National News

Diocesan Youth March as ‘Soldiers of Christ’ in Pro-Life Fight

Group members ready to lead the charge: ‘This is really just the beginning’ 

WASHINGTON — Brian Morel’s reason for participating in the 2023 March for Life is simple and likely no different than it would’ve been if the Supreme Court hadn’t overturned Roe v. Wade this past summer: “to defend life in its most innocent form, which is in the womb.” 

The sentiment was a common one from young people who traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to participate in this year’s march. In conversation, they recognized the importance of Roe being overturned and the decades-long efforts of advocates before them, but nonetheless are future-oriented. 

Father Jason Espinal led about 20 young people from the youth ministry of Ss. Peter and Paul-Epiphany Parish in Williamsburg to the March for Life 2023. (Photo: John Lavenburg)

Young people recognize, too, that they’re the future of the pro-life movement. 

“It’s important for the next generation because of a just overall turning of the tide and the way our culture is looking at a lot of these social and political issues and reducing it to something political,” Morel said. 

“Especially with these new ideologies being the vocal majority, a lot of people feel sort of silenced because of how they’re going to be perceived, so it’s important for us to see other young people also believing in this and standing for it and marching for it in person.” 

Morel traveled to the march with the youth ministry of Ss. Peter and Paul-Epiphany Parish in Williamsburg. Led by Father Jason Espinal, about 20 young people from the program made the trip with several dozen others from the diocese. He said “it’s a beautiful thing” to take a trip like this with the group, where the environment enhances their conversations about the sanctity of life, and he isn’t just speaking to them from the altar. 

The parish’s youth ministry program brings together about 20 young people every Friday for an evening Mass, followed by a youth group. Father Espinal said they often have very “blunt” conversations on a number of topics, including issues of life. 

He said that it’s crucial for adults to have these conversations with children to ensure they know the truth, noting that it’s also important because they’re the future of the pro-life movement. 

“They’re truly very important to the cause with this post-Roe decision, especially because this is really just the beginning of the fight,” Father Espinal said. “I know a lot of people think now that this has happened that the battle’s over, but we know Satan works in very subtle ways.” 

“It’s very important for them to give witness to this cause to know that they too are informed,” he added, “that they too are making a decision that is going to respect their life.” 

Like Morel, other young people in the group recognized the importance of the youth movement. 

Veronica De La Cruz said the presence of young people at the march sends the message to lawmakers nationwide — but especially in New York — that no matter the pro-abortion efforts they put forth, there will consistently be people to stand up in opposition. 

“[Our presence shows] that we won’t give up. That we will always come together,” De La Cruz said. “As long as they’re still trying to find ways to end life, we will still be little soldiers of Christ fighting for it.” 

De La Cruz acknowledged, however,  the challenge of engaging young abortion supporters in this social media era. She said she isn’t shy about expressing her religious and pro-life beliefs online and is often criticized for it, but tries not to get into arguments because “that gets you nowhere.” 

“I feel like it’s mainly a matter of praying for people,” she said. “These people need prayers.” 

While the group from Ss. Peter and Paul-Epiphany Parish focused on the future of the pro-life movement in conversation, they also enjoyed the celebratory atmosphere in their area. 

They jumped and danced while participating in chants and waving shirts over their heads and clearly enjoyed the company of people from around the country who shared their same beliefs. 

Catherine Velez, another member of the group, said the atmosphere of the march was an important reminder that many around the country think differently than the vocal majority in New York. 

“It was important for me to come because it’s important for people to know that what they’re being told online isn’t true,” Velez said. “Especially in New York, they kind of make you feel like you’re the only one who views things this way, but there’s a lot more youth and young men and young women that see the value in life and see how evil abortion really is.” 

The reason it’s important to continue pro-life advocacy post-Roe, she added, isn’t just to change laws but to “change peoples’ hearts, too” — a message often shared by the U.S. Bishops.