Strengthened by the Body and Blood of Christ, bolstered by prayer and armored with objective truth, 270 people from the Jefferson City diocese embarked on a 1,000-mile “little pilgrimage” to the nation’s capital.
They boarded five buses bound for the National Mass and Prayer Vigil for Life and the 46th annual March for Life.
Both events mark the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions that legalized abortion-on-demand throughout the United States.
Since then, an estimated 60 million abortions have taken place in this country.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight assured the pilgrims that they would be held in prayer back home throughout their journey.
“I want you to know how proud I am of each and every one of you who is committed to going to Washington, D.C., to give public witness, which is so important,” he told the pilgrims, many of them teens and young adults, at a Mass in the Cathedral of St. Joseph before their departure.
He urged them not to pay attention to the ugly attitudes they might encounter in the media or on the streets of Washington.
“You have a very beautiful faith,” he said. “You have a great opportunity to show the beauty of what we know and believe about the dignity and sanctity of every human life.”
“Continue to carry that beautiful disposition of grace with you,” he said.
The pilgrims wore charcoal-gray sweatshirts adorned with an outline of a pre-born baby incorporated into a heart-monitor reading, along with the words, “Respect Life” and “Keep the Beat.”
Bishop McKnight emphasized that the pilgrims were not going to Washington to hurt anyone or try to take anyone’s rights away.
“You’ll be there to represent the beauty of the Church’s faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Don’t let your spirits become discouraged in any way.”
Joining the bishop at the altar were:
Assisting them was Deacon Joseph Braddock, chief financial officer of the diocese, who also assists the pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish.
Fr. Clark said it was appropriate to begin the journey with prayer and worship, “recognizing first and foremost the source of all goodness: Christ Himself.”
Fr. Clark thanked everyone who said yes to standing up for the inviolable dignity of every human being — born and yet-to-be born.
He asked the pilgrims to keep their hearts open to the Holy Spirit working in each of them throughout the pilgrimage, “witnessing to us the dignity of our own life, so that we may truly give praise to the Lord in recognition of the fact each one of us is wonderfully made.”
Source of human worth
Before Mass, the pilgrims spent an hour in prayer and Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Fr. Aubuchon led them in praying a sobering Litany for Life.
At Mass, Bishop McKnight asked God to provide safety for all who were making the pilgrimage, and for all who would see the witness they give — especially young people.
“May their hearts be touched in some way by the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he prayed.
The bishop pointed out that the laws and policies are important, but there’s something more.
“That something is what we call living in the Kingdom of God,” he said. “It is the world as God originally intended it. We suffer whenever we fail to consider the spiritual dimension of who we are as human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, from the moment of our conception in the womb of our mothers.”
Without God’s grace, the bishop noted, it becomes easy to fall prey to worldly delusions.
He emphasized that Christians are always obliged to give special attention, special preference, to the people who are most vulnerable in society.
“From the unborn to the elderly, the refugee or immigrant, those who suffer racism and discrimination, the sick, the suffering, even the working poor and the addicted — faithful disciples of Jesus avoid the mindset of keeping the undesirables far from the Lord or from His Church,” he said.
Jesus showed profound respect for the dignity of all human life, and “that undergirds the Church’s social-justice teaching as expressed in her pro-life, pro-immigrant, pro-worker, pro-everyone stance,” said Bishop McKnight.
God, Who created people in His own image and likeness, is the source of all human dignity.
“He guarantees our dignity and worth,” the bishop stated. “He preserves our life. He even died for us!”
“Killing is not good”
Deacon Thomas Whalen, who assists the pastor of St. Peter parish in Jefferson City, was heading out on his 12th pro-life pilgrimage to Washington.
Three of his grandchildren were making their first such pilgrimage.
His wife, Cele, was staying behind “to cover his holy hours” at church.
Deacon Whalen urged everyone to pray and get involved politically and socially in life issues.
“Abortion is probably the biggest issue in the world,” he said. “The world kills 15 million pre-born children every year — 1 million a year in this country.”
Levi Seifert, an eighth-grader at St. George School in Hermann, said he was making the pilgrimage in order to help get laws changed.
“Abortion is killing babies, and killing is not good,” he said.
“We believe in pro-life and that every life matters,” added St. George eighth-grader Braeden Englert.
Eighth-grader Cecilia Kopp said she was going to march for babies and help show that everybody deserves a life.
She and Braeden asked for prayers for safety and success for the pilgrims.
Their principal, Julie Clingman, assured everyone that there are never any problems on a pilgrimage — “only opportunities for sacrifice.”
“It’s all good!” she said.