Despite snow, diocese’s enthusiastic presence seen at March for Life Chicago

Jacob Hopper, Kevin Ellis, Sam Menacher and Chase Stevens of the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal carry the banner for the Diocese of Peoria during March for Life Chicago on Jan. 13. It says, “Life Plays in Peoria.” (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

CHICAGO — Respect life advocates of all ages proved that it takes more than a snow storm to keep them from standing up for the unborn when they gathered for March for Life Chicago last Sunday.

The enthusiastic rally in Federal Plaza and walk through downtown Chicago proceeded, despite the storm on Jan. 12 that made travel tricky for the people who came from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Among them were 44 pilgrims on two buses sponsored by the Diocese of Peoria.

Sister Ana Pia Cordua, SCTJM, director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, leaves little doubt as to where she stands on the subject of abortion. She led the diocesan pilgrimage to Chicago. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Students from St. Bede Academy in Peru, led by Father Ronald Margherio, OSB, also attended, as did 16 members of the St. Patrick Church of Merna Junior High and High School Youth Ministry in Bloomington, directed by Renee Kresl.

All of them brought their joy, which was returned over and over again by the speakers who told them, “This is how our movement changes hearts and minds.”

“We are marching today and moving forward with this joy, to build a culture of life where all life is valued and women are truly empowered,” said Katie Douglas, a junior who is studying cellular and molecular biology and human nutrition at the University of Illinois. She spoke as a member of weDignify, which seeks to mentor students into being pro-life leaders on campus.

She told the thousands of people around her that she had been pro-choice until seeing a video of what happens during different kinds of abortion. It left her horrified and sobbing.

“We are a part of this movement because it is difficult work that needs to be done, to save lives and heal our culture,” Douglas said. “This is a sacrifice we must accept, a conversation we are unwilling to postpone and a cultural battle we intend to win.”

“WE COUNT ON YOU”

The march in Chicago on Jan. 13 and the one planned for Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C., are designed to commemorate Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal throughout all 50 states. This year’s theme is “Unique from Day One.”

As the Chicago rally began, Cardinal Blase Cupich encouraged everyone present to take up the challenge to defend life and do it boldly.

“When a child’s life is lost, we are all touched by that loss,” said the Chicago prelate. “We are all robbed of the distinctive interests, the skills, the talents these little ones may have been able to contribute in a myriad of ways to our families, communities and world. We are also robbed of a sense of wonder and awe about life in this world.”

Addressing the young people, Cardinal Cupich said, “You give us hope.”

Students from the Newman Centers at Illinois State University and Bradley University regroup after arriving back in Federal Plaza after the march. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“As we know, year after year, as we march into the future there are going to be others who will continue this effort to protect human life,” he told them. “There will be others who will not be daunted by the challenges, who will look for ways to walk with the sick, the defenseless, the vulnerable . . . and make sure that no one is excluded from the human family.

“We count on you,” he said.

The challenge is real in Illinois, which has been targeted for “abortion on demand without apology,” according to Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund and the person who runs the National March for Life in Washington, D.C.

(At press time, many students from Catholic high schools and Newman Centers around the Diocese of Peoria indicated they were planning to attend the Jan. 18 march. The Catholic Post will have a full report at thecatholicpost.com in the days to come and in the Feb. 3 print edition.)

Noting that abortion isn’t “safe, legal and rare” anymore, Mancini noted that more and more women are coming to Illinois to get abortions. The pro-life cause has also “lost some ground” in the recent elections.

“That’s why you all are here, isn’t it? And that’s why we need you,” she said. “Your witness here today is incredibly important. It even makes some people mad.”

Throughout the rally, a counter protest was held on the east side of Dearborn Street by pro-choice advocates, who chanted, banged on drums and held up signs of their own.

“Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up. We need you,” Mancini said. “Our culture and your culture in Illinois need you. The babies, the moms, the dads — they need you.”

“EACH LIFE HAS PURPOSE”

Taking the microphone, Ryan Bomberger of the Radiance Foundation said, “Let me hear from all of you who were not aborted — that includes the people across the street.”

He pointed to one of the signs there that said, “Unleash the fury of women as a mighty force” and emphasized that the mightiest force on earth is love and compassion.

