When the images at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., became too much to bear, a friend hugged Alexandria Burke tightly, and a stranger handed her a fresh tissue.
Alexandria, whose 8-year-old brother has disabilities, said she had a very difficult time viewing Nazi atrocities against the disabled during World War II.
"It was extremely hard for me," Alexandria said. "There was a picture of a little boy, and all I could see was my brother’s face."
Touring the Holocaust Museum was just one part of the trip Alexandria and fellow teens took to Washington as part of the annual March for Life Jan. 24. Although it was her second time attending the march and weekend of pro-life events, she said she found this year’s voyage even more powerful.
"It has changed how I see things: that life is so precious and that it’s not something to be taken for granted," said Alexandria, a student at Rochester Academy Charter School.
The teens were just some of the several hundred representatives from the Diocese of Rochester who attended the march; national organizers estimated that the event drew a crowd of more than 400,000 people.
Father Tony Mugavero, pastor of Rochester’s Holy Apostles Parish, said the trip was offered free to teens in the parishes of Holy Apostles and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini — a new parish that comprises Church of the Annunciation, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of the Americas, St. Andrew and St. Michael churches.
"Sponsors were very instrumental in helping us to go, especially priests and deacons of the diocese who were very helpful, and different groups including parishes and the Knights of Columbus," said Father Mugavero, who noted the Diocese of Rochester also helped the group to fund the trip.
He noted the aim of the trip was to provide teens with a holistic view of life issues at all ages and stages. During the trip the group learned about such issues as abortion, civil rights, human trafficking and genocide.
The teens prepared for the visit to the Holocaust Museum by watching the film "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," which chronicles the meeting of a young German boy and a young Jewish boy living in a concentration camp.
The teens also viewed a documentary on the Silent No More Campaign, which encourages people hurt by abortion to publicly share their experiences, and they also heard some of the testimonies of some Silent No More participants.
In addition to touring the Holocaust Museum and participating in the March for Life, students also toured the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and were part of more than 17,000 youths attending a rally and Mass at the Verizon Center. During the weekend trip, they also visited national monuments and memorials throughout the nation’s capital.
Teens reported in evaluations afterwards that they had been emotionally moved during the entire trip, Father Mugavero said.
"It was very blessed and very meaningful," the priest said.
Alexandria said she found the number of people participating in the March for Life to be a witness to the strength of the pro-life movement.
"It was really amazing to see how many people there were who really lived the belief that life is sacred," she said.