By Becky Aubut
NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — It will be “The Power of One” as Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C. is filled with people of all ages during this year’s March for Life (www.MarchforLife.org), an annual Pro-Life rally protesting abortion held on or around the anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion on Jan. 22, 1973 in the Roe vs. Wade case.
Founded by Nellie Gray in 1974, this year’s march is marking the 44th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. The first march had roughly 20,000 people in attendance; this year’s estimates put attendance north of 650,000 people. Due to the upcoming presidential inauguration on January 20, this year’s march was pushed to January 27.
Thanks to a robust promotion in the form of a student-created video, Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth has two buses filled with 100 students and chaperones going down to Washington, D.C.
“This year we promoted it a little bit differently,” explained Amanda Tarantelli, campus minister and theology teacher at Bishop Stang. “One of our students, senior Kailee Peixoto, made a promotional video using pictures from previous [trips]. We showed it in all our theology classes. This is the biggest group we have going from Stang in a couple of years.”
Tarantelli credits the uptick in the numbers to the students watching the video, hearing “the upbeat music; it was just a fun video,” she said. “They saw the kids having fun and pictures of the march with the huge crowd, and they were like, ‘I want to try that.’ I teach freshmen, so to get them started early — we actually have a good group of freshmen going. We’re bringing 12 freshmen, which is a good number and hopefully we can build from there.”
Fifteen-year-old freshman Phoenix Jade Carreiro is excited to be participating in her first March for Life, an event she has been looking forward to attending for a while.
“I feel so blessed that I am going to be able to experience this wonderful event of solidarity for life,” said Carreiro. “I’m not sure what exactly I should be expecting, but I hope that it will be an enriching experience for my faith. I’m hoping to meet other youths who share my beliefs and also wish to fight for the protection of all life. Above all I just want to leave the March for Life knowing that I have grown Spiritually and that my minute participation has helped the Pro-Life cause.”
Carreiro offered a few reasons why she wanted to attend: “I wish to go because I want to stand up for my beliefs, and because I believe that it will be a Spiritually-enriching experience. Most importantly, I want to attend the March for Life because it is my duty as a servant of God to carry out His will and defend those who cannot defend themselves.”
Fourteen-year-old Bishop Stang freshman Kaitlynn Peirce said she is open to whatever happens during her first time attending the march: “I am not really looking for anything special to happen. I just want to experience it and see what it’s like. I hope to gain a feeling of pride that I’m doing my part to spread the idea of Pro-Life,” said Peirce. “I have heard upper classmen talk about their experiences at the March for Life, and it sounds like an inspiring experience. I want to participate in this event because of the bond that I will share with the others who are attending. I think it just catches the eye of so many people, and that it helps spread the message better, especially through the participation of younger people.”
Father Ron Floyd, chaplain of St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis, has been attending the March for Life since he was in college, having gone every year except for the five years he spent in Rome. This year the high school’s choir trip to sing at the Vatican at the end of February has curtailed the number of students from St. John Paul II attending the March for Life at the end of January.
“It’s less that what I had hoped for, but [it’s due] to the financial constraints of the kids who are going to Rome,” said Father Floyd. “Many of the students who are going [to Rome] are the same kids who would have thought about going to the March for Life.”
The events held during the march offer students the chance to hear powerful stories from people who had abortions and those who chose not to; concerts filled with Spiritual and uplifting music; speakers talking about chastity, the dignity of human life and vocations; experiencing a youth rally; and celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
“In past years, it’s really, for lack of better words, a mini World Youth Day,” said Father Floyd. “You have that dynamic of pilgrimage where they’re out of school, out of their comfort zone, and they go to a different place and experience hundreds of thousands of people [marching] from all over the country. The March for Life is not uniquely Catholic, but has a very Catholic feel, so you’re there with a lot of people who are bearing witness to the Gospel of life, and doing it in a very joyful way.”
