Tuesday, January 24, 2006

March for Life: Catholica-palooza!

Or at least that's how it seemed, after this, my first time ever, at the national March for Life, which is held on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, now going thirty-three years strong. While other groups were present (I saw banners for Anglicans for Life and Orthodox Christians for Life. I was told that there were other Christians, Jews and even this organization, that participate), this is easily the largest gathering of Catholics in the United States. Becassocked priests and seminarians, the occasional prelate, nuns galore, all kinds of habits, and Catholics of every shape and size and stripe, from all over the country. That, in of itself, is quite invigorating.

The day started early -- we left Leesburg, VA around 6:15 am and drove to the house of the parents of one of our students in Sterling, VA, who had, with great love and generosity, put together a huge (and delicious) breakfast for the whole group! "Our contribution to the cause." Not only that, but we all got water and sandwiches to take along as well.

Driving into DC is never fun, especially at rush-hour (that's VA-7 at about 7:50 am).
At 8:30 am or so we park the vans at West Falls Church metro and take the Orange line into the district, a quick change at Metro Center and we join the hordes streaming out to the MCI Center at the Gallery Pl-Chinatown metro, for the Rally and Mass organized by the Archdiocese of Washington. The 20,000 seat building was jammed to capacity, and we managed to find a few seats in the upper stratosphere.

The Mass was awesome -- decent praise & worship music (yes I enjoy that too) with Steve Angrisano and a great gospel choir, presided over by the Archbishop of Washington, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick. (Here's Rocco's description of last year's "Giganta-Mass" as he so delightfully calls it. And here he's being his catty self. :)) The floor of the arena was filled with black-clad seminarians and men and women religious in a variety of habits (or lack thereof). It's always inspiring in such gatherings as the clergy processes in, a long line of presbyters (who sat in the side-sections blocked off in the picture above) followed by the mighty mitred ones.

As Mass started Cardinal Mccarrick welcomed each of the bishops present, with the people from his diocese cheering raucously as his name was called out. The largest applause went for the Archbishop of New Orleans, a small sign of solidarity with all those whose lives were turned upside down in last year's hurricane season. The Cardinal also introduced the outgoing chairman of the Bishops' Pro-Life Office, Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore (nice round of applause), and the incoming chairman, Cardinal Rigali of Philadephia (thunderous applause, obviously an indication of the nature of this particular Catholic congregation :-)).

The homily was great, frequently punctuated by applause. The Vocations Director of the Diocese of Albany (if I recall correctly) focused, seemingly incongruously, on choice. God gives us the freedom to choose. We must choose wisely, properly, morally. Choose life! He touched on all the aspects of what it means to be pro-life -- helping all those who are hurting and in need, opposing the culture of death in all its manifestations, including ESCR, capital punishment, cloning etc.

I was amazed at how efficiently the distribution of communion was organized for such a vast gathering. Despite the somewhat annoying teenagers around us (some of whom simply wouldn't shut up!), it was quite a prayerful experience.

In his thank-you remarks, Cardinal McCarrick asked for a special thank you to all seminarians and novices present (thunderous applause, of course!) and asked all those thinking about religious life (women and men) and the priesthood to stand and be recognized. I have to say, however hokey this might seem to some, this kind of public affirmation by the Body of Christ for young women and men contemplating a rather counter-cultural path is tremendously helpful. Of course, given the generally conservative nature of the congreagation, the strong support is hardly surprising. This is the constituency, it seems, that is doing best with letting women and men hear a call to the ministerial priesthood and religious life, after all.

I wish, however, that the Cardinal had also asked all those living out the vocation of marriage to stand up. After all, most of them made a huge choice at some point -- they chose life for their children, when 47 million others have been denied that.

After Mass, we were herded down 7th street towards the Mall, at a relatively rapid pace. We prayed the rosary as we walked down the streets of the nations' capital. Several groups broke into various slogans and chants. The atmosphere was light and festive.

There's the campus ministry group from SC (yours truly is behind the camera :)).

