Students from Red Bank Catholic High School attend the 2019 March for Life in Washington. Due to the pandemic, high school students across the Diocese will be making their pro-life voices heard in a different way in January – a friendly competition to collect items for mothers and fathers in need. File photo
Students from Red Bank Catholic High School attend the 2019 March for Life in Washington. Due to the pandemic, high school students across the Diocese will be making their pro-life voices heard in a different way in January – a friendly competition to collect items for mothers and fathers in need. File photo
An abundance of caution during the pandemic will keep the annual caravan of buses from parishes and schools in the Diocese from rolling toward Washington Jan. 29 for the annual March for Life.

It will not, however, stop the Diocese’s faithful from continuing to champion for life in all its stages.

Because of COVID-19, “There are a lot of concerns about having lots of people together,” said Father Richard Osborn, chaplain for the Monmouth County Respect Life Committee. At the same time, there is also a great “need for us to pray and witness to the dignity of human life.”

“In a grace-filled way, we are making the best of a bad situation,” he said.

Father Osborn, parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, and fellow pro-life chaplains, educators, students and parishioners throughout the Diocese’s four counties are gearing up for a different approach to observe the 48th anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that effectively legalized abortion across the United States.

Instead of hundreds of the faithful traveling on buses to Washington, much emphasis is being placed on making the witness for life visible to the local community at-large, said Father James F. O’Neill, Ocean County’s Respect Life chaplain. “On Jan. 29, we may not be able to safely go to Washington, but what we can do is pray, especially in public as one would do at the March for Life,” he said.

For example, Father O’Neill, pastor of St. John Parish, Lakehurst, said that a search is underway for locations in which parishioners can pray the Rosary safely along Route 70, located a couple of blocks away from St. John Church.

At Our Lady, Queen of Peace Parish, Hainesport, the faithful will be able to gather socially distanced to pray the Rosary in front of the newly opened parish center. Respect Life flags and banners outside the church and the tolling of the church bell 48 times will project the fact that “we’ve been fighting [for life] for 48 years. We’re not going to stop just because of COVID,” said Father Joselito Noche, diocesan liaison for pro-life ministry and pastor of the Burlington County parish.

“We want people to be safe, and we want people to hear our voice through prayers and witness,” he said.

The longstanding tradition of Catholic school students being involved in the March for Life will continue, too. The Diocese has invited all Catholic high schools in the four counties to take part in a friendly competition in the weeks leading up to the March for Life. Staff from the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools will meet online with students in early January to launch a contest in which the schools will collect items mothers and fathers in need could use, such as diapers, baby bottles and blankets, food and more.

“I think in the modern Church it is so important to keep our students actively engaged in the pro-life movement because it affects everyone from birth to natural death,” said Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, diocesan superintendent of Catholic Schools.

“Yes, I’m disappointed that our students can’t participate in the March for Life in Washington. However, I am excited about the potential for even more students in the Diocese to take part in the commemoration by doing things locally in this contest format between schools.”

From the feedback religion teacher Deborah Flego is getting from Caseys for Life, the respect life club she moderates at Red Bank Catholic High School, some of the students are disappointed that they won’t be able to attend the march this year. It’s especially heartbreaking for the graduating seniors, she said.

“They were wanting to do something in January to keep their spirits up,” she said. However, “with the different high schools involved in a competition, they’ll get excited.”

A series of pro-life events at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, will take place Jan. 22 and Jan. 29, including schoolwide rosaries. The students will also help plant 970 blue and pink flags on the lawn in the shape of a cross.

The number represents the number of lives lost to abortion in eight hours, said religion teacher Eileen Hart, who moderates the school’s Celebrate Life Club.