Every authentic pilgrimage is marked by its difficulties and the manner in which they are endured. This is what distinguishes a pilgrimage from a trip. A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place through the acceptance of the cross along the way. This year's pilgrimage to the March for Life certainly had it's difficulties, even before it really began.
I left Springfield Friday afternoon with a friend to board one of the four busses in Vandalia. From there, we were to leave for Effingham about 5:30 p.m. to join the three other busses with the aim of setting out together for Washington, D.C. at 6:30 p.m.
Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately - the weather did not cooperate. Sleet began to fall around Vandalia about 4:00 p.m. and by 5:00 p.m. ice covered everything and within a short time closed Interstate 70. The good folks at Mother of Dolors Parish kindly let two of our busses spend the night in the basement of the church; the other two busses spend the night at the Knights of Columbus hall in Effingham.
When the morning hours rolled around the Interstate had been reopened. We boarded the busses and made the journey to Effingham where we met up with the other busses and set out toward the East. Between Effingham and Indiana, Interstate 70 seemed a graveyard for tractor trailers, with trucks almost at a regular interval off in the ditches on either side. Some did not look serious and others clearly were. At least four people were killed on the Interstate on Friday night between the two exits for Vandalia alone. Had the sleet begun to fall any later than it did, we would likely have been caught in the storm.
By the time we reached Indiana the roads were fine but we encountered a difficulty: the Interstate through West Virginia was closed due to a hazardous spill. Our drivers learned of the detoured traffic and opted to drive through the winding country roads of West Virginia, which turned out to be a welcome change of scenery from the traffic we had been travelling with.
All in all, we arrived in Washington, D.C. some sixteen hours later than planned, but we were able to adjust our schedules and meal stops - with a bit more difficulty - so everything turned out rather well. Not once did I hear anyone on our bus grumble or complain about the difficulties and confusion caused by them.
There seemed a larger crowd in Washington, D.C. both for the Vigil Mass on Sunday evening and for the March for Life itself Monday morning, a trend that has continued unabated; each year more people come to protest legalized abortion and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. And, as usual, there were more young people than before, more priests and more seminarians, all of which are very good signs.
The pilgrims from the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois gathered at St. Peter church in downtown Washington for Mass with Bishop Paprocki.
After the Mass, our four busses took a tour of the momuments and memorials before going to the rally. I went to visit with a member of Congressman Aaron Schock's staff to discuss the persecution of Christians throughout the world, particularly in Egypt and in Nigeria. She seemed genuinely receptive to my concerns and promised to share my concers with Congressman Schock before getting back to me. After this meeting I joined the busses at the World War II memorial.
The weather for the day of the March stayed in the forties, with clouds and drizzle and rain, but not much wind. To be honest, it wasn't too bad and was easier to bear than the frigid temperatures last year.
Throughout the pilgrimage I took only one picture (largely due to our travel delays and the rain). It was one of the cutest things I've ever seen:
Holding onto their father, the children formed a train and shouted, "Choo, choo! Choose life!" Because of it's cuteness, it was easily the best chant of the whole March.
One of the joys of the March for Life is walking with people their for the first time. They are continually amazed and overwhelmed by the number of people who make the journey to march with them. Until you're there and experience the crowds firsthand, it's hard to imagine; pictures are helpful, but they really don't do it justice. As the walk the streets of the capital, they realize just how many people do not support abortion and they are encouraged to do more to support life in any way they can. The future of the Church is indeed young and is full of hope and a love of the faith.
After the march our pilgrims gathered at nearby a park to meet our busses, but before the busses arrived there was time for a light saber duel (the link is to a Facebook video that I wasn't able to download; I hope it works for you).
The journey from Washington back to Springfield was uneventful. The rest of the day will be spent resting - it's hard to sleep well on a bus - and catching up on a few things.