Kurt Hufker huddled with his friends on the National Mall as they eagerly awaited for the March for Life to begin.
This was the first march for Kurt, who was with his youth group from Assumption Parish in Mattese. Researching life issues on his own, Kurt knew that abortion is wrong, and he wanted to come to stand up for life.
"Life is the most important thing we have," said the junior at St. Mary's High School. "If you can't protect life, what is there left to protect?"
Kurt was one of more than 2,200 teens attending the Jan. 19 march as part of the Generation Life pilgrimage, hosted by the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry. The annual pilgrimage feeds into the March for Life every January. Including the Missouri Life Caravan and other parish and school groups, there were an estimated 3,000 people from St. Louis attending the march.
On a clear Friday afternoon, with the temperature topping out at nearly 50 degrees, marchers were feeling jubilant as they made their way along Constitution Avenue toward the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Miranda Sullenger, an eighth-grader from St. Raphael the Archangel in south St. Louis, said she plans on telling her friends all about her experience in Washington, D.C., once she returns to St. Louis. Why does she march? "(The unborn) deserve to live their lives to the fullest," she said.
Earlier in the day, a host of speakers addressed the crowd, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence; House Speaker Paul Ryan; Pam Tebow, mother of former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow; and former NFL player Matt Birk.
In a speech broadcast from the White House Rose Garden, Trump noted that his administration "will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life."
Referencing the march's theme, "Love Saves Lives," he also said that "Every unborn child is a precious gift from God" and thanked the crowd for for having "such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure parents have the support they need to choose life."
Earlier in the morning before the start of the march, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated Mass with the Generation Life teens. He fired them up during his homily, and reminded them that "we are not a divided humanity, but we are one human family."
Drawing applause several times, the archbishop said that young people are part of the change in creating a culture of life. "We bring the words of Jesus to the streets of Washington, D.C., to our nation's capital. We go there as missionaries. Because we want everybody to know that every human bring is created in the likeness and image of almighty God."
As part of the Generation Life programming, former Planned Parenthood employee Catherine Adair shared her personal story of having an abortion and later working for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston for two years.
She quit when she had an awakening cleaning an exam room after a second-trimester abortion. Inside the room, she saw the perfect arms and legs of a baby in a jar.
"I knew in that moment God was showing me the truth, that these were babies," said Adair. "They weren't clumps of cells or POC (products of conception, as referred to in the abortion industry) or contents of uterus. They were unique and irreplaceable human beings. I knew at that moment I had been lied to."
Adair now shares her story around the world, including how she found forgiveness and healing in the Catholic Church. She doesn't dismiss those who are pro-choice as evil or wrong — but rather as people who have not yet been informed of the truth.
"It is through Christ's love that we save lives," she said.
Three buses from St. Louis as part of the Missouri Life Caravan made it to the march — one of them with just minutes to spare. Missouri Right to Life president Steve Rupp was on a bus that broke down three times en route to Washington. One of the breakdowns was at 4 a.m., and the group waited on the bus for eight hours at a truck stop. The bus later broke down on the trip home.
"We prayed, we said the Rosary, we laughed, we cried ... we said, we're not going to make the march," he said.
The group missed a planned morning Mass and meeting with legislators, but made it in the nick of time for the march. "We were dropped off right up the street, and we're high-tailing it to get right into the march and walk in right at the Missouri Right to Life banner. What are the chances of that? The devil tried everything in the book to keep us from coming, and here we are."
Pam Fichter of Missouri Right to Life said life issues will never go away, even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. The fight will continue state by state and in a variety of life-related issues beyond abortion, including human cloning and end-of-life issues, she said.
"The one who we know is attacking life is going to attack life at all stages," she said. "All we can do is be faithful, be active, be informed and try to make a difference. This is in much higher hands than ours. It's not for me to question God's timing on anything."
"Look at the fruits, at all the people who are united for life, that 45 years ago didn't know how to respond," Fichter said. "They didn't know what to do. Now they're organized, they're educated, they're young, and they're active."