March for Life high school pilgrims from diocese tell of ‘life changing’ experience

The center spread of the Feb. 2 issue of The Catholic Post included photos and brief comments from diocesan Catholic high school pilgrims to the Jan. 24 March for Life in Washington, D.C. Some of the young pro-life pilgrims share their experience in greater detail below.

By plane, metro trains, buses, and some very crowded automobiles, hundreds of pilgrims from the Diocese of Peoria traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in the Jan. 24 March for Life and related events.

Among them were contingents from five Catholic high schools in the diocese — Peoria Notre Dame, Central Catholic in Bloomington, The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign, Marquette Academy in Ottawa, and Schlarman Academy in Danville.

The young pilgrims — accompanied by adults including school chaplains, principals, teachers, and parents — also attended related events such as youth rallies and Masses, and toured sites of Catholic and national interest. In many cases, they drove through the night to reach their destinations.

The Catholic Post invited selected representatives of each high school to share their experience by responding to a series of e-mailed questions. The students were asked why they wanted to go on this year’s trip, to describe their most memorable moment, what challenges they encountered, how the experience deepened their pro-life commitment, and how they would encourage others to go on next year’s march.

Their responses follow, along with submitted pilgrimage photos. We thank the students for their pro-life witness and for taking the time in the hours to respond to our questions.

Erin Earl / Peoria Notre Dame High School

This is my 10th March for Life in Washington D.C., which made this one even more special. I wanted to be part of the 47th annual March for Life because the pro-life cause is getting stronger and stronger. The pro-life movement is so important to me and is the movement that I will work in the rest of my life. This is also my last year in high school and as PND’s co-president of Teens for Life so not going on the March for Life was not an option.

The most memorable moment from this pilgrimage was the fact that President Donald Trump spoke at the rally before the March for Life. I was able to witness history which is something after all these years I have not seen. You would think after going to Washington D.C. so many times and attending the March for Life I would have “seen it all.” However, President Trump really changed that all up. Watching the President walk on stage almost brought tears to my eyes because it showed me that there will be a day that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. President Trump may be the first president to address the March for Life, but I can guarantee you that he will not be the last.

The largest contingent from the Diocese of Peoria came from Peoria Notre Dame High School, which sent 120 students and 30 chaperones to the March for Life.

There are always going to be difficulties when attending the March for Life. On the actual day of the March for Life, we were told not to bring backpacks so it was easier to make our way through security. I know this was tough for our 120 teenage students. This was hard because we all knew we were not going to get to eat much that day anyway but now that we couldn’t have backpacks this made it even tougher. Students in the morning were making PB&J sandwiches at breakfast to stuff in their pockets for when they were hungry later. This was one of the biggest challenges.

Another challenge for students and chaperones is getting sleep on this trip. This is not like PND’s 10-day mission trip to Miami where you get into a routine. This pilgrimage is packed with activities and little sleep. Sleeping on a bus, which is not the easiest, then waking up and going straight to touring the city and then a rally left us not getting back to the hotel until 11 the first night. The pilgrimage is jam-packed with activities which for some can be a challenge. With these types of challenges, I think it is very fitting that we do not get to be comfortable. This pilgrimage is not meant to be comfortable. We are there standing up for the lives of those who are dismembered before they even get to take their first breath. These challenges for our students are a great reminder that we are there those who cannot speak, not ourselves.

This March for Life strengthened my commitment to the pro-life movement. Too often I see those who are pro-life but the only pro-life activity they participate in is the March for Life. This year, in particular, I participated in numerous pro-life events. This March for Life really made me see that yes, this protest is very important; however, so are all of the other activities. Whether it’s participating in 40 Days for Life, lobbying against pro-abortion bills, or going to the opening day for the movie of “Unplanned,” all of those events contribute to bringing awareness to the pain of abortion. This March for Life really made me see this aspect more than ever.

