Thirty-four Years Marching for Life
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I boarded the bus for my first-ever March for Life in January 1990. I had recently come back to the Catholic Church, in large part because of a newly ordained priest assigned to my parish, St. Charles on Staten Island, who helped me discover my passion for pro-life activism.
Next week I'll board a plane in Orlando, bound for D.C. and the March. In between that first bus ride and now, I have never missed a March for Life in 34 years. Not even the year I was on crutches with two sprained ankles. Not even in 2021, when much of the world remained locked down for Covid 19 and just 100 pro-life leaders were invited to keep the March alive.
Those bus years were fun, if exhausting. I arrived at the church at 5:30 a.m. for Mass at 6. We boarded the bus by 6:30 a.m. and didn't arrive back at the parish until 10 p.m. Long days, but New York City is far from a pro-life town so it was energizing and exciting to be with so many like-minded people, all marching through the streets of the nation's capital to save babies.
In 1993, my parish priest, then-Fr. Frank Pavone, had become the national director of Priests for Life, and I was heavily involved as a volunteer those early years. When I attended the March in 1994, it was the first time I would be staying overnight and able to take part in the all the related activities.
But there was one major hurdle to overcome: DC was covered in a thick coat of ice.
The first event was a meet-up outside the White House, where Catholic pro-life leaders prayed a rosary for the conversion of the pro-abortion heart of then-President Bill Clinton. Among those praying was legendary pro-life activist Joan Andrews Bell. That day, she was kneeling on the ice, lost in fervent prayer. Today she is in prison, facing a long sentence for the crime of trying to save the unborn.
The next day was the March for Life Convention at the Hyatt Regency in D.C. If there ever was an example of being in the right place at the right time, this was it. I had not yet met Nellie Gray, the legendary founder of the March for Life, but of course I knew her by sight. At the Hyatt, I saw her holding her trademark yellow legal pad and overheard her say she had forgotten to arrange for a priest to open the convention in prayer.
I went over to her and told I was there with a priest, and she asked if he would be willing to do it on such short notice. I didn't even have to ask him. Of course he would do it!
That night was the Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, an event that annually fills every inch of the sprawling facility. Because of the ice storm, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to cancel the Mass, but buses from all over the country were already arriving and there was no social media to spread the word. The church was packed.
Fr. Frank was among hundreds of priests concelebrating the Mass, and I, miraculously, found a pew with room to squeeze in. "Welcome to the canceled Vigil Mass," Cardinal O'Connor said from the altar. The applause was deafening.
The next day was the main event, the March for Life itself. Ms. Gray had given us badges to get into the VIP area behind the rally stage, and Fr. Frank was one of the pro-life leaders Ms. Gray introduced. When it came time to march, Priests for Life was in the vanguard. We were in awe. This was a dream come true.
The Rose Dinner that night was a who's who of the pro-life movement, and in typical Fr. Frank style, we stayed until they took the tablecloths off so we could meet everyone.
The atmosphere surrounding the March is different depending on who's in the White House so the cold I felt during the 1994 event wasn't just from the ice. During the Clinton years I first noticed snipers on the roofs of the buildings along Constitution Avenue. Pro-lifers were not welcome in his D.C. but that made it feel like it was very important for us to be there.
When President George W. Bush was elected, even though he didn't attend ďż˝" Donald Trump was the first president to attend in 2020 ďż˝" it felt different, more welcoming.
The March has always had a huge turnout but I give credit to EWTN, the Catholic television network, for growing the crowd. Once the network started broadcasting live from the March, more and more people turned out every year. And it's a good thing EWTN is there year after year because the secular media routinely gives more coverage to pro-abortion protesters at the March, even if their numbers are a fraction of ours.
Since 2004 I have proudly marched with the women and men of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, which I co-founded with Georgette Forney, president of Anglicans for Life. Every year since then, these courageous people give their testimonies about how abortion has harmed them, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The March for Life and its related activities -- including several now hosted by Priests for Life --is exhausting and it can be downright painful, depending on the weather, but it is vital that it continues even now that Roe v. Wade has been consigned to history. It's the least we can do for the babies who died because of that terrible decision and those who continue to be sacrificed at the altar of "my body, my choice."
Janet Morana is the executive director of Priests for Life and the co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. She is the author of Recall Abortion; Shockwaves: Abortion's Wider Circle of Victims and Everything You Need to Know About Abortion -- For Teens.