“To each one of you Christ says: ‘I am sending you.' Why is he sending you? Because men and women the world over—north, south, east and west—long for true liberation and fulfillment. The poor seek justice and solidarity; the oppressed demand freedom and dignity; the blind cry out for light and truth (cf. Luke 4:18). You are not being sent to proclaim some abstract truth. The Gospel is not a theory or an ideology! The Gospel is life! Your task is to bear witness to this life: the life of God’s adopted sons and daughters. Modern man, whether he knows it or not, urgently needs that life – just as two thousand years ago humanity was in need of Christ’s coming; just as people will always need Jesus Christ until the end of time.”
These words of Pope St. John Paul II to the young people of the Philippines (§14) reflect the goal of each and every March for Life Pilgrimage—that young men and women will see that the Incarnation, life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ has occurred to declare that human life is good news. The whole message of the Gospel declares that human life—even in its brokenness—is worth the love of a Savior. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are” (1 John 3:1). We have a God who draws close to us in our brokenness: he becomes one of us, he adopts us, he makes us his Bride in the Church, in order to free us and help us to live our call as human beings made in his image. What a mystery. What Good News!
The Gospel is a message and mission of hope in a world that is often without meaning, purpose, and protection for the most vulnerable. That is why the primary goal of the March for Life is the personal conversion for the youth and adults who attend. We don’t just need laws changed, we need hearts changed as well. Hearts must be transformed in order to bear witness in every word and deed that life is good. Like our Lord in the Gospel, our every action must be for others, for our brothers and sisters. We have to be deeply rooted in this reality: life is good, good news! Our pilgrimage team prays and works that every young person sees the beauty of the Church and the goodness of this life. These young people are immersed in the beauty of the Church through priests, religious, married couples, and faithful lay people, in order that they may be convinced of the dignity of their own life and the lives of others and then be inspired to live that Gospel.
“What do we want? A culture of life! How do we get it? Prayer and Sacrifice.”
This is the motto that our Baton Rouge group of 9 buses and 450 pilgrims chants each year throughout our pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. It is a vital part of how we prepare our young people to become the pro-life generation, but of course, the pilgrimage itself forms the heart of our March for Life experience. Each year we strive to create a physical and, above all, spiritual journey for young people. When kids sign up, they often think they are going to simply “save babies.” What we want them to discover is that the path to becoming truly pro-life begins in their hearts and leads them to the heart of Jesus Christ and his Church. This path, this journey requires some intentional work of helping young people to see the beauty of God through prayer, liturgy, and Eucharistic Adoration. Additionally, the pilgrimage itself enhances this by allowing students to experience sacrifice, the community of those around them, and reflection on historical events, even tragic ones.
9 buses. 450 teens, adults, and young adults. Over 20 parishes and schools from Baton Rouge, united with hundreds of thousands of other people from across the United States. When we walk the streets of the nation’s capital, we declare this Gospel—we declare this Good News of the sacredness of life. People are often struck by the joy and holiness of our students. This is the power of pilgrimage, the power of a journey without comfort or constant access to technology. In the end, the pilgrims come to see the simple beauty of one another. The simple beauty of being . . . of life. We bring Christ and his saving message with us and we bear him in our body, especially in our prayer and sacrifice. We are blessed to serve our Lord. We are blessed to be entrusted with the Gospel. God is good, life is good, and we give thanks to God for the great good he is doing with the Baton Rouge youth and countless others like them through the March for Life Pilgrimage.
To the youth preparing for the March for Life: open your hearts and minds to see the beauty of life, God, and the church. Have your heart, mind, and hands wide open to receive. They have to be very open, because our world, in so many ways, refuses to see the beauty of life. Have hope. Be willing to stretch yourself and be uncomfortable. Through that discomfort you will be more likely to encounter new friends and God in a new way and find a new family of faith. When it is difficult and uncomfortable, stay open. Do not lean out, lean in.
Featured image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.