I tell students that this is a peaceful protest that is not for yourself. I am not fighting for my own rights when I go on the March for Life or when I say that I am pro-life. When I go on the March I am doing it because there are 60 million voices that should have been heard but weren’t. I march for life because abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women. I march because I know that I am on the right side of history. This is a march where you feel love and compassion. There is nothing vulgar about the March for Life because everyone who is there is there not for themselves. They are there because what happens behind abortion clinic doors is destructive for both the unborn child and the mother. Students each year they attend become closer and closer to the ending abortion and that is what I would tell students to encourage them to attend the March for Life.

Benedict McGrath / Marquette Academy, Ottawa

I wanted to go to the March for Life because my older brother and my dad had gone before, as well as many of my friends. They all spoke so highly about it. Then, when my Mom brought up the idea that she, one of my younger brother, and I would all go, I thought it would be a great experience for all of us to share.

The group from Marquette Academy in Ottawa is pictured in front of the U.S. Capitol.

It was memorable just being able to experience the whole trip with tens of thousands of other people around me. The youth rally the night before the march was so incredible. Seeing so many of my peers share the same interests and goals was awesome. Then to see five times as many people at the march the day after was unbelievable. Finally to celebrate Mass in the biggest cathedral in all of North America, packed to the brim, was astonishing. The booming of the passionate voices throughout the whole church is something that still plays in my head.

The biggest challenge was definitely the lack of proper sleep. Trying to sleep on a bus is a challenge in the first place, but then having to take what rest you got and go stand in a humongous crowd of people and walk about nine miles in one day was definitely a struggle. This definitely strengthened my thoughts on why we went to D.C. in the first place. A pilgrimage is not a vacation, it is time away from your normal life in order to initiate a transformation of something. In my case, my outlook on life was transformed and how I view others was transformed.

I view this experience as something I needed, but never actually knew until it was over — and I think this could apply to any teenager. You will not leave this experience regretful in any way. You will make new friends, you will strengthen the friendships you may have already had, and you will be filled with purpose.

Youth today are sometimes left feeling that life may not have a purpose, but in reality there is so much everyone should be fighting for! This pilgrimage reminded me of how important life is and that it should be lived to the fullest every single day. I will never forget this experience.

Breanne D’Costa / Central Catholic High School, Bloomington

This was my first time participating in a national march. I chose to go on this trip because the pro-life movement is very important to me. I know that I have a voice in this world and hope to use it to make even a small contribution to these positive efforts.

Just some of the 47 students from Central Catholic are shown in this image from the March for Life.

The most memorable part of this trip for me was during the march itself. Toward the end of the route, there is an incline and when you turn around you can see the thousands of people behind you. It was a really powerful moment for me. I saw all of these very different people, many of them my age, fighting for one common, beautiful goal: life for all.

The day before the march, our bus got a flat tire and we did a lot of extra walking. Due to a problem I have in my foot this caused a lot of pain and it had me worried for the march the next day. I was fine, however, experiencing no pain during the march. I think just being there, walking for something bigger than myself, with all those people, got me past it.

This experience definitely deepened my commitment to being pro-life. I was surrounded by thousands of joyous people working to protect life. This showed me that we are by no means a minority movement and strengthened my resolve to continue believing in it.

I would encourage anyone even considering attending the March for Life to go. 100 percent. It is such a surreal experience that is honestly hard to describe. Thousands and thousands of people marching together to fight for the rights of all people, including the unborn. There is just a real, pure joy that comes from being a part of something so big. If you are ever given an opportunity like this, take it. It is a chance to be a voice for the voiceless, to make a real difference in our world.

Sydney McMahon / The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign

Pilgrims from The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign assemble for a photo on march day.

These days, young people are constantly pressured by the world to deny their pro-life beliefs because “being pro-life means you don’t support woman rights and equality”, and when these people choose to stand up for what they believe is right, the world makes sure they get the hate. To me, that is why it is so encouraging for people from all places to come to the March for Life, because there is no way that you can think you are alone in the fight for life after seeing half a million people all supporting the same cause as you. And the best part is that it is a completely peaceful protest; it is not meant to be a political statement, but instead it is a celebration of the sanctity of all human life, born and unborn. There is just an unexplainable atmosphere of love and kindness, because you and all these other people you don’t know are united as one person against such an awful and violent crime towards the defenseless people in our world. And instead of fighting with hatred and anger, you’re fighting with God on your side. And that is truly something that will always empower you for the rest of your life.

