Hundreds from diocese took part in D.C. March for Life (with video)

Photo Caption: With the U.S. Capitol looming in the background, some in the diocesan contingent show their support for the unborn prior to the march. For more photos, see slideshow.

By: By Jennifer Willems

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One person can make all the difference when it comes to saving an unborn child.

That’s what young people around the Diocese of Peoria discovered in a powerful way when they joined their voices to hundreds of thousands of other voices at the 2011 Rally and March for Life in the nation’s capital on Jan. 24.

Many who traveled to Washington from central Illinois for the annual event — which has been held every January since 1974 as a prayerful protest against the Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion in the United States — said it seemed as if there were not only more people walking this year, but more teens and young adults. And almost everyone came home hopeful that abortion would be abolished.

Glad to see them was Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who celebrated Mass for the nearly 500 young people, chaperones and seminarians from the Diocese of Peoria, Maryland and New York who filled St. Stephen Martyr Church before the march.

“It’s so heartening to be with the youth of our diocese and this army of seminarians,” he said in his greeting before the liturgy. “Every year this does more for me than a 30-day retreat.”

The homilist for the Mass was Father Brian Brownsey, director of priestly vocations for the Diocese of Peoria, who reminded the young people that being part of the Body of Christ “is not a spectator sport.”

“You are here to march for life,” he said. “Allow the grace of this weekend to fill your heart. You are, this weekend, being who you were made to be.”
He urged them to go home and tell people what they had seen and heard.

“People of God, stand up for what is right, what is true and just by standing up for human life,” Father Brownsey said.

Among those who wanted nothing more was Luke Taylor, 18, president of the youth group at St. Mary’s Parish in Canton. This was the second time he has taken part in the March for Life.

“I noticed a lot more young people this year than last year — a lot more of my peers in the crowd,” he told The Catholic Post. “I think it says a lot for our generation, that we’re going to be the go-getters.”

Noting that protection for human life is an issue about which many people will be silent, he said, “It’s nice that my generation will stand up for it.”
“One person can make all the difference. If our youth group hadn’t been there, that would have been 10 or 12 people who weren’t there to make a difference,” Taylor said.

“There are so many people out there who don’t know what to stand for,” said his sister, Allison Taylor, 16, one of the vice presidents of the parish’s youth group and a sophomore at Peoria Notre Dame High School. “It’s nice going out there and knowing that you’re standing for something.”

She added that when she does something, she always hopes it will help someone in the end. In this case, she hoped it would save the life of at least one baby.

Their youth group director, Vernel Oppe, said her teens were amazed at how many people had come great distances to be there.

“One said it was cool to be part of something bigger than yourself. You always hope they see the bigger picture,” she said. “They’re already starting fundraising for next year.”

Making the trip from Washington, Ill., to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life this year were Julie Tarantino and her daughter, Sophia, a senior at Peoria Notre Dame High School. Part of the group that took the bus sponsored by the Diocese of Peoria, this was their first time at the rally and march.

“I was raised with the belief that life is sacred and God given,” said Julie, a pediatric nurse. “We are truly blessed to be living in a country where our freedoms are protected, and yet that most basic freedom is being denied our unborn brothers and sisters.

“We came to this event because we feel a moral obligation to stand up against this injustice,” she explained, adding that it was awe-inspiring to see so many people coming together with the same intention and the same prayer in their heart — that Roe vs. Wade could be overturned.

In her work she sees premature babies who are struggling to breathe and marvels at how precious each of those lives is.

“To think that someone could have taken that life at 26 weeks or younger,” Julie said. “We spend thousands of dollars to save those little lives and yet there are those who can throw that life away,” Julie said.

For Julia Morriss, a senior at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign, the March for Life “is a highlight of my year. Being pro-life is something that helps define who I am.”

She admitted that it can be discouraging to be surrounded by people who are either “pro-choice” or just don’t care either way.

“Being at the March for Life and seeing the thousands gathered gives me heart,” Morriss said. “I have a new heart that laws can be changed soon and that our culture will begin to see that what we have been doing is wrong and move out of the darkness and into the light for a new culture of life.”

Another STM senior, Jamison King, said the March for Life is “a great way to learn and experience what democracy is at its most basic level. Because of the March for Life, I have learned more about what it means to be pro-life as well as what it means to be an American.”

