Courtesy of Rory Reichenberg - Students from St. Francis High School, Athol Springs, sophomore Aaron Hayes, and senior Dan Mangino participate in the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Fighting freezing rain and ever-increasing political obstacles, bands of people marched on the nation’s capitol to be seen and heard as a witness that people of faith will not stand idle while abortion is legal. Busloads of people from Western New York traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22 for the annual March for Life.
“We’re trying to send a message loud and clear that we are pro-life and that we are against abortion and the Roe v. Wade decision,” said Cheryl Calire, director of the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, which sponsored the trip. “I would say for the most part it ends up being a prayerful, peaceful unity of faith-filled people of all faiths.”
The two-day event included a Mass led by Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, a keynote address by abstinence speaker and author Christina King, and a walk past the Capitol building ending at the Supreme Court building. Some people carried signs, while others carried rosaries.
“It was wonderful to be immersed with so many people, the experience of recognition of the sanctity of life,” said Deacon Michael Dulak, who serves at St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center. The number of Church leaders united to defend life impressed him.
“It was so inspiring to see so many of our Catholic leaders there. At the vigil Mass were 50 bishops, and more priests and deacons and seminarians than you can count. It was overwhelming to be with all those people with all that faith.”
Deacon Dulak became involved in the pro-life movement after reading Blessed John Paul II’s “Evangelium Vitae,” which outlines the Catholic Church’s position regarding the value of human life and deals with topics ranging from in-vitro fertilization to abortion.
“As I read that, a light just went on for me and I realized that this is where the Catholic faith engages our secular culture today – on the life issues,” he said. “All the controversies on all the life issues, and the Catholic Church has the answer, and we have the Gospel, the Good News, about life that we need to get out there and share with everybody in our country, and show them the relevance of the message of Christ. What the Church teaches is just so clear and so beautiful. If we could get the message out there and present it in a way with all its beauty, I think that it would be very difficult for people to just walk away from that.”
While in formation for the permanent diaconate, he requested a field assignment with the Office of Pro-Life Activities. Through that, he learned of the St. Gianna Molla ministry. He is now a peer counselor there.
Fourteen seminarians from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora attended the march, including three transitional deacons.
“I’m a very pro-life person,” said Deacon Jeffrey Nowak, who is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood this spring. “I truly and firmly believe in the Church’s teaching that life is from conception until natural death, and something that needs, not only to be respected and revered, but also protected. So much we now live in is a disposable society, that sometimes the most vulnerable become the disposable. So unwanted pregnancies become the abortions. The elderly who don’t have anyone to care for them anymore, there tends to be this push. Let’s dispose of them through legalized euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. I felt to give a witness to that cause was very important.”
As a member of the clergy, Deacon Nowak wants to stand up and represent this movement, stating that abortion is a non-negotiable issue and that Catholics must defend life issues.
“How we take that public witness takes on various shapes and forms. Some people have become very militaristic. Some take it to prayer. Sometimes I think there are those who do not support it and hope it will disappear,” he said. “For myself, in formation and up and coming to be ordained a priest, I think also it is a call to witness the faith. Our people are looking at us to be leaders. And as leaders, if we cannot come forth and speak on the issues, it is going to be tough to sell them on the idea, to motivate them to educate themselves.”
Youth groups from St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville, St. Francis High School in Athol Springs, and Holy Angels Academy in Buffalo, traveled in a full bus to participate in the march, along with a youth rally and special youth Mass.
The event is popular with the teens. Organizers have considered adding a second youth bus to accommodate the growing waiting list of teens wanting to attend.
“It sells itself,” said Rory Reichenberg, a religion teacher at St. Francis. “Guys talk it up; they talk to each other. It ties in a lot of things. There’s a huge faith element. We’re there praying the rosary on the way down. We go to two Masses while we’re there. We do a Mass at Catholic U., as well as the youth rally Mass the next morning. So it is a real spiritual event, but there is also a real boisterous event with the youth rally and the march outside and the people chanting. It combines a lot of different experiences. A lot of that these students haven’t experienced.”
On the ride there the youth watched a video of Dr. Alveda King and Norma McKorvey, the “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, who now speaks out against abortion; the kids seemed to minister to each other.
“We don’t want to give them an eight-hour lecture on the way down; we do present them one video that gives them a little bit of the history, a little bit of the core pro-life arguments,” said Reichenberg.
Some kids who were adopted opened up about the choices their birth mothers had to make. One teen was born to a teenager herself, who was pressured into having an abortion, but chose instead to give the child up for adoption.
“That speaks louder than anything I could say,” Reichenberg said.