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Memories of the 2009 March for Life
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My daughter and I attended the Annual Event in Washington DC.

group at march for life
From left to right: Tim and Mollie Daily with Sarah and Kelly Luttinen.
By Kelly Luttinen

As long as abortion has been a political issue, I have been pro-life.  Even during my slightly liberal college days, I could never understand how anyone could make the choice to abort an unborn child.  I have lived my pro-life beliefs by voting for pro-life candidates, writing articles and letters to the editor on the topic, standing in my hometown Life Chain and even working for a crisis pregnancy center for nearly two years.  But, before 2009, I have never attended the March for Life in Washington DC.
 
You would think I would have wanted to go.  But, you must understand that I am a lover of comfort.  I like my bed and my three-meals-a-day, and traveling quickly over long distances via plane.  Sleeping on overnight bus rides and on cold church floors and going without food for extended periods does not sound appealing to me (you will understand as you read further.)  But my oldest daughter, Sarah, a 14-year-old freshman at Everest Catholic High School in Clarkston, Michigan, is also pro-life, and to her, the March for Life sounded like Heaven on Earth. 

You see, Sarah is a social creature.  She loves to be around her friends, and she has a lot of them.  While  chatting on Facebook a few weeks ago with the “all over the country list” of friends she has made at Catholic Familyland, the Catholic summer camp we attend annually in Bloomingdale, Ohio, these friends asked Sarah if she was going to the March.  From then on, Sarah started begging me to take her.

Overnight Bus Trips Are for the Young
So, I acknowledged that the sacrifice would be good for me.  After all, our country has just elected the most pro-choice President in its history, and we need to bring down some Grace.  So I reluctantly agreed, and we started making arrangements.  After all, I thought, it’s only one day out of my life. 

Sarah contacted our local Right to Life-Lifespan office to see if they were organizing a trip.  She had participated in a local purity fashion show sponsored by the Troy, Michigan office last year.  Not only were they attending, but they had four bus loads full, and there was still room for us on the Bus #4.  I soon learned from Sarah that this bus would not only be going to the March in Washington via an overnight
group at Kennedy memorial
The “Next Generation” in front of the stone quotation at the Kennedy Memorial.
bus ride from Detroit, but would be staying an extra day to sightsee, with accommodations at a welcoming Baptist Church.  The group would return on the red-eye bus trip the next night.  (So much for one day in my life…)

Sarah and I filled out the necessary forms and sent in our money, and we started to pack.  I packed a lot, because I wanted to have fresh clothing to change into since showers would not be available.  And since I don’t sleep well in sleeping bags with the onset of arthritis and other aches and pains, I packed a double air mattress for Sarah and me to make one of those nights a little “easier.”

But as I know well, God has a sense of humor.  Though I have to say the first night sleeping on the bus was not as bad as I imagined due to our adrenaline rush, nights two and three were far from pleasant.   The air mattress had a hole in it, and I couldn’t find my Dramamine to help me sleep the final night on the bus.  (More details to come…)

The Verizon Center Youth Rally
As I said, the bus trip the first night seemed short, and before I knew it, we pulled up in front of the Washington DC Verizon Center (home of the Washington Bullet’s and Wizard’s basketball teams) a large arena that seats about 20,000.  People of all ages were in a line that extended to the end of the city block and around the building.  They moved slowly as they tried to enter the arena. 

Our bus captain, Nick, a very calm, patient young teacher from the Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic High School in Royal Oak, Michigan, took a head count, and we melded into the stream of people.  Somehow we got inside.  I learned later that thousands were turned away when the stadium reached capacity.  After we were seated, I used my cell phone to call my brother-in-law and niece, Tim and Mollie Daily, who attended with their Youth Group from Kokomo, Indiana.  They were among those turned away who had to find a Mass elsewhere. 

Knowing this, I felt lucky that our group got seats, one row from the ceiling of the center.  It was a bit hot and difficult to hear in the nose-bleed seats, though I was likely the only member of our group to take notice.   I was a little stressed after having almost lost my daughter on the walk to the seats.  Sarah went the wrong direction in the crowd, and I had to stand at the bottom of the stairs waving my arms in a panic, shouting her name.  She realized her mistake and quickly returned to group.  To her dismay, I hysterically kept a close (probably too close) eye on her the rest of the time we were in Washington.