And even though the march is taking place in the heart of the U.S. government, the march is not meant to be a political statement.
“It doesn’t have any political overtones to speak of, that’s not the purpose of the march,” said Father Floyd. “The purpose of the march is to remind ourselves the Good News of the Gospel of life in a joyful way, and all those people from all walks of life who are coming together simply to remind people that every life has dignity.
“It’s really awesome to witness all the priests and seminarians who flock to Washington. Vocationally, I always thought the March for Life was perhaps one of the best vocation events we have, because ultimately being Pro-Life is realizing that God has a plan for each of us.”
Seventeen-year-old senior at St. John Paul II Meghan Powell wanted to go to the March for Life last year, but could not because of the snowstorm happening in Washington. She participated in her first march during her sophomore year, and found out during that trip her aunt passed away.
“It was on that trip that I lost my Aunt Meghan who spent her life battling cystic fibrosis,” recalled Powell. “I was named after her, spent a lot of time with her, and really looked up to her, and losing her was by far the hardest point of my life. Although it was so hard not to be able to say goodbye to her as the rest of my family had while I was away, I truly understood why I was there participating in the march and what I was fighting for. My aunt was blessed to have the opportunity to live. She suffered a lot, but she made the most of every moment. She was the ‘cool’ aunt who hiked mountains, hosted Olympic Game parties, and drove race cars. She never let her disease define who she was.
“There are so many people in this world who are not given the chance to live life because they are defined by a disease or situation. People think that they’d be better off having an abortion or going through physician-assisted suicide so that person never has to suffer. What people don’t know that even through suffering or not the most ideal situation, we can have the most amazing life. I know my aunt would have never traded in her life and wished to have been aborted or have used physician-assisted suicide to get rid of the suffering she endured every day. She loved life.”
Jenna Beatey, an 18-year-old senior at St. John Paul II, will take part in the upcoming March for Life for a second time. She also has attended the Pro-Life Boot Camp put on by the Pro-Life Apostolate of the Fall River Diocese. Attending the march and boot camp has opened her eyes to the Pro-Life movement, and motivated her to continue fighting for the lives of the unborn.
“Promoting the Pro-Life message on a large scale is very important if we want to see change,” said Beatey of the march. “I think that this message is crucial and deserves to be recognized nationally, and having the March for Life in this light is extremely beneficial to the movement. Especially with a new president in office, I hope that this year’s march shows him how important and urgent spreading the Pro-Life message is. I also believe that this is the only time the nation really shines a light on the Pro-Life movement, so having its message on a large scale allows others to learn more about it.”
First-timer Vanessa Townsend, a 16-year-old junior at St. John Paul II, heard from her friends and one of her favorite teachers, Nicole Voci, that she should go. Having a brother who was adopted, but who was supposed to have been aborted yet lived when the abortion wasn’t successful, also spurred her into attending the march.
“A lot of responses I hear [about abortion] is how it depends on the situation and things of that nature,” said Townsend, “but I think that all lives are given from God and wish to be lived in any situation God has put them in. God always has a plan and I think we should listen to Him and not try to mess with it.”
Most of the feedback Tarantelli hears from students after they attend the march is that they realize they are not alone in the Pro-Life fight: “ A lot of them see the overwhelming amount of people there, and recognizing — especially when we go to the youth rally — all the young people who are all there for the same reason. So for them to see all these people in favor of life, that for them has been the most inspirational thing about it. It’s their generation that’s there.
“I think, sometimes, we get caught in the negatives or the accusatory ways of defending life, so this is a great opportunity to recognize the need to constantly pray for an end to abortion, and that it’s a peaceful approach to life. This is what I’ve been trying to get across to the kids lately, that we need to be compassionate. We can’t save babies unless we save mothers. We have to be praying for these women who are in these situations of unplanned pregnancies, that they are a victim too. If we can get our society to help them, help them find a way to continue with the pregnancy, that’s when we’re going to end this fight.”