This last Sunday I and some others members of the Catholic Center boarded a bus to Washington, D.C. at 5:00 a.m. to attend the national March for Life.  We joined with one hundred and sixty other people on this trip organized by Chattanoogans for Life.  The March is held every year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion on demand in our nation.  Since that decision fifty million unborn children have been aborted.

This is the ninth March that I have attended.  It is always a whirlwind trip and very tiring.  You ride up, some years you are able to make the Vigil Mass held in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, you sleep on a gym floor, you rise very early the next day to get ready and to get your things packed up and thrown back on the bus, you get to the site of the Rally and Mass and then you go to the Mall for the speeches (standing quite a while in the cold), then the March (which itself takes time to just get started because – I have noticed – the crowd is always much larger than that which is reported by the media and it takes a while to get such a large group moving together.)  After the March you pack into Union Station with thousands of other marchers.  You take a train to your bus and then you are back on the road again.  This year our group was dropped off at the Kingsport exit at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

All of this begs the question; “Why?” – and believe me it is a question I asked myself as I dealt with lack of sleep and a crick in my neck from trying to sleep on a bus.  As I reflected on this question two people came to my mind and I believe that this year I marched for them.

The first is Sophie.  Sophie is four years old and I had the privilege to hold her in my arms the day of her birth.  In many ways I consider her my spiritual grandchild.  I have known Sophie’s dad (Brad) since my first assignment when he was in the youth group.  Brad and Hannah (Sophie’s mom) actually met at a youth retreat and they like to joke that I was a little frustrated with them at the retreat because they were more focused on one another than on the retreat itself.  Go figure…  I was the celebrant at their wedding.  I was there the day Sophie was born and I was the celebrant for her baptism.  Sophie and I go way back. 

Brad, Hannah and Sophie

Whenever I visit their family the first words I hear from Sophie are always, “Fr. Michael, lets go play.”  Obviously, I cannot refuse – Brad and Hannah just smile and roll their eyes – and the next twenty minutes are spent with me usually sitting on the floor playing with dolls or with the latest game.  Of course, Sophie makes the rules.

Sophie is not perfect (she is a typical four year old and she has her moments – as Brad and Hannah will attest) but she brings great joy to my heart.  I find the world a brighter place knowing that she and her family are out there.  The world would not be as bright without her.  I marched for Sophie this year and I marched for all the children who we will never know.

Secondly, I marched for a lady whom I will name “Rachel” and her tragic story.  A while back I got to know Rachel through my ministry.  She was a very accomplished person – successful in her career, well thought of and respected.  Yet, in her heart there was a deep hurt.  Over time Rachel shared with me that she had procured two abortions and how she now truly regretted those decisions.  She had confessed both abortions but the pain remained.  We talked about regret and contrition, mercy and forgiveness and God’s love for her and her two children.  A number of times I encouraged her to attend a “Project Rachel” retreat (a retreat that helps women and men find forgiveness and healing after an abortion).  She never seemed to find the time to attend the retreat but she did find great consolation in the knowledge that God had not forgotten her children.  Rachel committed suicide.  To this day I believe that the pain was just too much for her to bear.  She once told me that one of the great pains of the abortion myth is that you are not even allowed to grieve.  “Its not a person, its just a bunch of cells – so put those thoughts away” was the message she was left with; yet those thoughts would not go away.  Rachel was not even allowed the opportunity to mourn.  I marched for Rachel and I realized that the world is not as bright without her.

I marched for my friends and I will continue to march until we as a nation realize that there is a better way and that where we are now is just not acceptable.