Father Vincent Druding left his 11th March for Life feeling hopeful.
“This is by far the most positive, upbeat and optimistic march I’ve been a part of,” Father Druding, who serves as parochial vicar at Assumption parish in Peekskill, told CNY.
The 44th annual March for Life became historic the day before the rally and march when Vice President Mike Pence was announced as a speaker for the rally at the Washington Monument before the march down Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court and Capitol building Jan. 27.
The rally and march have brought together pro-life supporters each year since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion across the United States. More than 58 million unborn babies have been lost to abortion since then.
Pence became the first president or vice president to speak in person at a March for Life rally. His speech followed one by Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, and preceded speeches by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.; and Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah.
The three members of Congress spoke on a stage filled with fellow representatives and senators supporting life. Cardinal Dolan, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Pro-Life Activities, led a prayer at the rally.
Father Druding, who like the vice president is from Indiana, said, “I’ve known of Mike Pence from when he first got into politics and have been a big Mike Pence fan.
“To have his support and the support of the administration, you can feel there is a new hope in the air, and it’s actually going to be backed up by real policy. I actually have honest hope that Roe v. Wade, if there is a right justice appointed, can be overturned” in the coming years.
Father Druding was one of seven chaperones on a bus with 40 young people from the Peekskill area, who attended a youth rally at George Mason University on Thursday night before taking part in the rally and march. A second bus from Assumption arrived Friday morning.
“It was really packed, more people than last year, which is really good because we’re getting new people to join this movement and the more the merrier,” said 14-year-old Lisbeth Hernandez of Peekskill, who was participating in her second March for Life with Assumption.
“You never see political people at this march. To see the vice president here was really inspiring. Just to see this many teens is really inspiring.”
The buses from Assumption were just a sampling of the representation from the archdiocese at the rally and march. Father Robert Bubel, pastor at St. Mary’s/Holy Name of Jesus and St. Peter in Kingston was on a bus from Ulster County with 43 people, including students from SUNY New Paltz and members of the Our Lady of Fatima youth group in Plattekill.
Father Bubel, who was also participating in his 11th march, sensed the additional energy after the rally as marchers walked down Constitution Avenue praying the Rosary and singing.
“It’s the massiveness of the march,” he said. “You are encouraged in our mission when we are united with a huge crowd and a young crowd.
“I went twice when I was growing up—it was predominantly adults at the march. Now, it’s predominantly children from around the country. To know these students travel so far and wake up so early gives great hope for the Catholic Church and great hope for the future of this country.”
George Morton said 50 people traveled from St. Columba’s Church in Hopewell Junction after participating in 4:30 a.m. Mass there. Morton, who has attended marches almost every year since 1994, believes this was the biggest turnout for a march and rally that has attended.
“They all had a sense of joy and genuine hope for changes,’’ said Morton, a parishioner of St. Columba.
Ms. Conway electrified the rally crowd with her opening remark.
“I am a wife, a mother, a Catholic, counselor to the president of the United States of America and, yes, I am pro-life,’’ Ms. Conway said. “Your courage, your conviction, your resolve and your faith are impressive and consequential. This is a new day, the new dawn for life.
“It is no coincidence that the first right in the Declaration of Independence is the right to life. It is a right. It is not a privilege. It is not a choice. It is God given. It is unique and it is beautiful.’’
Vice President Pence was introduced by his wife, Karen, who said her family has attended the March for Life many times and warmed up the crowd for encouraging words from her husband.
“Life is winning again in America and today is a celebration of that progress—the progress that we’ve made in this cause,’’ Pence said. “I long believe a society can be judged by how we care for our most vulnerable—the aging, the infirmed, the disabled and the unborn.
“We come to a historic moment in the cause of life and we must meet this moment with respect and compassion for every American. Life is winning in America because of all of you. So I urge you to press on, but as it is written, let your gentleness be evident to all. Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation. When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness.’’
Additional speakers followed and the start of the march was delayed. Attendees came away encouraged by the speakers and by what’s happened in the days leading up to the rally.
On Jan. 23, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned U.S. funding to international nongovernmental organizations that provide abortions or promote abortion services.
The next day, the House of Representatives passed a bill, introduced by Rep. Smith, to prohibit U.S. women from receiving federal financial assistance through health insurance coverage for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother being at risk with the pregnancy.
“In a time when everybody seems to have different opinions, for all of these people from a football player to a vice president to pastors of different denominations, to stand up for life is an amazing feeling and accomplishment,” said Pedro Apolinar, a youth minister at Assumption parish in Peekskill who was taking part in his sixth march.