Maddi Cave / Peoria Notre Dame High School

This was actually my third trip to D.C. for the March for Life. I wanted to go because I am a firm believer that, in order to truly be a part of the pro-life movement, I need to go deeper than just having my personal convictions. If I really want to make a difference, I need to be giving my prayer, time, money, and love to the unborn babies, their suffering mothers, and all of the other people who are so deeply wounded by abortion. I feel like the March is a good way to give in all of those ways — specifically, to grow our love for every human person and share it with all of the new people we encounter!

Peoria Notre Dame pilgrims.

These trips always come with their struggles. We always try and stress to our Teens for Life club members how important it is to “offer it up,” but it is much easier said than done! On the way there, we sleep on the bus . . . or at least, we try to! It can be very hard to be cheerful and prayerful when we want to be tired and cranky. I am always so moved though when I see all of the people at the March for Life who are SO cheerful, despite our sleepiness and coldness! Everywhere you look, people are smiling, singing, laughing, and truly encompassing the joy of the pro-life movement!

For anyone who isn’t sure whether or not they want to go on the March for Life next year, I encourage them to go just to witness the power of how many people are there, praying and fighting for the same cause. Sometimes, in our society, it can feel like pro-choice ideals are the majority — that our pro-life opinions are too much of a minority to make any difference. But the March for Life has shown me that this is not even close to true!

Because the media never portrays the large number of people who are passionately working towards the end of abortion, it is easy for us to feel like we are the only ones who care about the pro-life movement. But I really hope that anyone on the fence will come and see for themselves just how much support and love they have from the thousands of pro-life people all around the world!

Abby Goad / The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign

This was actually my third time attending the March for Life in Washington D.C. I wanted to be a part of the 2020 March for Life because it’s something I truly believe in, and being able to be a part of something so meaningful to me and be able to do it with thousands of other people really makes me feel like I am helping make a change. . . . It really gives me hope for our future and I am so proud that I was able to be there and be one of the many people who decided to stand up for what I believe in.

This year our group faced the challenge of not having enough people to go on the march, which meant that we weren’t able to take the trip to Washington D.C. When I heard this news, I was completely heartbroken. The March for Life is something I look forward to every year. I look forward to taking the 12-hour drive to D.C., to be able to walk with thousands of other teens and adults in fighting to save the lives of so many. I began to pray that maybe there would be a chance for something to change, and a few weeks later things turned around. We got an email from Father Pica that said someone heard we were unable to attend and they donated enough money to make it happen.

In addition to taking part in the March for Life, the pilgrims also attended related events. Here the group from The High School of Saint Thomas More poses in front of the EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia, where they joined 5.000 others for a Mass and rally early on the morning of the march.

When I heard this news I was so excited, but we had cancelled the bus. So all 25 of us loaded up into SUVs and made the drive with eight people in each car and all of our luggage. At first, I think we are all skeptical on this plan, but it turned out to be amazing. It was all a part of the pilgrimage. Being stuffed in the SUVs for 12 hours gave us time to talk and get to know each other more, and play games through the walkie talkies with the other cars, which was actually quite fun!

This being my last March for Life with STM made my experience more vulnerable and made me grow in my commitment to pro-life. I had all the support in the world — from all of my other peers, parents, and teachers and staff at STM — and that made it easy for me to become open about my beliefs and being able to stand up for them. When we made it to the National Mall in D.C., which is where the March is held, the site of thousands of people made me speechless.

I am so happy that I got to experience the March for Life and will forever be grateful to my parents, STM, and my fellow peers for allowing me to stand up for something I believe in so strongly. When we made it to the end of the March, I looked at my friends who I had gone with me on these trips for years now and all I could do was smile. I am so glad that STM not only has given me the opportunty, but for also helping find my closest friends who also strongly believe in pro-life. With them by my side I feel like we really made in impact on this movement and I am just so grateful that I could be a part of this change with them.