For the first two hours of the Rally, we listened to impassioned speeches and music from a Hispanic band, “Who Do You Say I Am,” as well as a Christian musician named Matt Maher whose current chart hit is “Your Grace is Enough.”   During their performances I left the seats to get a cup of coffee. (Not knowing exactly when Mass would begin, I thought I could sneak one in before the Communion fast.)  But the line at the concession stand was long and moving slow, so I gave up and returned to our perch atop the stadium. 

When Mass finally began about 10:30 am, I was in awe of the number of priests and bishops who filed into to fill two side sections of the arena as well as the rows of folding chairs on the stage/altar.  It literally took 20 minutes for them to process in.  I remember thinking that if a terrorist were to pull any funny business during this event, they could take out a lot of Catholic clergy that we cannot afford to lose. Again, I was probably the only person inside who thought this. 

The Mass went well over its scheduled time, and we did not leave the stadium until half past noon.  Our captain Nick was careful to make sure all in our group were accounted for, and we then walked to the Washington Mall, a large open area in the center of the city, about six blocks away.  I remember asking a chaperone in our group when we would be getting lunch.  She said we wouldn’t be. 

While we walked, I notice a familiar face at the side of the Mall – Father Juan Guerra, a Legionary priest stationed formerly at Everest Academy who is now working in Atlanta.  We quickly said hello and kept walking.  I also made a phone call to Tim and Mollie.  We were able to use a large golden St. Joseph Covenant Keepers sign as a landmark, and rendezvoused briefly before Sarah and I returned hurriedly to our group.

The “Shuffle,” I mean, “March” for Life
Low blood sugar and no coffee tends to make me crabby, so I was a bit unsettled by the circumstances of the March, at least as far as our group was concerned.  When we arrived at the Mall, we made our way as close as possible to the main stage as we could.  We could not see the stage, but we could hear speakers from the group “Silent No More,” an organization of women who publically state their regret for their abortions, telling their tragic stories.  We also heard a sermon from a fiery African American preacher who was taking President Barack Obama to task for his position on life.

After the speeches ended, our group started to move with the tide to get to the street where the March was to take place.  One would think it would not be so difficult to move about in such an open area.  But there were so many people trying to walk in one direction at the same time, we could barely move, and we could not see where we were going to boot.  And our group apparently chose the wrong direction, heading diagonally toward a side street on the Mall.  We discovered too late the street was filled with parked cars and benches.  We had to stop and redirect every inch of progress that we seemed to make.  We literally moved about a foot every 10 minutes, and after about 45 minutes, we found the street after crushing  landscape edging shrubbery at the end of the Mall.  Then, thanks be to God, the crowd loosened up a bit.

One of the young girl’s in our group later told me she did not mind being pushed and shoved.  She said it was like everyone was accepting the difficulties together for a higher purpose.  (Now, on top of all my other discomforts, I felt guilty!)  Sarah also reminded me that during one of my complaining bouts in the crowd, I loudly shouted, “This is so frustrating!” while making a sweeping gesture with the sign I was holding.  I struck a poor man nearby in the face, and didn’t even notice.  Sarah said he smiled and was very nice about it.  (God forgive me. I did get my comeuppance later.) 

One interesting aspect I realized during the March – there were few if any pro-choice advocates on the sidelines haranguing us, when I had assumed after the Inauguration, there would be many in town that would.  But if they were still in town, they did not make themselves known.

Washington Media and Politicians Ignored Us
In fact, the very indifference of the city to our March shocked me.  What I estimated to have been a few hundred thousand people were largely ignored by the Washington politicians and media.  It was as if we were not there at all. Earlier in the week I had watched old news footage of the Civil Rights movement in advance of Martin Luther King Day.  It showed the violent hatred against the peaceful African American protesters.  I think it would almost have been better to get the same reaction to our March for the rights of the unborn than to be ignored. 

Later I would discover, after a search on “You Tube” for any video coverage of the event that Sen. Sam Brownback did acknowledge us on the Senate floor, and one local Washington television station did cover it.  The female reporter on the scene interviewed a woman in the March who stated that if people want world peace, they should focus on eliminating abortion. The station then cut to footage of abortion supporters who were supposedly “protecting” a Planned Parenthood clinic so its patrons would not be “harassed” by anti-abortion protesters.  (They call us “anti’s, one woman said.) The interesting thing was that during the interview of the small group of women doing the “protecting,” there seemed to be no “harassing protesters” to be seen anywhere, at least in that part of town.  The reporter ended her story, admitting that the March for Life is the largest March held in Washington, but she lamented that that the march was in support of “ending abortion” and not in favor of “world peace.” 

