‘Small’ Gifts Add Up at March for Life

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Coming back to Manhattan from last Friday’s March for Life in Washington, D.C., our bus captain, Sister Mary Margaret Hope, S.V., called for short testimonies of “graces” that her fellow riders experienced at the march. One after another, young pilgrims walked to the front of the bus and spoke into the microphone. All seemed to be younger than 40, some far younger, as were most of those on the full bus. They spoke simply about what they had experienced along Constitution Avenue as they walked with thousands of others to the Supreme Court building, where the annual march ends.

One man, originally from San Antonio and now serving in New York with Lamp Ministry, talked about how much he had learned about pro-life ministry that day, and about how much more he still had to learn. Another, who recently began as a sidewalk counselor outside a local abortion clinic, gave a good account of his work and extended a clear invitation for others to join him if they felt the call. Two sisters, one after the other, also shared their perspectives about what they had seen and heard. Earlier, another young woman came forward at the urging of one of the Sisters of Life to lead a song in Spanish, with many joining her.

It was that type of day, with all sharing their gifts. No one was seeking to proclaim their own greatness, and yet their contributions added up to a rich collection.

Looking over my notes for this piece, I began with the well-attended Mass Cardinal Dolan celebrated for New York pilgrims and others at St. Patrick’s Church, just a couple blocks from the march route. The cardinal’s cogent homily focused on smallness, specifically gifts that can spring from tiny things.

 

He spoke first about the birth of the baby Jesus. “He is the center of time, the center of creation, the center of the universe—the way, the truth and the life,” the cardinal said.

Then he described David, who appeared in the reading from Samuel at the Mass. Young, plain and simple, David was the smallest son of a shepherd. He grew up to become a warrior and a king and famously defeated the giant Goliath.

St. Agnes, whose feast day was celebrated that day, Jan. 21, was just a girl, fragile and tiny of stature who refused to renounce her Christian faith and was martyred.

The cardinal’s final example was the tiny baby in the womb, whom some consider to be “insignificant,” a blob of cells, an object to be tossed away.

“We consider the baby in the womb, tiny though he or she may be, a child of God, a human person made in God’s image and likeness, worthy of dignity and respect, guaranteed the full protection of law,” the cardinal said.

Though today’s Goliaths may win a few battles, Jesus and His army of “small” followers “have won the war.”

“This morning we are on the side of the victor,” the cardinal said.

Near the end of Mass, Sister Virginia Joy, S.V., director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office, recited the Prayer for the Supreme Court. A campaign for prayer and fasting will lead to the anticipated Supreme Court decision in June in Dobbs v. Jackson, which could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 law legalizing abortion across the United States.

Since the annual march coincides with the anniversary of the decision, many of the speeches at the opening rally and signs along the route supported the law’s repeal. “We Are the Post-Roe Generation” read one.

Although the recent Covid-19 surge due to the omicron variant kept down the number of marchers, their enthusiasm was palpable.

A total of 38 parishioners from St. Joseph’s in Yonkers and St. Athanasius in the Bronx traveled together by bus. Jesusita Rivera, the coordinator of the pro-life group at St. Joseph’s, said combining forces made the trip possible. “For me, being here is important. We’re close to overturning Roe v. Wade,” said Ms. Rivera, who first marched in 1999.

The parishes have worked together on other programs, beginning with a pro-life youth retreat several years ago, said Glenny Coats, who led that initiative.

A large group of seminarians from St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, and Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, Queens, took part in the cardinal’s Mass. Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, the rector of St. Joseph’s, Father William Cleary, the vice rector, and other seminary faculty members also were present.

Livinus Adag, a first-year theology student at St. Joseph’s, marched for the second time. He cited a verse from the first chapter of Jeremiah featured frequently on signs held aloft at the march: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart.”

The verse’s message is that each human being “has a mission in the world,” said Adag, whose home parish is St. Ann in Yonkers.

Father Richard Gill, pastor of St. Lawrence O’Toole parish in Brewster, led a group of 37 that left the Putnam parish at 3:30 a.m. 

The pending Supreme Court decision made marching even more important this year, said Father Gill, who cautioned that even with a victory “we’re a long way from changing the law in New York.”

Following the Mass at St. Patrick’s, I spoke with Jeanne Travis, who had sat down next to me. A parishioner of St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village, she was attending the March for Life for the first time. She had begun participating in the peaceful, prayerful 40 Days for Life witness at abortion clinics in 2018, and has been “building momentum until now,” she said.

“God wrote a line in the sand in my life,” she said. “The choice is pretty easy for me now.”

Ms. Travis said she felt “very blessed and honored” to be at the March for Life with so many others from the pro-life movement in the archdiocese and across the county.

“Events like this bring groups together,” she said.

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