This article was written by seminarian Daniel McHale who is of the Class of 2021 and studying for the Diocese of Albany, NY .
Feb. 20, 2019 - As future Catholic priests, the men of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary are called to bear special witness to Christ's love for all people. In the United States today, as recent political events have made evident, no group of people is under greater threat than the preborn. The annual March for Life in Washington, DC, therefore (and this year especially) is a testament to the resilience of the Pro-Life Movement in the face of societal apathy and hostility. Twenty-three PSJS seminarians, along with two alumni, three faculty members, and four Knights of Columbus benefactors attended the January 18 event, leaving by bus from Weston two days earlier. "The Knights of Columbus have been instrumental in sponsoring many opportunities to safeguard human life," noted the Very Reverend Brian Kiely, Rector and President of PSJS, who thanked the Knights for their generosity in providing financial and prayerful support for the trek.
This year's attendees included a healthy mix of March for Life veterans as well as some rookies, noted PSJS Pro-Life Committee Chairman and seminarian Kevin Miller '20, from the Diocese of Scranton. For Miller, the 2019 March for Life was his third trip to the event. Others, including Russ Bergman '22, a seminarian from the Diocese of Albany, were making their first pilgrimage to the event. Fr. Kiely, who accompanied the group to Washington, firmly believes this experience can inform the Christian ministry of the men attending. An "understanding of the connection between serving the Lord through prayer and giving public expression to our beliefs" is key to becoming successful future leaders of parish communities, the Rector noted.
The theme of this year's March was "Unique From Day One," which focused on the scientific evidence supporting the Pro-Life position. As our understanding of DNA has increased alongside improvements in ultrasound technology, it is clear now more than ever that the Church position on life is pro-science. Perhaps no group understands this fact more than young people. The presence of young folks "is the basis for hope for this country and for any profound moral change throughout the world," said Bob Voiland, PSJS seminarian from the Archdiocese of Detroit. "Seeing so many young people speak out for life is itself life-giving to the Church and the whole society." Fr. Kiely, too, remarked on the witness provided by teens and college students. The Youth Rally and Mass at the Verizon Center on Friday morning prior to the March was attended by over 20,000 young Catholics. Their "enthusiasm and prayerful disposition was very impressive," stated the Rector, "it stands out as a beacon of hope for the future."
In addition to the Youth Rally and the March itself, one of the other moving experiences for the men of PSJS was the Thursday night Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. "The Vigil Mass was stunningly beautiful, especially the music," said Russell Bergman. For Kevin Miller, one of the most memorable parts of the life-affirming journey was praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations of the Cross, and Rosary in the side chapels of the Basilica during the Hour of Mercy. PSJS seminarians were joined by "many pilgrims from throughout the country," said Miller, stating that the deeply moving experience "warmed the depths of my soul."
This year's March was held under the shadow of New York State's Reproductive Health Act, which was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on January 22, a mere four days after the March For Life. This legislation, which declares abortion to be a "fundamental right," strips away human rights for the unborn, and allows, under certain circumstances, third trimester abortions up until the moment of birth. A lasting image from the signing of the law in the New York State Capitol Building was the throng of pink-clad supporters cheering and laughing as Cuomo put his signature on paper. "The celebration that surrounded the signing of the law is an even more disconcerting embrace of the culture of death," Bergman exclaimed, noting with especial sadness that this event took part in his own diocese.
However, even in the face a culture opposed to human dignity, the March for Life has generated great optimism for the Pro-Life cause. Despite the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, a law Miller rightfully calls "horrifying," the Scranton seminarian trusts in the words the Blessed Mother spoke to the shepherd children at Fatima: "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph." For Elvin Torres '21, seminarian for the Diocese of Brooklyn, the experience of walking on the National Mall from the Washington Monument to the Supreme Court was one which he felt united him in purpose with the over 200,000 estimated people who marched. "It helped me be a voice for those who don't have a voice," said Torres, a two-time attendee to the annual event.
Ultimately, the March for Life will provide a blueprint for how these future pastors must deal with the delicate issue of abortion: they must do so with the heart of Christ and demonstrate His love and compassion for all its victims. "Prayer," said Fr. Kiely, "is the most effective weapon at our disposal." May we pray that the 2019 March for Life inspires more people to embrace the cause of life.