After the March ended, we stopped by to visit Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow at the Hart Senate Building.  We were told by members of our group who preceded us there that Sen. Stabenow was not in her office.  She had rushed out earlier saying she “had a meeting to attend.”  Probably true, but Sen. Stabenow has not been a pro-life friend in the past, and likely had not changed her position. 

We filed a few blocks over to the Peace monument to load on the bus, which dropped us off at a local city office building to eat dinner at its food court. (I had been hoping for a sit-down restaurant and a glass of wine.  Oh well.)  Then we loaded up again and drove to our “hotel” for the night, the Alexandria (Va.) Baptist Church.  

A Difficult Night
Bathroom space was scarce, so to make it easier, the trip organizers had arranged for the women and men to be separated on different floors.  The women would sleep on the third floor.  I didn’t find the elevator until it was too late, and if you remember, I had brought a lot of luggage.  When I finally lugged the last piece up the stairs, I discovered most of the floor space in both of our sleeping rooms was taken.  I realized with more frustration that I had no where for my double air mattress.  I once again made my displeasure known (I was likely not the most popular member of our group) and one of the organizers helped move bedding around to make space. 

Sarah, who was not happy with my attitude, stayed downstairs visiting the other young people until it was time for lights out.  When she came to bed, she did not notice that our air mattress slowly lost inflation during the night and was completely flat on the cold floor by 3 am.  But I did.  By then, I was aware I deserved it, so I accepted the situation.

Sightseeing and Epiphanies
The next morning I was up early, very grateful for a nice continental breakfast and blessing of hot coffee.  There were even little flavored cream containers!  Thank you merciful God! 

This day would turn out to be a very nice one, and not just weather wise (miraculously, God had bestowed nearly 50 degree weather in between days of sub-zero temperatures.)  First we visited the Arlington National Cemetery where those who sacrificed their lives for our country are buried.  The mood of the place is understandably somber, and one is struck with a feeling of gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice.  While I was there, I was also struck by a memory of having seen a similar somber scene of small white crosses, ordered in neat rows outside my parish church to mark the number of unborn babies that died each day.

I took a picture of some of the young people in our group near a stone engraving of a quote from John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech in 1961.  The quote is part of the Kennedy Memorial.  It  reads: “Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” How appropriate.

Those young Americans and I later visited two Smithsonian museums -- the American Indian Museum, that was quite fascinating, and the impressive Museum of National History. 

In the National History Museum, I noticed the first negative reaction to our pro-life presence.  While I was looking at a booth with a Bible display in the exhibit about Illustrations and the written word, I saw a drawing of King Solomon and the two women who were fighting over a baby.  For those who don’t know the story, Solomon was asked to settle the matter.  He commanded that the baby be cut in half so each woman could have a piece of the child.  The actual baby’s mother stopped the soldier’s sword and tells Solomon, “Give the baby to her (the other woman in the story.)”  Solomon then knows which woman is the true mother. 

This story is one of my favorites.  I mentioned to one of my pro-life compatriots nearby, Doug Ritter, that the story is similar to the modern disagreement over abortion versus adoption.  I commented to him that the decision to allow a baby to be adopted rather than aborted revealed a “true mother.”  A man standing nearby heard me say this, and gave a surprised and apparently horrified stare.

I noticed another disturbing commentary on our modern times during my visit at American Indian Museum, in an exhibit on the European colonization of Mexico.  The exhibit discussed the negative effects of Christianity imposed by the Conquistadors, but, as far as I could tell, never mentioned the human sacrifice perpetrated by the Indians. 

The struggle of our daily prolife “cross” came home to me while I watched a film presentation in the American History exhibit, “The Price of Freedom – America at War.”  The presentation of video war footage was intermixed with commentary from various soldiers discussing their experiences.  I wept a little, for them and for us.  I thought about how we are certainly in a battle today, and the casualties far outnumber all American war casualties combined. 

