Samantha Buehler was in awe of the crowd. She expected it to be big. But not this big.
The eighth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo School in St. Charles had long dreamed of participating in the March for Life. She’d heard the stories from her friends’ older siblings, who had gone before her. But as she stood on the National Mall with more than 100,000 marchers Jan. 18, Samantha was edified to stand alongside others who also hold the belief that every life matters.
“I think abortion is about the most awful thing thing you can do,” she said. “because they’re babies. Everyone else here, we were all babies. If we were aborted, we wouldn’t be here. I just hope people realize these are actual live children.”
The St. Charles Borromeo contingent — 33 in all, including teens and chaperones — was among the group of more than 2,400 attending the Generation Life pilgrimage, hosted by the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry. March for Life organizers expected more than 100,000 people in attendance; however, the National Park Service does not keep official crowd counts large events such as the march.
St. Charles Borromeo youth minister Kristin Williams, who has been on the march five times, said the experience gives them an energy that they can bring home with them as they live out a pro-life message.
“We want to stand up for life from conception until natural death — life at all stages,” Williams said. “We educate them on what abortion means and what happens. But it’s also standing up for the immigrant. It’s standing up for people who have Down syndrome, people who have autism. It doesn’t have to be something huge. Something little can make a difference, such as showing respect for everyone they come into contact with.”
At a Mass the morning of the march, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson implored Generation Life pilgrims to show persistence and determination as they proclaim a culture of life in their everyday lives. Since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision on Jan. 22, 1973, more than 60 million children have been “snuffed out” by abortion, the archbishop said.
“Each one of us has the responsibility to do what we can so that in this nation, in our families, in our archdiocese we choose life unconditionally,” he said.
The crowd was jubilant throughout the afternoon rally, and the sun broke just in time as the march began along Constitution Avenue. Headed by a large banner and flags with the archdiocesan blue-and-gold crest, the St. Louis crew engaged in prayer, pro-life chants and even some time for banter during the long walk.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann, a St. Louis native and now chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, called St. Louis “unique in the nation in its strong pro-life support, and particularly with the Church.“ He pointed to the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Carberry, who started the archdiocese’s first Pro-Life Committee in 1973, not long after the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision.
The March for life “is to energize us for the rest of the year,” said Archbishop Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan. “The real pro-life evangelization happens in day-to-day life. It happens in encounters with family and friends and neighbors. The job that we accept in coming to the march is to go back and reach others with what we experienced here.”
Other groups from the St. Louis area also made it to the march, including Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and several bus loads with the Missouri Life Caravan. Seminarian Brad Baumgarten, who worked for several years with Coalition for Life St. Louis and is a march veteran, was attending his first march as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Baumgarten said he found a deeper faith through the pro-life movement, and was encouraged to see the energy of seminarians when he entered last fall as a pre-theology student. “The pro-life movement’s very much ingrained in faith, but now I get an even greater sense of how important it is to pray for the unborn. I get to see the spiritual battle a little bit deeper than when I did before, being in the seminary. It’s made my heart grow.”
Tyson Mansley was among 49 people attending the march with Assumption Parish in south St. Louis County. The freshman at St. John Vianney High School was pretty straightforward in his understanding of what abortion is. “There’s literally no reason killing unborn babies should be allowed,” he said. “Life starts at conception no matter what. It’s still a human, even if it’s an embryo.“
But as he and fellow marcher John Paul Angeli explained, it’s important to take a loving approach and show support for mothers who are considering abortion. That happens through maternity homes such as Our Lady’s Inn, and other support organizations, including Birthright and Thrive St. Louis. But it also happens through personal encounters, and treating others with respect.
“This is what we’re called to do as Christians,” John Paul said.
Pilgrims were called to take the pro-life message home with them. At a closing Mass Jan. 19 at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Archbishop Carlson told them that he believed their witness has made a difference.
Reflecting on the Gospel of the wedding feast at Cana, the archbishop called for a new miracle “as we change the water of daily life into the wine of justice and mercy and love.”
Connecting the March for Life and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy was commemorated on a national holiday Jan. 21, Archbishop Carlson said that his example is a reminder that we must uphold the dignity of all human life — born and unborn. He said that what happens in each part of the archdiocese is everybody’s concern, including the breakdown of the family, unemployment and violence in our communities.
“Dr. King did not speak in terms of tolerance,” he said. “His idea was love. For we know that hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
>> Highlights from the March for Life
• “Each of you has a special mission in life, and you are each
called to be a disciple of Christ. In the days and weeks and years
ahead, for as long as you remember this evening, remember that the pope
came to the United States, to the city of St. Louis, to call the young
people of America to Christ, to invite you to follow Him. He came to
challenge you to be the light of the world!” — message of Pope John Paul II, speaking at a youth rally at the Kiel Center in 1999, as shared with Generation Life pilgrims
are pro-life, that’s why we’re here. That means we respect the honor
and dignity of every human person from conception until natural death.
This goes far beyond babies in the womb. This means we reach out to the
poor. This means we reach out to immigrants. This means we reach out to
anyone in need. It means we care for the elderly.” — Liz Miller, youth minister at St. Justin Martyr in Sunset Hills and Generation Life speaker
a fingerprint, love is distinct to each person. “No one can love like
you — no one. No one can receive God’s love the way that you receive
love into your heart. No one else can love God in the way that you
specifically uniquely love Him. And He longs for it. He desires your
love.” — Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life and Generation Life speaker
wanted to come because abortion is wrong. I want to try my best to
explain to people to help change their minds” about abortion. — Maria Heithaus. eighth grader at Sacred Heart in Florissant
testimony from another teen who came home after the March for Life and
researched life issues, “I think that’s what I need to do. Just on life
issues in general, I feel like I could be more educated. Also in my
day-to-day actions, respecting all life from every person you meet, and
knowing that they are a child of God.” — Emma Herr, junior at Cor Jesu Academy
plan on writing an article in my school newspaper about this trip. I
want to communicate my voice on this issue. I feel like as a whole, our
school is Catholic, but those views can sometimes be repressed as people
try to fit in with each other. I feel if it is written out clearly,
then people will communicate what they believe.” — Will Steussie, senior at St. Louis Priory School
always blown away by the number of young people (at the March for
Life). It is always such an encouraging experience. when you’re fighting
this day in and day out, you feel kind of alone. It’s wonderful to be
surrounded by all of these people who are willing to come and witness
for life. My hope is that they take this commitment and that it’s not
just a once a year experience, but they look for ways to incorporate
this into their daily lives, whether it’s in their prayer life, or it’s
witnessing at Planned Parenthood. This needs to be part of our lives.” — Pam Fichter, Missouri Right to Life