I would encourage anyone to go and experience the March for Life. Even if you are on the fence about it, just go and I promise you won’t regret it. The environment of the March is something that is so unexplainable. Everyone is there supporting the pro- life movement and there is no negativity. It’s full of prayer, cheers, dancing, laughter, and so much joy. I promise that it something you’ll want to attend. The March for Life has truly changed my life and can change yours, too. Find your voice and never let anyone change it!

Ben Croft / The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign

This was my second time going to the March for Life, and it was spectacular! It is something I wish I’d done in my first two years. It is such an uplifting experience seeing half a million people who, like me, consider all life from conception to natural death to be sacred and worth living. I’ll never forget how happy everyone was. You look on television and see violent protests with tear gas and riot shields, but not this one. This was hundreds of thousands of people celebrating life. A beautiful scene.

Austin Jordan / Central Catholic High School, Bloomington

This was my first March for Life trip. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Since it was my first time, it was really fun to just see all of the memorials and to learn the history of Washington D.C. It is also cool that I was a part of the possible overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

A group photo of the Central Catholic pilgrims.

The most memorable moment on this trip for me was hearing President Trump talk about life. It was a truly incredible moment and a big step for the pro-life movement. We didn’t know that he was going to be there or talk about the issue. A lot of my classmates and I could not wait for this opportunity to witness history.

During the first day we got there, which would be Thursday, our bus had a flat tire. This was a huge challenge for all of us because we were really tired and hungry. But we powered through all the complaining we wanted to do and instead turned it into a great moment. We got to see more of the Air and Space Museum! It was a blessing in disguise to us.

This trip strengthened my pro-life belief and changed my perspective completely. On this trip, I learned more about the Catholic faith and just abortion in general. I can thank my teachers and staff for that. On the bus, we had reflection time. My teacher would give people a microphone so everyone could hear what people had to say about the day. It was also a great way to unwind the day.

The best way I can encourage people to go next year is to say that you get so much more out of it than you think. It is more than a movement. You’re not alone with the march. It is an experience you will never feel unless you go, and it is one you will never forget. This was a big step for me in my life. If you go next year, I hope you get as much out of it as I did!

Liam Underwood / Schlarman Academy, Danville

The group from Schlarman Academy in Danville is pictured on the steps of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

I was amazed to see President Trump there as the first-ever president to attend the March for Life. And to see how many people came together to unite over what we believe in and to see a rightful change and to help the world become better. Not getting down, even though everyone tells them it’s wrong, that it’s a woman’s choice.

I didn’t see any protesters this year. But we didn’t get very far in the march because there were so many people.

I went last year as a freshman. I wanted to go then to see what it was all about. This year, when I really learned all this stuff, I knew that things have to change. There’s no way we can go on with aborting innocent babies that have no say in it. I really feel passionate about it now and I know my monitor does, too. And I have to help fight for what’s right.

I would recommend that if anyone is pro-life, don’t listen to people who tell you it is wrong. Go for it, have fun, and stand up for what you believe in.

Becca Hege / The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign

My first national march was the March for Life two years ago when I went with a group from my high school. I chose to make the pilgrimage again this year because everyone is given the gift of life from God and that should be cherished.

The most memorable part of my trip was the march itself. I acquired such an overwhelming feeling of joy seeing the hundreds of thousands of youth and adults coming together to stand for those unable, wanting to make a difference in the world. Marching with friends and strangers from around the country sharing a common goal to choose life.

I think our only real challenges for this trip was trying accomplish all the activities that we wanted to partake in with a very limited amount of time. That and fitting eight people to a car along with all our luggage!

Some words of encouragement for other students that I would give is, “Be the change. It only takes one person to start a monumental movement that can change the world. The March for Life is a life-changing experience filled with joy, love, and kindness that has changed my life for the better.”


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