Life miles: riding the bus, walking in the rain


Photo by Peter G. Sánchez


Sixty youth and adults from Our Lady of Peace, Williamstown, and Infant Jesus, Woodbury Heights, braved the rain and cold to take part in the 39th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Jan. 23. Above, they pose for a photo upon their arrival in Washington.

Monday, Jan. 23, I traveled with youth and adults from Our Lady of Peace Parish, Williamstown, and Infant Jesus Parish, Woodbury Heights, to Washington, D.C. for the youth rally at D.C. Armory, and the March for Life from the National Mall to Capitol Hill. The day marked the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the United States.

Jan. 23, 4 a.m.: Arrive at the parking lot at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown, and hop on the bus that will take us to D.C. I am greeted by Kari Janisse, Our Lady of Peace youth minister, energetic in the pre-dawn hour. She and 36 others, comprising grade school and high school youth and adult chaperones, will all be making the trip with me.The bus peels out of the cold, wet parking to Infant Jesus Parish.

4:30 a.m.: We arrive at Infant Jesus, to pick up youth minister Jess Fahy, youth and chaperones, and parish parochial vicar, Father James King. The bus is full now, with 60 people. “I’m glad that I can be here with the youth (from the two parishes), to stand up for life, and to remind ourselves of what’s most important,” Father King tells me. We are full speed ahead to D.C.

7 a.m.: With most of the bus now awake, Pop Tarts, cookies, Capri-Sun drinks and water are passed around. Janisse leads all in Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be prayers. The line for the bathroom at the back of the bus gets longer.

8:30 a.m.: Our bus pulls up next to many others in a parking lot outside the D.C. Armory, one of two sites for the pre-march youth rally. No rain yet, just cold temperatures.

“It’s important to believe in this,” says Andrew Mattioli, 16, a junior at Paul VI High School, Haddon Township.

“The (march) is something (the youth) want to do, to make a stand for life, for the country,” Dan Palmieri, part-time youth minister at Our Lady of Peace, says.

9-11 a.m.: After being checked by security, we are allowed into the D.C. Armory, jam-packed full of thousands of youth from Catholic dioceses all around the nation, many wearing colorful T-shirts to identify where they are from.

The 10,000 seat, 71-year old building that is the D.C. Armory is nearly full, and a stage is set up on the back wall, where musician Ike Ndolo is getting youth on their feet, with praise and worship music. Lots of happy smiles.

Sprinkled in between performances, are personal testimonies to life. Brad and Joia Farmer, musicians from Casper, Wyo., speak of their young daughter, Ava, who they adopted from China. Joia calls Ava’s birth mother a hero for not aborting her and letting her live to find a loving family. Just before Mass, Brad leads everyone in the rosary.

11 a.m.: Clergy process onto the stage for Mass. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston will be the principal celebrant. The D.C. Armory is linked up with the other site for the youth rally, the nearby Verizon Center, and thus, on stage, we see and hear the Verizon Center’s celebrant for Mass, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, welcome everyone at both locations.

1:30-2:30 p.m.: Mass ends, and our group eats packed lunches in our seats. After refueling, we join the crowds walking to the D.C. Metro. A steady rain has started, and umbrellas and hoods are now up. The crush of youth causes a back-up at the underground train station, and we stand and wait in the cold and rain to descend to the platform.

2:40 p.m.: We get off at the Smithsonian stop and arrive at the National Mall in time to hear the tail-end of the March for Life speakers, with Pastor Luke Robinson, an African Methodist Episcopal leader in Maryland, giving an impassioned speech on life, and calling for President Obama and other Washington leaders to step up and defend life. Thousands standing on the National Mall cheer and chant as the march begins.

2:45-4:15 p.m.: Joining the crowd, I march up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court. John Bevilacqua, Elsie Albone and Jesse Hornblum and I are separated from the rest of the pack. Relying on cell phones, we set up a meeting place to catch the bus home.

“Today is huge,” Albone, 24 years old, tells me. “People (around the world) will see the amount of people who come here, and it shows that there are a lot of youth passionate about this cause who will come out to show support for life, even when it’s raining.”

In the steady drizzle and cold, we see marchers holding signs such as “Face It, Abortion Kills,” and “I Am The Pro-Life Generation.” The more spirited of the ralliers lead chants such as “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Roe v. Wade Has Got To Go,” and “Hey Obama, Yo Mama Said Yes (To Life).” The more solemn walkers lead others in the rosary or Hail Mary prayers.

4:15 p.m.: Meeting with the rest of the group, we wait for the bus to pick us up.

“The trip was life-changing,” says Infant Jesus youth Gabby Popolo, 13.

Another youth told me how happy she was, that her mother chose to give life to her. Doctors had told her mother that her baby would have complications if born, and that she should have an abortion. “My mom told the doctors that wasn’t an option,” she told me.

4:45 p.m.: We board the bus home, after eight-and-a-half hours of rallying and marching. We arrive back in Williamstown around 8:30 p.m.

“I’m so happy for the kids, that they could be around hundreds of thousands of others who are proud to be Catholic,” says Jess Fahy. “Our youth stood for something that’s so important in our nation today. Really exciting, really great day.”