Guest speakers offer views on value of all life at March for Life (part 2)
On the eve of the rally, a Mass opening the National Prayer Vigil for Life was held inside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Thousands filled the massive church, and many had to stand throughout the proceedings. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, delivered a message of support on behalf of Pope Francis. Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, who chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, delivered the homily.
By mid-morning Friday, the first waves of people began arriving at the National Mall for the pre-march rally. Following live music performances were comments from Mancini and several elected officials.
Their remarks were warmly received, but the crowd became even more excited when the next round of guest speakers took their turns on stage. These included Sister Mary Casey O’Connor and her twin sister, Casey Gunning, both of whom spoke about human dignity. The latter lives with Down syndrome, and told the crowd, “I love my life.” She works as a teacher aide and participates in the Special Olympics.
Former NFL coach Tony Dungy and his wife Lauren Dungy also spoke. Mr. Dungy, who is now a football commentator for NBC television, recalled the recent medical emergency involving Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin. He reminded the crowd that Hamlin was improving since suffering cardiac arrest during a game in Cincinnati Jan. 2. He then explained its connection to the topic at hand on this Friday afternoon.
“Now he’s home. He’s been released from the hospital. But what’s the lesson in that? You know, an unbelievable thing happened that night, a professional football game with millions of dollars of ticket money and advertising money on the line … that game was canceled. Why? Because a life was at stake. And people wanted to see that life saved. Even people who aren’t necessarily really religious got together and called on God,” Dungy said. “But that should be encouraging to us, because that’s exactly why we’re here today. Because every day in this country, innocent lives are at stake. The only difference is they don’t belong to a famous athlete, and they’re not seen on national TV. But those lives are still important to God and in God’s eyes.”
Drawing enthusiastic cheers when she appeared on stage was Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Molla, for whom the Diocese of Buffalo names its pro-life pregnancy outreach services. Gianna Emanuela was the child whom doctors recommended be terminated in order to save Gianna Molla’s life. The mother urged doctors to save the child. Days later, Gianna Molla died of complications from childbirth just days later. She was canonized in 2004.
Her daughter told the crowd that every day, upon waking up, she thanks the Lord for the gift of life.
“The most precious and the most special gift, we always ought to honor, respect and defend,” Gianna Emanuela said.
The keynote speaker, actor Jonathan Roumie, told the audience “God is real.” Roumie plays the role of Jesus in the television series “The Chosen,” and will star in the forthcoming film “Jesus Revolution,” based on the true story of a group of hippies who, in the midst of the counterculture revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, converted to Christianity.
“God is real and He is completely in love with you. Because you are all here today,” Roumie said. “History has been made. Life has triumphed in an extraordinary way. And the light of the world who is Jesus Christ, the author of life, His life has burned so very brightly within each and every one of you, irrespective of your specific beliefs, compelling you forward for one reason or another, to stand together today and fight the noblest and worthiness cause possible, which is to allow the unborn the rights to enter into the world and defeat those earthly forces that wish to destroy the very evidence.”
Following Roumie’s remarks, the rally concluded and it was time to take to the streets. Marchers followed a path which led them around the U.S. Capitol, and past the Supreme Court building.
A glance of the span of people at the rally on the National Mall prior to the march, by this writer’s observation, suggests the crowd was certainly into many tens of thousands, if not at least 100,000 people.
There were pockets of counterprotestors who appeared at spots along the march route. One small group of women declared, “Thank you, Jesus, for abortion.”
But there were also some pro-life allies who cheered on the marchers along the side, and marchers who provided diversity to those taking part in the cause. While a majority of the marchers seemed to identify with Christian churches, schools or organizations, there were also several large groups of Jewish pro-life marchers among the masses.
At least a dozen pro-life supporters from Canada could be seen lined up along a block, holding up signs and flags identifying their origin, cheering on those who passed by.
Then there was a group of close to three dozen demonstrators who stood outside the Supreme Court building. These included LGBTQ+ activists who, at first glance, had some people walking along the route thinking they were just another counterprotest group.
That is, until they got a closer look at their signs and paid closer attention to their chants. It became clear these, too, were pro-life supporters, from a movement known as the Rainbow Pro Life Alliance. Among the messages on their signs or flags: “LGBTQ+ Rights Begin at Conception.”
A prominent theme in the 2023 March For Life was “next steps.” Leaders including Mancini said rallies were planned in several states over the coming months.
Buffalo’s bishop agrees the struggle is far from over.
“I think for us as Catholics, and particularly as bishops who are entrusted with teaching, it’s more than changing votes. It’s about changing hearts to see again the dignity in the sacredness of life, and we need to fight for that,” Bishop Fisher said. “And certainly New York, that’s our immediate home that we care about, and we love the people there. So, it’s what we need to be focused on, just as the other bishops will be in their dioceses and respective states.”
Part 1 of our coverage on the March for Life can be seen here.