So often the discussion about the right to life gets turned into a cerebral debate about rights of women to their own bodies, said Julie Haronik of St. Mary’s Parish in Moline, who organized a bus trip for 42 teens and 12 adults from Quad Cities schools and parishes.

“It is refreshing to hear students as they come to the conclusion that scientifically and spiritually an unborn child is a unique human being with a soul and an inhere rent right to life,” she told The Post.

Some of the groups from central Illinois visited their legislators while they were in Washington.

Among them were members of Knox County Right to Life and McDonough-Hancock County Right to Life who met with Bobby Schilling, a freshman Republican congressman from Illinois’ 17th District. The Quad Cities group had also made an appointment to see him.

Students from Marquette Academy in Ottawa met with Adam Kinzinger, a freshman Republican congressman from Illinois’ 11th District.

“Of the six rallies and marches that I have attended, the one in 2011 was by far the most uplifting and encouraging,” said Pat Conklin of Corpus Christi Parish in Galesburg. She is a charter member of Knox County Right to Life and president of the Illinois Federation for Right to Life.

During Knox County Right to Life’s visit, she thanked Schilling for signing on to House Resolution 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.
“We have so many freshmen in the House, as well as the newly elected senators who are dedicated to protecting human life,” she said. “I believe that after 38 years of legal abortion, we may be moving toward protecting all human life.”

That’s the hope Father Chris Haake, chaplain at Marquette Academy and pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Earlville has taken to Washington for four years.

“My goal in going is that next year we will go in gratitude to God for a change,” he said.

Marquette sophomore Quinn Crowley, 16, found the march to be touching and discovered a real sense of unity. “It makes you realize how many there are that really care.”

He said “for sure” he would go again and encourage others to go, maybe those who didn’t think it was the coolest thing to do. “If they went, they would see it was very cool.”

In addition to drawing hope from the young people present, Father David Whiteside said he was impressed by the members of Congress who spoke at the rally before the march. He called them “bold” for advancing the pro-life message.

“People need to hear that there are many, many people in our country and in our society that are pro-life,” said the priest, who is pastor at St. Patrick’s Parish in Havana and Immaculate Conception in Manito. “I think people have the impression that a majority of the nation is pro-choice. . . . I don’t think that’s the case.”

He said the people — especially the young people — who show up for the rally and march year after year prove that.

“There is hope,” Father Whiteside said. “There are a lot of people sharing these concerns.”

While it was good for the young people to be seen, it was also good for them to see what was happening, said Deacon Bob Sondag, who is assigned to Immaculate Conception. He was one of the chaperones for the group traveling from the Havana and Manito faith communities.

“It was important for them to understand that this is a big, complex issue,” he said, and this is something they will remember for the rest of their lives.
“I’d do this in a minute again to give them an opportunity to see how big their faith is and for them to have a voice on that march.”

As director of the Chicago Province of the National Council of Catholic Women, Joan Weber of Dunlap was in Washington for a meeting and stayed on for the Mass at St. Stephen Martyr Church and the March for Life. She said she was glad to be part of such a large group that was making a statement that needs to be made.

“There was no way they could ignore that, even though they might want to,” she said of the lawmakers in the various office buildings that the group passed as it walked to the Supreme Court. “It was thrilling to be part of that.”

Jim Surprenant, director of youth ministry at Epiphany Parish in Normal, found himself pondering the civil rights movement of 40 years ago — another group that used peaceful marches to make their message heard.
“They never knew where they would be today,” he told The Post. “Forty years from now, will abortion be gone?”

Dick Conklin, a charter member of Knox County Right to Life, has hope that it will.

“What a difference a year makes,” he said.

While the 2010 event seemed “defensive” as people talked about stopping the erosion of pro-life gains, the 2011 rally and march seemed just the opposite, he said.

“Much of that was probably due to the November election results. We heard from well over 20 pro-life legislators, all confident about actual pro-life legislation they will be proposing and hoping to pass,” Conklin explained.

“This year’s event was more of a trumpet call for the victory charge,” he said, adding that a common call from their representatives was “don’t go home now and be silent. We need you. We need to hear from you all during the year.”

“May we all be encouraged by our younger generation who refuse to accept the murder of unborn children,” said Christine Dennis of Peoria, who is the family concerns and pro-life chair of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, and president of Madonna of the Streets Inc.

“We will continue to march until justice for the most vulnerable is served,” she said. “I’m looking forward with great joy and anticipation to the day we return to Washington, D.C., for our victory march.”

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