A group of Red Bank Catholic High School students participated in a local respect life walk Jan. 29, instead of traveling to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life, which this year was moved to a virtual platform due to the pandemic. Rich Hundley photo
A group of Red Bank Catholic High School students participated in a local respect life walk Jan. 29, instead of traveling to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life, which this year was moved to a virtual platform due to the pandemic. Rich Hundley photo
Michele Gonzalez knelt in adoration as Father Richard Osborn led a Eucharistic Procession inside St. Mary Church, Middletown, the afternoon of Jan. 29.

“Today is such a great day to pray for respect for life, to pray for an openness to life from conception to natural death and all its stages,” said Gonzalez, one of many parishioners who attended a respect life Mass celebrated by Father Osborn.

Even with the changes in the world, “We keep our hope in him and God’s love,” Gonzlaez said. “We hope the sanctity of life is more and more known, that we, the faithful, need to speak up more and more, showing the Light of Christ and his love for the unborn.

Photo Gallery: Respect life witness in Red Bank Catholic High School

Photo Gallery: Mass for Life and Procession in Middletown parish

The procession, which was moved from outside to inside the church due to fierce winds, took place at the same time as the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., which was attended by only 100 pro-life activists, mostly nationally known, due the to the COVID-19 pandemic. Local supporters were encouraged to stay home and take part in local events or nationally via virtual platforms.

In the Diocese of Trenton, Catholic communities participated in peaceful prayer witnesses, Holy Hours and Masses in their own parish and school communities.

“The need to pray and exercise our faith this day does not change because of the pandemic,” said Father Osborn, parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish and diocesan respect life chaplain for Monmouth County.

“Calling for an end to abortion is the pre-eminent issue in our country, so no matter what’s going on in our world, it’s more important for us to pray for God’s guidance, blessing and protection upon us and for the protection of all human life in all of its stages, especially the most innocent in the womb,” he said.

John Gillis, a parishioner and member of the Knights of Columbus, said, “When you see an event like this and the people who attend, it does bring great hope and some change, too.

He said he was also pleased by the number of young people who attended the day’s Mass and procession, as well as the number of youth who have taken part in the national March for Life over the years. “Seeing that gives me great, great hope.”

Public Witnesses in Red Bank

Anyone in the vicinity of Red Bank’s St. James Parish around 10 a.m. would have likely caught a glimpse of the respect life event planned by Red Bank Catholic High School’s Caseys4Life prolife group.

While the majority of the students were attending classes virtually from home, there was a contingent, along with some of their teachers and school administrators, who gathered in St. James Church to recite a decade of the Rosary and hear a greeting from Msgr. Joseph Rosie, pastor.

The group then embarked on a respect life march through their community and later helped load the various items collected for several outreach organizations that help mothers and their children. The items collected for Catholic Charities’ Linkages Program; Madonna House, Neptune; and the Baby Center and St. Ann’s Childcare Center, both Keansburg, included diapers and other necessities for infants as well as household items and gift cards for their mothers.

“What was done today was beautiful, reverent and appropriate,” said Robert Abatemarco, RBC principal. “Since I’ve been here, we have always supported the March for Life, and our kids understand that. This is something we have done and will continue to do because life is precious.”

Though unable to attend the day’s activities in-person, Andrew Simoes, a senior president of Caseys4Life executive board, reflected on the importance of the local observances in lieu of the national march.

“It shows that not even a pandemic can stop the pro-life movement and that no matter what, we will fight for the right to life in all stages. I hope that our march will bring more attention to our movement and show people how wrong abortion is,” Simoes said. “I hope that the pro-life movement continues to grow and more and more young people join the movement so we can have an even bigger presence when people are able to return to D.C. next year.”

Simoes’ fellow classmates Jazz Worthy, Genevieve Hand and Jordana St. Phard, echoed similar sentiments.  

While Worthy  reflected on all she has learned through participating in the Caseys4Life during her four years at Red Bank Catholic, including about why people choose to be pro-life, Hand focused on how proud she was to be part of the local march and the opportunity to “show everyone” that we believe in the same pro-life cause.

St. Phard was excited about all the items the school collected, even though the school is on a virtual schedule. She noted it’s her hope to pursue a career as an obstetrician-gynecologist and looks forward to helping mothers and their children in any way possible.

‘Reason for hope’

Not too far away, Rachel Hendricks, diocesan respect life coordinator, visited St. Rose High School, Belmar, where students took part in a March for Life around the school campus and nearby lake. The march, led by the senior class, included students carrying American, Vatican and school flags as well as a giant Rosary. Members of the freshman, sophomore and junior classes carried pro-life posters they had made in their religion classes.

“This has been a tough year for all of us,” Hendricks said, admitting that folks who are actively involved in the prolife ministry “have felt a particular sense of loss at the realization” of not being able to travel to Washington for the March for Life.

“But there is reason for hope!” she said. “It seems clear that God is using these difficult circumstances to open new doors for us to preach the Gospel of Life in new ways right in our own communities.”

“This takes courage and conviction and may even be challenging and uncomfortable at times as we directly confront opposing views,” Henricks said. “My hope is that the local events in our parishes and schools will open doors for more respectful engagement on the life issues, and ultimately, lead to the conversion of hearts which would make abortion not only illegal but unthinkable.”

Video interviews conducted by freelance photographer Rich Hundley were used for this story.