Of course, a gathering like this attracts the fringe of the right-wing. There were lots of traditionalist groups -- in black birettas, carrying statues of Mary, chanting in Latin. In fact statues of Our Lady proliferated. One even sported a poncho, protection against the elements. There were the expected encomiums to the President ("Michigan loves our pro-life President"), a sentiment that I most definitely don't share (yes, I admit that he's been good on ESCR among a few other pro-life causes). The group in the picture, Tradition, Family, Prosperity, had large red and gold banners, with a rampant heraldic lion, reminscent of English nobility emblazoned on it, and a small army of volunteers handing out pamphlets on the sorry state of the moral fibre of the nation. Don't get me wrong, I probably wouldn't disagree overall (ever mindful of Blessed John XXIII's words about the prophets of doom). But I didn't quite appreciate the implication that the reason why we have so many immigrants is that we're aborting our future generations. Yes, overturn Roe v. Wade (like that will alone end abortion overnight, or reduce the demand for abortions) and the Mexicans will stop dying to come to el norte, and our demographic future will be secure. Somehow, I had a sense that Tradition, Family and Prosperity wasn't doing their part to welcome immigrants to our shores as the Bishops and the Holy Father keep telling us we should be. Anyway, I pereceived this as being rather minor part of the event.

The other "fringe" was also present, much to my delight (since, if I had to, that's how I'd probably describe my political leanings. Though I don't know really).

The march to the Supreme Court itself was a little disappointing. We spent about two hours in the miserably freezing cold and rain on the Mall, doing nothing. Groups milled about. The occasional chant or song was attempted, in defiance of the grey, gloomy weather. The rally and stage were too far away, completely inaudible. Finally, around 2 pm, the crowd surged up Constitution Ave. to the Hill.

At the Supreme Court, things got a little slow. Groups walked up to the Court, then turned around so there was traffic going every which way. On the last section, up to the Court, we said another rosary, then slowly inched our way off the Hill to Union Station, to catch the metro back out to West Falls Church. Since the rally is held earlier, on the Mall, there's no speeches at the Court. It feels a little anticlimactic, and I think they were trying out different logistics this year, so it felt somewhat disorganized.

Anyway, for future events (and I will, of course, be in DC next year), a little bit of advance planning, researching blogs and so on, might definitely help. I'd had no time this year at all.

We left the station parking lot at 5:00 p.m. precisely, dreading rush hour. Thank goodness for the HOV-3 lanes, which zoomed us past all the bottlenecks on I-95S! After an exhaustingly long drive, we got back to SC at 1:15 a.m.

Despite the hectic nature of things, I'm glad I went. For one, it was neat the number of young people there -- high-schoolers, college students, all with a huge love for the faith that was so palpable. As Cardinal McCarrick reminded us, this was what the Holy Father had said in his inaugural Mass when being installed as Supreme Pontiff, "The Church is alive! The Church is young!"

It really is an awesome feeling being part of such a large group, so visibly joyous, prayerful, loving, and proclaiming an uncomfortable truth. Yes, loudly, maybe too rancorously at times. But a truth that absoulutely needs to be heard. That every human life is precious, especially the one that is most vulnerable. That one does not have to choose between being "pro-woman" and "pro-life."

What stuck with me all day, however, was those powerful, radical words of Our Lord from the Sermon on the Mount, that were the Gospel reading from Mass in the morning. Words that make us squirm uncomfortably. Because they obviously cannot mean what they say, you know, literally. They have such an immediate power, that our minds and our hearts want to soften the blow with hermeneutical cushions.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
[Check out all the links and stories at After Abortion on the March. MSM has been predictably lame. Also check out Pro Life Blogs. Oh, read Amy Welborn's rejoinder to Will Saletan's piece in the Slate. Also this.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Based upon your posting, it appears that you and your party had a memorable experience. I will agree that the rush hour traffic into NOVA and Washington DC is a challenge. I do not miss the stressful traffic in the slightest.

In addition, I can relate to comments of standing out in the Mall’s freezing temperatures for hours doing nothing. The cold and monotony is mind numbing. I regret to say it was not for a religious or political cause – instead it was for last minute artistic expeditions.

Pleased to know you have safely returned.