Alyssa Donehue did a quick 360 as the dome of the U.S. Capitol came into view.
There were people as far as she could see.
“There’s a lot of love out here,” said Alyssa, an eighth-grader at Immaculate Conception School in Jefferson City.
This was her first time attending the national March for Life in Washington, D.C.
She doubts it will be her last.
“We’re here to protest legalized abortion,” she said. “I like how people are doing it out of love and everyone is so supportive and doing it together.”
Moving with the crowd, reading the signs and talking to people gave her insights that she hopes will motivate her for the rest of her life.
“Together, we can stand up and show people what life is,” she said.
She already prays every morning for unborn babies and their mothers. She hopes also to be able to give prayerful witness outside an abortion clinic and show people that “it’s a baby we’re talking about, and that baby can have an amazing future.”
Adopted with her brother when she was 7, Alyssa believes adoption is the best answer for mothers who cannot take care of their babies.
“They can wind up with a loving family like we did,” she said.
She knows she’ll eventually know someone — maybe a friend, classmate or coworker — who is pregnant and scared.
“I’ll tell her, ‘I’m going to be here with you. You’re going to have this baby,’” she said, “and then really be there for her and help her stay strong.”
She is grateful to God for letting her attend the march, “to show that this is something real, this is something that needs to end.”
“And I thank Him for letting my biological parents give me life and put me up for adoption and let me have this life that I get to enjoy,” she said.
Immaculate Conception eighth-grader Grace Salter talked about hundreds of thousands of strangers coming together to stand up for truth and life.
“I want my voice to be heard about abortion,” she said. “It’s wrong and it shouldn’t be legal.
She said the countless people were connecting on one big thing they all want to see stopped.
“I find it really empowering that we can all come together here and become one big family united for life,” she said.
She plans to join in the chorus of voices at the Midwest March for Life on Feb. 2 in Jefferson City.
She’s also thinking about volunteering at a pregnancy help center or some other organization that helps women who are pregnant and don’t know what to do.
Surrounded by a great throng, I.C. eighth-grader Joshua Klebba said he had never seen so much unity and agreement among so many people.
“Every single human is designed by God, so they should all have a choice,” he said.
He heard a quote from President Ronald Reagan, that made him think: “I’ve noticed that everyone who is in favor of abortion has already been born.”
“It’s a beautiful day! The weather is perfect! It makes it easy to march,” stated Kris Hartman, diocesan activities coordinator.
This was her first March for Life.
“It’s amazing!” she said. “I’ve never seen so many people, ever.”
She was especially impressed by the turnout of young people.
“It’s very heartwarming,” she said.
To anyone who might tell her to mind her own business on abortion, she would say, “This is everybody’s business.”
“Because we’re all the human race,” she said. “We have to all stand together for what we believe in, for what is right.”
Earlier that day, Maria Galbraith, a Missouri University of Science and Technology student in Rolla who grew up in Jefferson City, addressed about 300 pilgrims from the diocese at a rally at St. Anthony School, where the pilgrims were staying.
“What you do matters!” she said. “You don’t have to spend hours and hours in prayer outside abortion clinics. You don’t have to work full-time in the pro-life movement, but everyone can do something.”
She told her fellow pilgrims, many of whom were on their first march, that their physical presence is a witness to people who agree with them and to those who don’t.
They were all bearers of “the message that each life matters, that our dignity is rooted in our identity as adopted sons and daughters of God and that nothing — not our stage in life, or disabilities, or past — can change that,” she said.
She said wonders can occur when people step out of their comfort zones and allow themselves to be moved by God’s grace.
“Don’t doubt your ability to change your community because of your limitations,” she said, “because fortunately for you and me, the One Who’s working through us has none.”
Miss Galbraith said being Catholic obliges people to fight on behalf of those who are most vulnerable.
It’s also essential to become aware of the evil of sin and degradation of contemporary American culture that allows legal abortion to continue.
“We must realize that abortion will never end on a national and political level unless we work to eradicate the culture of death in our own communities,” she said. “And the only way we will end the culture of death is through love.”
She urged her fellow pilgrims not to shy away from people who disagree with them, even if they’re disagreeable. Rather, engage them respectfully, listen to what they say, and pray for them, she said.
“If we desire to fight the culture of death, we must refuse to isolate ourselves and to let others do the same,” she said.
Journey to an encounter
Monsignor Gregory L. Higley, pastor of St. George parish in Hermann and Church of the Risen Savior parish in Rhineland, said the trip to Washington was a true pilgrimage — a journey with others to encounter God.
“It is not an easy journey, but it is a rewarding one,” he wrote to his parishioners. “Our eyes are opened up to the incredible support we all have in our cause to protect babies in the womb.
He predicted that everyone who made the journey will spend some unexpected quiet time revisiting their experiences of Washington, D.C.
“And when those times surface, we know God is still speaking to us after we have come home from the journey,” he wrote.
Before leaving for Washington from Jefferson City, the people joined Bishop W. Shawn McKnight for Mass in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
“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.
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 disposition of grace with you,” he said.
He emphasized that the pilgrims were not going to Washington to hurt anyone or to 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.”
God is pro-everyone
Father Paul Clark, diocesan moderator for pro-life ministry, 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.”
The bishop noted that throughout His earthly ministry, 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.”
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!”