Father Michael Wallack, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, takes a selfie with parishioners during the March for Life. Courtesy photo
Father Michael Wallack, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, takes a selfie with parishioners during the March for Life. Courtesy photo
Deacon Gene Kotowski of St. Joan of Arc Parish, Marlton, has participated in the annual March for Life every year for the past 10 years.

It’s meaningful for him since his birthday is Jan. 22 and he makes the trip to Washington, D.C., so that he can “be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

PHOTO GALLERY: Diocese's parishes, schools at March for Life

“I celebrate my birthday for those who will never get the opportunity to have one,” he said, noting that his birthday falls on the same day that the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision had been enacted into federal law 50 years ago on Jan. 22, 1973.

Marching On

Deacon Kotowski journeyed to the nation’s capital Jan. 20 with fellow St. Joan of Arc parishioners as well as those from neighboring St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, and Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, fully anticipating this year’s March would be distinctly different since Roe v. Wade had been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

After the ruling, he recalled many people asking him, “What am I going to do now?” and, “Will there still be a March in D.C.?” to which he responded, “Yes, there will be a March and now the truly hard work begins.

“The fight has shifted to the 50 states. We need to cherish, nourish, protect and preserve the right to life from the moment of conception to the grace of natural death, in all 50 states now,” he said. “I went and will continue to go until all life is freed from the severe pain of abortion. Being here in New Jersey, we have a very hard uphill battle in front of us. This is too important to just sit this one out. The stakes are too high, countless lives are at risk.”

Along with the bus carrying the faithful from the three southern Burlington County parishes, the Diocese of Trenton had a strong showing at the March for Life with clergy, parishioners, Catholic school students and members of Knights of Columbus councils, students from Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties also in attendance.

Father Walter Quiceno, parochial vicar in St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, celebrated Mass and then traveled on a 7 a.m. bus sponsored by the Knights of Columbus with about 50 people – a mixture of both the Hispanic and Anglo communities that prayed together on the trip, united in common purpose.

“The trip was beautiful… I love to see how everyone felt so comfortable with each other,” he said. “We prepared a bilingual Rosary … [we prayed together] once going down to Washington and the second on our way back.”

Creating a Pilgrimage Experience

Deb Flego, a religion teacher and “Casey’s 4 Life” advisor at Red Bank Catholic High School, shared how the night before they were due to depart for Washington, the school hosted a sleepover for the marchers followed by 6 a.m. Mass in the school chapel celebrated by Father Richard Osborn, school chaplain and parochial vicar of St. James Parish, Red Bank. The group – consisting of 15 students, parents, five RBC teachers, Father Osborn, Flego and a Casey alum – prayed the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours on their bus trip to Washington.

The number of people in attendance heartened Deacon Kotowski who said that while he kept hearing that the turnout would be light, “that was definitely not the case,” commenting how good it was to see so many more young men and women from across the country. There was even a group from North Dakota who traveled by bus for more than 18 hours, he said, then mentioned the group of young men and women from Princeton who formed a human totem pole four people high.

“That was impressive,” he said. He added that when he I first started attending the March, people his age were in the majority.

“Now I’m seeing more and more younger people attending. I’m glad to report that I’m now in the minority. They are definitely a pro-life generation,” he said.

Sabino Chico and Dulce Bravo, both active in the pro-life ministry of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Lakewood, attended the March with a group they helped organize, which filled two buses with a total of 107 people.

“A lot of youth went,” Bravo said, explaining that the trip counted toward service hours for the Confirmation classes, “and a lot of kids that went last year came again this year because they enjoyed – they like the event and the pro-life movement.” The parish began making the annual trip about 10 years ago.

Preceded by Mass in the parish worship site of St. Anthony Claret, Lakewood, the pilgrims continued their prayer with recitation of the Rosary on the bus trip as well as the watching of the movie “Unplanned,” about former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson.

Committed To The Cause

Flego recounted that there has been a Casey presence at the March since 2011.

 “It matters for us to march. We are trying to change hearts, and we were witnesses of something positive. This may have been the smallest group we ever had, but it was so rewarding,” he said.

Reflecting on the March, Father Osborn said, “It is so important for us as disciples of Christ to give public witness to our faith and the sanctity of all human life. It’s particularly important for high school age students to do this as well. This way they know they are not alone in advocating for the dignity of all human life.”

Red Bank Catholic student marchers expressed their joy at marching with thousands of others in support of life at all stages.

Sophomore Sarah Moser said, “I decided to go to the March for Life because I believe it is important to stand up for God’s most sacred gift of life. It is our job to stand up for the vulnerable and voiceless,” she said, adding that her favorite part of the day was listening to the inspiring speeches and [the speakers’] own personal experiences.

“When I first saw the opportunity to go to the 50th March for Life, I originally thought about being away from my family for a day and getting a couple service hours,” admitted freshman Jack Main. “But while the day got closer, I researched the cause and found it was much more than kids driving down to D.C. and standing in the cold. I realized it was an opportunity to not just let the speakers and politicians to share their [views], but also the people and kids like myself. At that point I knew that even the small and powerful group and myself from Red Bank Catholic could make a difference.”

“The reason I went to March of Life was because I have never been to a march as big and powerful,” said sophomore Francesca Ranucci. “This year was the first march post Roe v. Wade. What could be more exciting than that? It was very inspiring and something that I can’t wait to experience next year.”

Father Quiceno has been going to the March for Life since 2010 – but this year felt different. “I saw many people as years before, but it was [more] crowded before,” he noted. “It was still so joyful … I saw so many priests, seminarians, nuns and religious brothers from many different communities. I personally get so recharged to see them, and to realize that we all keep persevering, fighting for the right to life for all those unborn babies.”

It was important for Father Quiceno to go this year, as well as every year prior, “because I know Jesus himself is life… As a priest I have the goal to bring many people to the march, especially students, that this march might help them to discern what is good and evil.”

Chico also noticed a smaller attendance in Washington. “I feel that people may think that because of the overturn [of Roe v. Wade] it is a victory,” he said. “But it’s the complete opposite … it is always important to stand up and speak up for the unborn.” He referenced the current administration’s moves to codify abortion into state and federal laws, saying, “they are always doing something – they never stop… Now they want the Plan B [abortion pill] to be sold in every pharmacy.”

Bravo observed an increase in media coverage from Spanish-speaking media outlets, as well as the presence of more pro-abortion activists on the sidelines.

“We tell our parishioners, ‘This is a peaceful march,’” she said. “Our goal is to show our government we don’t agree with these laws – but we don’t engage [the pro-abortion activists], we just keep walking.”

Of the reporters who seek interviews from the marchers, Bravo said when they approach her, “I say, ‘listen, I want the youth out there to know that 50 percent or more of the marchers are youth – I want the youth to know that they are out here.’”