrims from the parish traveled together on two buses.