March for Life Youth Event

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

January 26, 2011


Fr. Peter Daly talks about his experience of the youthful March for Life.


            The annual March for Life in Washington, DC, is becoming a youth event. That’s a good thing for the pro-life movement and for the church.

            I wrote about the youthful pro-life movement last year. But it was even clearer this year.

The March for Life wasn’t always a youth event.

I first participated in the March in 1978, when I was a law student at Catholic University. In those days only a handful of students from CUA participated, even though it was only a short subway ride to the National Mall. At age 28, I was one of the younger marchers that year.

            Today the crowd is overwhelmingly young. Many are high school and college students. They come in groups organized by their schools. But most, I guess, are from parish youth groups.

Our parish sent 55 youth to the rally. That was a record number for us. It was a ride on our rickety bus, which broke down on the way home.

It wasn’t easy for our youth to attend because all of them are students in public high schools and colleges. They could get excused, but they still had to do all the homework and make up any tests. The public schools don’t make it easy for them.

            This year the Archdiocese of Washington expanded it’s huge “youth rally and mass” to two locations.

The main location was at the Verizon Center, where the NHL Capitals and the NBA Wizards play. It holds 20,000 people. The other mass was at the DC Armory, which holds 10,000 people. Both were full.  If you watched the evening news in Washington, you would not have known that 30,000 Catholic youth, joined by tens of thousands others, had marched on the National Mall in freezing weather.

The doors opened on the Verizon center rally at 6:30 AM. Everyone was in the stadium by 8 AM, but mass did not start until 10 AM. For two hours there was clapping, singing, dancing and praying. It has the energy of a Pentecostal revival with a Catholic twist. At one point we prayed the rosary. Thousands rosary beads emerged out of pockets and back-packs.

The Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, presided as the host bishop. He was joined by a couple of dozen bishops and hundreds of priests and deacons. The procession took at least 15 minutes to get in the hall. There were also hundreds of seminarians and men and women in consecrated life. All of them young. Cardinal Wuerl asked all those thinking about a religious vocation to stand. Dozens stood to a thunderous ovation.

The biggest cheer of the morning came for a man whose name the youth didn’t even hear. When Cardinal Wuerl introduced the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, he did not even get his name out before the cheering started. They weren’t cheering him personally. All they heard was that he represents  Pope Benedict XVI. The cheering and foot stomping was really saying, “We are proud to be Catholic. We are proud of our church.”

For me the emotional high point was when Cardinal Wuerl recognized us priests. The ovation lasted a couple minutes. After all the scandals and sins of priests reported in the last decade, it was overwhelming to hear this youthful ovation. It gave us hope.

With all those young people lending their enthusiasm the future is really full of that saving hope, as Pope Benedict would say. Hope for the Catholic Church and for generations of youth yet unborn.