WASHINGTON D.C. — At one point, as Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore led the 49th annual March for Life procession flanked by members of the Knights of Columbus and thousands of pro-life advocates he looked around and smiled.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” the clearly-elated Archbishop asked as he walked down Constitution Ave.
The throng of marchers braved sub-freezing temperatures Friday to participate in the 2022 March for Life. It was a triumphant return for the march after last year’s event was forced to go virtual by the pandemic.
By 10:30 a.m., hundreds of people had already set up around the event’s stage on the National Mall. By the time the pre-rally concert began at noon, that number grew to thousands — young and old — rife with chants, apparel, and signs, all advocating for life. People kept arriving until the march itself got underway about an hour later. At that point, the streets of Washington D.C. were packed sidewalk to sidewalk, all the way from the National Mall to the steps of the Supreme Court, where it concluded.
“I love it. I’m amazed. I’m overwhelmed. I feel joy,” Michael Sosa, a parishioner at St. Mark Catholic Church, Brooklyn, told The Tablet. “I feel so encouraged that all of these people are here on the side of life.”
Sosa came down early Friday morning on a bus with 21 others from the diocese. It was his first time attending the march. He said that as a Catholic he’s called “to step up to the plate” and advocate for life, and that’s why he couldn’t “sit on the sidelines” any longer.
The marchers ranged from first-timers like Sosa to veterans like Mike Herrick, who has missed only two events since the first March For Life in 1974. Herrick, a parishioner in the Diocese of Arlington, echoed the words of Archbishop Lori, saying “it’s wonderful” seeing the enthusiasm around the event after all of these years.
Herrick also recognized that this could be the last March for Life with Roe v. Wade intact, as the Supreme Court is poised to potentially overturn the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. Every year, the march is held around the date of the high court’s Roe decision on Jan. 22, 1973.
“There’s a great sense of pride,” Herrick said about the fact that this could be the year Roe is overturned. “I thought about it because they were speaking today about the 40 years in the desert and what it was like to kind of come down here for 40 years. It’s been a long time. I was in my mid-20s then.”
Herrick wasn’t the only one with the looming Roe decision on their mind. It was a frequent talking point throughout the day both from a standpoint of hope and excitement and also in terms of the work that lies ahead.
“It’s not just about the law,” Valerie Berry told The Tablet. “We care about those women and those babies in vulnerable situations, and until there’s good care for them and even when there is good care, they will continue to need a voice.”
Berry is a part of A Moment of Hope Ministry in South Carolina — a sidewalk counseling organization. She noted that the looming Supreme Court decision was part of why her group of 25 decided it was important to be present this year. It was a way to say “that this is something that matters to the people of the United States.”
Ryan Best, a Teens for Life sponsor at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, called the prospects of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade “a dream.” He attended the march with 71 students and eight teachers from the school.
“We talked about it this morning, with the kids, that there’s a chance this could be the last national march,” Best told The Tablet. “If that were to happen, I would think that we would need to mobilize at the state level.”
Mary Vigilante, a parishioner of St. Stephen of Hungary Catholic Church in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., said that changing the law is only a piece of the solution and that “changing hearts and minds” is just as important.
“To change hearts and minds that really has to happen at the local level person to person, soul to soul,” Vigilante, who organized a bus of 110 parishioners from the Allentown diocese that traveled to the march. “It’s understanding that relationships matter, and it’s through relationships that conversion occurs.”
The concept of changing hearts and minds was the subject of a reflection given by Bishop Robert Brennen of Brooklyn at a Holy Hour he led at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Thursday Jan. 20, ahead of the march.
Afterward, Bishop Brennan described to The Tablet that something deeper needs to happen, beyond any legislative changes. It includes advocating at the grassroots level, he said, but it is also important for people in the pro-life movement to practice what they preach and be there for pregnant women and families.
“One of the reasons we object to the laws of abortion is we say it’s not necessary,” Bishop Brennan said. “Well, now we have to live that. We have to step up all of those efforts and really walk with women in terms of pregnancy, and in the early child years and help people to get on their feet and really have dignified family life.”
An hour before the Holy Hour, Archbishop Lori, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities led the 2022 National Prayer Vigil for Life opening Mass at the Basilica. There, he too spoke of the need to “redouble our efforts to accompany women and families who are facing unexpected pregnancies.”
Thousands attended the Mass. Afterward, Archbishop Lori, who estimates he’s attended at least 40 of the marches, touted the fact that even in the face of a pandemic, pro-life advocates will safely come together for life.
“We’ve had sleet. We’ve had snow. We’ve had freezing rain. We’ve had frigid temperatures, and people kept coming,” Archbishop Lori told The Tablet. Now we see not even a pandemic is able to rob this movement of its vitality.”