Continuing my experience of this weekend's March for Life trip ...
Sunday, January 23
Day 2 of the March for Life trip began by heading on the bus for a drive to Arlington National Cemetery. It's a sobering sight to see thousands of white tomb stones cascading down the hillsides of the cemetery, each one representing the death of someone who fought for the country (or a spouse or child). We rushed to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in order to be present for the changing of the guard and were also able to see the presentation of a wreath.
Seeing the incredible dignity given to the "unknown soldier" is yet another reminder that each human person has inestimable worth, just by being a person made in God's image and likeness. The fascinating aspect of this particular tomb is that it does not simply represent all members of the military who died "unknown," but it honors one particular person, while simultaneously honoring all who have died fighting for our country. It's an action like this that shows the dignity of each and every person.
When I see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I can't help but hope that one day we will have a national monument of the Tomb of the Unknown Baby. At my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville, there is a tomb of the unborn, under which seven aborted babies have been buried. Each of them has been named. Each of them is a person. There seems to be no greater way to honor the unborn than to reveal the personhood of a few.
After seeing the burial place of John Kennedy, our group made a brief stop in front of the tomb of Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court justice who authored the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Together we prayed in front of his tomb for mercy on all who have supported abortion, for healing for men and women who have made abortion decisions, and for a culture of life to flourish in our nation.
We left Arlington and headed to the Smithsonians for lunch and brief tours. From there, our group walked to the Holocaust Museum. It is always a chilling visit, and one that makes for an important stop on a pilgrimage for life. Each visitor to the museum is given an identification card with the name, picture and story of a particular survivor or victim of the Holocaust. Once again, the theme of individual persons, and not just a mass of humanity, as victims of dehumanization was manifest. I could walk through the museum and consider how Maria Sava Moise, a Romanian Gypsy, was impacted by the Nazi regime. Numbers and statistics were not destroyed, but people were.
There is much that can be said about an experience in the Holocaust Museum. Much of it cannot be expressed in words. It is frightening to see how one human person could pulverize the dignity of another. But to walk through the museum and know that a similar act of dehumanization is occurring in our nation every day -- and like the Nazis is protected by law -- is agonizing. I went to Auschwitz in 2006 and will never forget standing along the train tracks with no words. Another girl came up to me and said, "Maybe you are here because God wants you to be able to tell people about the connection between this atrocity and abortion." The connections go deeper than we often realize, and yet how often do we turn a blind eye to abortion, while chastising those who refused to speak or act on behalf of those persecuted and killed in Europe in the '30s and '40s?
After the Holocaust Museum, we traveled to the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Although this was my seventh March for Life, it was the first time I have been present for the Vigil Mass for Life. We arrived three hours before Mass began and were fortunate to get one of the last side chapels with a television screen view of the Mass.
I have heard stories about the magnitude of this particular vigil Mass, and being present for it did not disappoint. The opening procession really did take 40 minutes, with hundreds of seminarians, priests, bishops and cardinals making their way to the altar. When the first opening song began, I was struck by the resonating male voices that boomed throughout the basilica. We speak about a crisis in manhood and a crisis in fatherhood in our world today. Yet here were hundreds of men who have dedicated their lives to being true men and true fathers, who have given their lives in service of their bride the Church. And in that moment of song, I was reminded that our Church is in the capable hands of servants of God who wish to provide and protect with their very lives.
Cardinal DiNardo's homily was excellent. He especially thanked the young people for their witness in the culture of life, exhorting the youth to live their pro-life values through their zest and joy for life.
When 10,000 people pack the largest church in North America for what is probably the biggest annual Mass of the country, there is no way one can leave without renewed hope. A culture of life does not begin with pro-life laws, but with hearts that respond to God's love. And 10,000 hearts is not a bad place to start.
Back at our quarters for the weekend, we closed the day in prayer, with a talk about seeing the value of each person. It brought us back to Arlington National Cemetery, to the war memorials, to the Holocaust Museum, to see that what we had witnessed that day was not a mass sea of humanity, but individual human persons made in God's image and likeness. And the image is no less significant when it comes to the unborn.
More reflections on the March for Life trip to come ...