The Best Part for Me
At day’s end came my favorite experience of the three days.  We toured and attended Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

It was my second visit to the Basilica – my first was during a work visit to Washington the month before.  Then a Regnum Christi member named Cristina Tallent gave me a personal tour of the Church, a memory I will always cherish (Thanks again Cris!)  I learned the Basilica is the largest Catholic Church in North America, and it contains sixty-two shrines of approved apparitions of Our Lady.  There is also an incredible mosaic above the main altar of Jesus Christ in majesty.  If you have not been to the Basilica, you should go just to see this image.

I could not help thinking while I was at the Church of the words of Our Lady of Fatima, stating that in the end, “My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”  These words give a battle weary pro-lifer great comfort.

Back to Detroit
The evening of our bus ride home was quite a spiritual experience. We prayed the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and a novena prayer to the (as yet unapproved) 1954 Marian apparition, Our Lady of America.  I told the students about one of the apparition details in which Our Lady holds out her hands containing an image of the Basilica.  She says to Sister Mary Ephrem, a cloistered nun in Ohio who witnessed the vision, “Tell my children I am very pleased.”

Then the student’s gave personal testimonies of how the March affected them, with insightful commentary mature beyond their years, and some of us adults chimed in as well.   My friend Mr. Ritter vehemently exhorted the students not to waste their zeal and to make a difference.  (I have no doubt they will.)

From 10 pm to midnight, we watched the movie “Remember the Titans” on the overhead movie screens.  Then it was quiet time until we arrived home.  I did not sleep well that night, and on top of getting little sleep the two previous nights, I was not a very good driver on the way home.  As soon as I pulled the minivan out of the Right to Life Lifespan parking lot, I neglected to remember the road was a divided thoroughfare, but Sarah luckily reminded me.  “Mom, this is a ONE WAY STREET!” she screamed, and I promptly turned around.  It was a good thing it was 5:30 am Saturday morning and there was no traffic.  With God’s grace, we arrived safely home and I promptly went to sleep in my comfy bed, while savoring my memories.

Comments on the March for Life 2009 from the students on Bus #4:

Sarah, 14, Everest Catholic High School, Clarkston, Michigan
I wanted to attend because I wanted to see what pro-life America really is.  You don’t see them all together at one time, especially in Detroit. The youth rally was my favorite part.  It showed everyone was so on fire for being pro-life.  It was moving and powerful.  The size of the crowd surprised me.  I thought it would be smaller, but it was huge. I was really affected seeing the graphic signs at the end of the march that really showed what abortion does to babies.  We are killing God’s children. I felt like I can make a difference by bringing the message back to kids at my school and helping the kids in the next generation.

Liz, 15, Mercy High School, Farmington Hills, Michigan
It was really neat to see how many people showed up for it.  When you see that many people, you feel a part of something really big.  (She was dismayed the media only shows the pro-choice message.)

Paige, 15, Mercy High School, Farmington Hills, Michigan
I liked hearing from the women who had had abortions, and talked about how it affected them.  They are living proof that abortion hurts women.  It doesn’t help women.  Pro-abortion people miss that.

Megan, Mercy High School, Farmington Hills, Michigan
My favorite part was the Youth Rally – seeing so many people praising God at the same time.  It’s just not something you see every day.  They were not afraid to be who they are.

Mary, 17, Regina High School, Warren, Michigan
I loved seeing everyone at the stadium.  It was amazing, seeing everyone come together trying to make a difference.

Sarah, 14, Regina High School, Warren, Michigan
It was exciting to see us come together, all belonging to something, not afraid to stand up for something.  There were so many people from all over.

George, 12, Immaculate Conception in Fair Haven, Michigan
I liked walking in the March.  I liked the fun, and talking with everyone and reading all the signs.  My favorite was a quote from Ronald Reagan – “If you notice, all those who are pro-abortion have already been born.”

Josiah, 17, Homeschooled Senior, Detroit, Michigan
The March to and past the Capital to the Hart Senate Building was the best.  That is where the entire March came together.  We exchanged protest songs.  And I noticed that Catholic School students can juggle. (He showed me the pictures on his camera to prove it.)

Josh, 15, Trillium Academy, Taylor, Michigan
I liked hanging out with all the other kids my age, and getting to know them, all the other Catholics.  I could relate a little more.

Ryan, 17, Shrine of the Little Flower High School, Royal Oak, Michigan
During the Rally, I really like the music.  It was fun, and it engaged people. 


PUBLICATION DATE: 2009-02-04


 
 


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