By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Excitement is building and anticipation is growing among the large contingency of diocesan faithful who will once again be traveling to our nation’s capital this week for the annual March for Life.
“Our faith teaches us that we need to stand in the public square and defend everyone’s right to life, especially the most vulnerable,” said Marian Desrosiers, director of the Pro-Life Apostolate for the Fall River Diocese.
Although she’s been with the Pro-Life office for 22 years, Desrosiers has actually attended the annual march in Washington, D.C. for more than 30 years now, and the event continues to inspire her.
“Many see it as an opportunity to be a witness to life in our nation’s capital,” she recently told The Anchor. “Others want to gather with young people of the same mind from all across this nation who are ready and willing to rebuild a Culture of Life.”
Msgr. Gerard P. O’Connor, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet, will be joining his parishioners for the sixth consecutive year on the pilgrimage to D.C.
“I think it just shows our brothers and sisters that this is still a very important issue in the life of Americans,” Msgr. O’Connor said. “You know, I’m English and growing up it wasn’t an issue that was brought to the forefront either by the Church or politicians. It went on and people didn’t talk about it.
“I was always impressed with the Pro-Life movement in the United States because it really brings this issue out and makes it relevant. In many other countries the horror of abortion is just happening in the background and no one really cares, but in the U.S. it’s very much brought to discussion by the Pro-Life movement.”
Father Jay Mello, parochial administrator of St. Michael and St. Joseph parishes in Fall River, started attending the March for Life when he was still in high school in the mid-1990s and he’s attended every year since.
“The March for Life is like a reunion,” Father Mello told The Anchor. “It is always great running into friends from around the country who come back each year to be part of the Pro-Life movement. I run into friends from college and seminary who are committed to the Gospel of Life and find the annual march to be an event which recommits them to proclaim the dignity of human life and the horrors of abortion.”
While the thought of traveling 10 or more hours on a bus in the middle of winter might not seem enticing, Father Mello said the annual trips are “really a great time and very much a pilgrimage of faith.”
“Even though I hate the cold — and it always seems to be freezing in Washington D.C. every January — it is still the event I look forward to each year,” he added.
Despite finding a wide range of ages among the people who yearly gather on the National Mall, a clear majority of them are younger, school-aged participants — and this year will be no exception for the more than 10 buses that will be traveling from the Fall River Diocese.
“Quite honestly, some want to travel to D.C. to be with their friends and miss a few days of school,” Desrosiers said. “But they come home with a completely different outlook on the value of every human life, the gift of our Church and the gift of faith. I know, because many of our young people journal throughout the pilgrimage and I have the honor of reading many of them after our return trip home.”
Amanda Tarantelli, director of Campus Ministry at Bishop Stang High School and an Anchor columnist, has been on eight previous pilgrimages to the March for Life and this year she will be accompanying 90 students from the North Dartmouth school.
“I think at first for them it’s the excitement of going away to D.C. for three days,” she said. “But when they come back they always feel rejuvenated and even more passionate about the Pro-Life cause.”
Of the 50 people from St. Francis Xavier Parish going to this year’s march, nearly half are youth, according to Msgr. O’Connor.
“It’s very much a youth thing, and they’re always keen to go,” he said. “They love going to the march, they love standing at the rally, and they understand the importance of it.”
In fact, Msgr. O’Connor said the thing that always impresses his parishioners the most is seeing the number of young people at the March for Life.
“The first year we went, a lot of people had never been before, and the comment I heard most was: ‘I’ve never seen so many youth,’” he said. “It was really impressive that so many young people were behind this. It’s still the largest gathering of people that come out for any issue in the United States, I think.”
The March for Life began in Washington, D.C. as a small demonstration and rapidly grew to be the largest Pro-Life event in the world. The peaceful demonstration that has followed on the somber anniversary of Roe v. Wade every year since 1973 is a witness to the truth concerning the greatest human rights violation of our time — legalized abortion on demand.
This year’s pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. will be held January 21-23, with the actual March for Life scheduled to begin at noon on January 22. The buses from the diocese depart in the early morning hours of January 21 and arrive later in the day.
“The evening we arrive the youth will attend Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,” Desrosiers said. “The following morning, the day of the March for Life, we will attend the Verizon Center Mass and Youth Rally.”
Desrosiers described the events as being “inspirational beyond words.”
“To witness so many thousands of young people alive in their faith cheering for our bishops and clergy and so proud to be Catholic, and to see them singing, worshipping and so filled with joy to be celebrating life is just an incredible experience,” she said. “It inspires hope and reminds us of the greatness and goodness of humanity.”
“I think young people value being part of something and being dedicated to a cause and that awakens inside them the desire to discover what our Lord might be asking them to do with their lives,” Father Mello said.
The theme for this year’s March for Life is “Every Life is a Gift,” which Desrosiers said reflects the words of Pope Francis.
“Pope Francis stated in his Day for Life greeting: ‘Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in His Own Image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.’ Each year it becomes more and more critical that our young people encounter individuals who, by their very lives and actions, give witness to the truth that ‘Every Life is a Gift.’”
The March for Life program will begin on the National Mall at 12th Street in Washington, D.C. with a rally at 12 noon on January 22.
The march itself will step off at 1 p.m. and proceed from the National Mall, heading right on Constitution Avenue, right onto First Street NE, and ending in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Participants are then encouraged to visit their Congressmen in the House and Senate office buildings to voice their support for the Culture of Life.
Desrosiers said this is one of the key reasons for organizing the annual march.
“We need to support and give voice to this new Pro-Life generation,” she said. “We need to help them restore and protect all human rights, starting with the foundation leading to all other rights — everyone’s right to life!”