“Each life has purpose,” he said, adding, “If life isn’t a human right, no other rights matter.”

Conceived as the result of rape, Bomberger said his birth mother made the courageous decision to see the pregnancy through. He was “adopted in love” and raised with six brothers and six sisters in a family of 15.

“I’m that 1 percent that is used 100 percent of the time to justify abortion,” he said.

Master of ceremonies Kevin Grillot, originally from the Diocese of Peoria, can be seen on the Jumbotron that made it possible for the large crowd to see the speakers at March for Life Chicago. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

What people caught in difficult circumstances need is someone to speak life and hope to them and help them understand that not only is the unborn child unique from day one, but so are they, Bomberger said.

The master of ceremonies for the rally was Kevin Grillot, who is originally from central Illinois. He is the executive director of weDignify and vice president of March for Life Chicago.

RELYING ON MARY

More than 30 of the pilgrims on the buses sponsored by the Diocese of Peoria were from the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University in Normal or St. Joseph Newman Center at Bradley University. When the march was done and they regrouped in Federal Plaza to wait for the buses, the students enjoyed the music that was still blasting through the speakers and spontaneously started doing “The Catholic Dance.”

On the way back to central Illinois, they reflected on the experience they had just shared.

“When we were cheering, you could see the joy of all of us,” said Allie Welps, a junior at Illinois State University. “When I looked to the right, there were some people who were pro-choice and they just looked so unhappy.”

Those who were marching down the middle of the street formed a “tunnel of light,” she said, thanking the other students “for being the light among the darkness.”

“One of the things that meant a lot to me was not just to see the joy, but that nobody responded with anger,” said Sister Silvia Maria Tarafa, SCTJM, director of the Newman Center in Normal. “We fight with love. That’s our greatest weapon. Instead of becoming a heated battle between two sides . . . everybody just kept walking and smiling.”

Senior Ayla Kibler said it might not feel like they were making a huge impact because they had fun, but encouraged them not to fall into that trap.

St. Bede Academy in Peru was represented at March for Life Chicago by Bradley Benckendorf, Maria Orozco, Lucy Kleczewski, Perla DeLa Torre, and Father Ronald Margherio, OSB. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Feel proud of yourselves and keep smiling because it’s inspiring to a lot of people,” she said of being among the younger members of the pro-life movement.

Senior Sam Johnson said that when she had been praying about the Chicago march in the days leading up to the trip, she was struck by the battle that looms before them.

“The more I’ve been thinking about the battle, the more I’ve been trying to hold on to the promise that Our Lady of Fatima told us, that her heart will triumph,” Johnson shared. “We’ve already won, so it’s just a matter of if we fight or just watch it happen.

“May we all be soldiers,” she said.

TOUCHED MANY LIVES

They had an impact on more people than they knew, according to Rachel Coppola.

Each student was given rosaries to distribute along the way, and Coppola said God placed it on her heart to approach a homeless man and offer one to him. “God loves you. Jesus loves you,” she said.

“He had his head down at first and he looked up at me and said, ‘Thank you so much. God bless you.’ Just the look in his eyes. All glory to God, not me. Jesus touched him in that moment,” Coppola said. “Everyone has mentioned the joy we gave off. How powerful that is.”

Diocesan pilgrims sing “Bombochia,” a Spanish version of “Hip, Hip, Hooray,” during a dinner stop at St. Mary School in Pontiac on their return trip from March for Life Chicago. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

It also had an impact on the older members of the pro-life movement who accompanied them. Jan Emmert of Epiphany Parish in Normal said, “There was a lot of holy joy on the bus,” while fellow parishioner Lynda Arnold said she was amazed at all the young people that attend these events and is heartened by their enthusiasm for the cause.

On the way to March for Life Chicago, the pilgrims from the Diocese of Peoria stopped for Mass at St. Mary of Perpetual Help Church on the city’s South Side and had lunch in the school cafeteria. On the way home, they stopped for dinner at St. Mary School in Pontiac, where they were treated to a spaghetti dinner by Knights of Columbus Council No. 854.

They were greeted by Father David Sabel, pastor, and Father Adam Cesarek, parochial vicar, who sent them on their way with a prayer of blessing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from March for Life Chicago have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.

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