Sunday, 03 February 2019 09:00

Witnesses for life

Written by

Diocese well-represented at March for Life

Carrying rosaries and signs and wearing identifiable hoodies, scarves and warm outerwear, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, hundreds of young people, dozens of adults, several seminarians and members of the clergy from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois walked for life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18. The theme of this year’s March for Life was “Unique from Day One: Pro-life is Pro-science.”

Kyle Holtgrave, director of the Office for Youth and Young Adult Ministry, says out of the 15 trips he’s made to the annual march, this year’s peaceful walk seemed very well attended. “There was a ginormous crowd,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and the crowd seemed larger than usual. And this year the temperature was above freezing so it was very tolerable to be outside.”

Holtgrave traveled with four buses that made different stops to pick up and drop off people near their home parishes. “This year we had five priests and two deacons with us. There were also several physicians in our group.” Attending with Holtgrave’s group were Father John Burnette, Father Braden Maher, Father Ron Lorilla, Father George Nellikunnel, SAC, all from the Springfield diocese and Father Jacob Rose from the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. Deacon Mike Hagen and Deacon Patrick O’Toole traveled with that group as well.

Bishop Paprocki met the pilgrims in Washington, D.C., celebrating a Mass for a large number of people, meeting up with various diocesan groups and then taking part in the march.

While in Washington, Holtgrave says his groups met with Congressman Rodney Davis and Congressman Darin LaHood and/or their aides and toured the Capitol Building. On Thursday night, Holtgrave’s group took part in a large and lively rally sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington. Friday morning, they attended the Mass with Bishop Paprocki and then moved on to a huge rally in the National Mall.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, were a surprise addition to the roster of speakers at that rally. “We’re the Pences and we’re pro-life,” the vice president said to the cheering crowd. “We gather here because we stand for life and believe as our founding fathers did that life born and unborn is endowed with certain unalienable rights and the first of those is life.”

After his remarks Pence introduced a videotaped message by President Donald Trump, which was also unexpected. In his message Trump said the pro-life movement is “founded on love and grounded in the nobility and dignity of every human life. I will always defend the first right in our Declaration of Independence, the right to life.”

After the rally the massive crowds began heading up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court. Following the actual walk Holtgrave’s groups drove around to visit various national memorials.

Quincy Notre Dame High School had 25 students and nine chaperones who traveled on their own bus and attended the march, says Erin Stegeman, director of Communications and Marketing for the Quincy Notre Dame Foundation. The group met up with others from the Springfield diocese while in Washington, she said.

QND junior Bella Gengenbacher said, “It was truly amazing to see God working through the hundreds of thousands of people he sent to march for the 60 million people who never got a chance at life.” Her classmate, QND junior Hailey Skinner said, “It was truly an eye-opening experience, to see thousands of people gathered … to stand up for what we believe in.”

Becky Bauerle and Jana Schulenberg were co-directors who traveled with six buses from the southern part of the diocese. “We had 17 parishes represented,” said Bauerle, who has attended at least 30 March for Life pilgrimages. “We had Father Rob Johnson and three seminarians with us: Austin Sudkamp, Michael Trummer and Dominic Vahling. It always great to have these guys on the buses so the youth can really get to know them.”

Bauerle’s 3-year-old grandson went on the March, along with her adult daughter, who has attended 22 marches. “So, the youngest on our trip was just 3 and the oldest was in their 70s,” Bauerle said. “I am so proud of these young and old people who are continuing to be the light for the preborn babies.”

Ayden O’Malley was on the minds of many of the marchers this year. Ayden, who was a student at St. Louis in Nokomis, experienced a brain hemorrhage while on the March for Life trip in 2018. She passed away a few days later at age 14. “Our hoodies represented her, and the Nokomis group carried a banner in honor of her,” Bauerle said. “This year we also presented the first two Ayden O’Malley scholarships for a free pilgrimage and spending money to Elizabeth Guenther from St. Elizabeth in Granite City and Kristen Stauder from St. Louis in Nokomis.”

Bauerle believes the 2019 March for Life was the largest she’s ever seen. “The crowd was very prayerful and upbeat and there was also a lot more police presence,” she said. “It was great to have the bishop with us at the Basilica … and of course he marched with his flock.”

Both Holtgrave and Bauerle said although Friday’s weather was good, the winter storm that hit on Saturday made travel home a little more challenging. “The incoming weather forced my hand and we had to leave early to get out ahead of it,” said Holtgrave.

Bauerle added, “We did have to alter our route home because we didn’t really hit bad weather until we got to Kentucky. But we believe we have the best drivers and bus company. They have been taking us for over 20 years and we are very grateful for all they do to keep us safe.”

Holtgrave says after the march, he always asks the participants, “What were the highs and what were the sighs during this trip?” The answers are varied he says, noting that this year one reply was exceptional: “In the crowd there was a poster held by a teen that featured these words: ‘My father was a rapist. My mother kept me anyway.’”

That very strong message — and the experience of the trip itself, Holtgrave says — will stay with people for a long, long time.

Julie Asher of Catholic News Service contributed to this article.