Editorial: Our marching shoes

Each year crowds gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on or around Jan. 22 to protest the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion and — so far — has resulted in more than 55 million lives lost.

This January marks the march’s 40th consecutive year, and though Nellie Gray, who founded the event four decades ago, died in 2012, her legacy lives on in the crowds that continue to follow in her footsteps.

That’s the remarkable thing about the March for Life. It protests a Supreme Court ruling that took place when Richard Nixon was president; it attracts scant to nonexistent media coverage from secular outlets; and it takes place in the dead of winter, when participants often need to bundle up for the short walk down Constitution Avenue. Yet attendance and enthusiasm only grows each year — especially among teens and young adults. A new generation, as highlighted in this week’s Respect Life Special Section (Pages 9-16), has taken up the fight for life.

A combined effect of peer prayers, lay witness and clergy leadership results, ideally, in a strong bond of solidarity of mission and discipleship for young people.

Travel might be on buses and sleep might be on gym floors, but the sacrifice, diocesan youth ministers decide, is worth it. Our Sunday Visitor thinks it’s worth it, too, because of two valuable lessons: solidarity and understanding.

Solidarity: For young people, seeing hundreds of thousands of marchers speak out with one voice against abortion offers an unparalleled opportunity to witness the unity and the determination of a pro-life people. Events surrounding the march, such as the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, holy hours, prayer services and Church-based rallies, allow ample opportunities for youths to pray with their Catholic brothers and sisters. For a young person, few things have more of a lasting impact than praying with peers.

The prayer vigil also represents the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ongoing and deep commitment to the culture of life. Its Pro-Life Activities office alone, led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley from Boston, offers a Respect Life Program that begins each October; supports post-abortion healing; is active in conscience protection; and speaks out regularly against contraception, euthanasia, stem-cell research and in vitro fertilization. The combined effect of peer prayers, lay witness and clergy leadership results, ideally, in a strong bond of solidarity of mission and discipleship for young people.

Understanding: A truly effective March for Life is not just a time to carry a sign and protest the loss of innocent lives. The real march experience develops understanding of what it means to build a culture of life. It involves time for prayer and an opportunity to listen to the stories of the men and women who have participated in an abortion. It involves learning empathy and forgiveness. And, upon their return home, it involves spreading this understanding to others in their communities.

In an address marking Respect Life Sunday last October, Cardinal O’Malley said: “We must personally engage others and share the truth about human life. All members of the Church can bring healing to the world by upholding the beauty of human life and God’s unfailing mercy,” especially to “those who have been involved in abortion.”

The true March for Life — the one that continues beyond the D.C. streets — is one that embraces these lessons of solidarity and understanding in order to change the culture from the inside out. Only then can we hang up our marching shoes.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor