The dozens of local pilgrims who traveled to Washington, D.C., Jan. 22 for the 35th-annual March for Life may have had a multitude of different reasons for participating, but they were united in one thing: The belief that abortion is murder and wrong.
The first March for Life took place on Jan. 22, 1974, the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade and of the lesser-known Doe v. Bolton, the landmark Supreme Court decisions that effectively legalized abortion in the United States throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The march has been held each year since, and often has drawn upwards of 100,000 people, according to march organizers.
For Craig Stratton, the march served as a way to memorialize a tiny infant who was well-loved, although her life was much too brief. Stratton, who belongs to St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spencerport, is training to become a permanent deacon and has been involved with hospital ministry for several years. While on call at Rochester’s Highland Hospital one day, he learned of baby girl who had been born just 15 weeks after conception and had died. Stratton visited with the girl’s family and was touched by their faith and their love for the infant.
“What they really wanted was a blessing, and they wanted someone to acknowledge that their child was precious, and (they wanted) recognition of the child, that she existed,” Stratton said.
The family allowed Stratton to hold their baby girl, swaddled in a tiny pink blanket, in the palm of his hand as he blessed her.
“I was doing pretty good until I unfolded the blanket a little bit to anoint her with holy water,” Stratton recalled, tears glistening in his eyes. “She was perfectly formed at 15 weeks. To think that people say she was never born, but she was a unique individual. I knew then that I would be coming here for her this year. I’m just here to memorialize her.”
Stratton was one of many pilgrims who boarded buses at 10 p.m. Jan. 21 and rode through the night to arrive in Washington, D.C., in time for a 7:30 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. On board one of those buses was Julie Holdgate, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Hamlin.
Holdgate said she felt compelled to attend the march because the issue of abortion is personal for her. She has worked with Project Rachel, a ministry for women who have had abortions, and she now volunteers with such agencies as Birthright of Rochester, which assists women in crisis-pregnancy situations. She said she was impressed by the massive amounts of people who marched in support of the rights of the unborn.
“I’m going to remember it for a long time. I want to keep coming back,” she told the Catholic Courier as she waited to board her bus after the march.
Adults were not the only ones participating in the march. A number of young people from the Diocese of Rochester also traveled to Washington, D.C., to make their voices heard. Father Tony Mugavero, parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Americas Parish in Rochester, brought a busload of Rochester teens to the march. McQuaid Jesuit High School in Brighton and St. Michael School in Newark also sent delegations of students.
Dr. Stephen Spaulding, a member of St. Mary Our Mother Parish in Horseheads, headed up a group of students and adults who also traveled to the march. Not only does the experience provide the youngsters with a chance to make their voices heard, but it also gives them firsthand knowledge of how the democratic process works, Spaulding said.
Bill Spaulding, a junior at Notre-Dame High School in Elmira, said his teachers agree with his father.
“Our one teacher thought that this is a lot more important than school. He always encourages us to get involved in the democratic process,” said Bill, who first came to the march as a fourth-grader and has participated each year since.
Spaulding’s group spent the hours before the march lobbying their Congressional representatives. They were already tired by the time the march began at 2 p.m., but they were still optimistic.
“I want people to realize how important (this issue) is, and realize how many people think it’s important enough to go down to D.C.,” said 14-year-old Michelle Pedicone, a St. Mary Our Mother parishioner.
Fellow parishioner Mary Claire Spaulding, 11, agreed. Her background as an adopted child gives her a very clear perspective on the issue, she said.
“Instead of being aborted, they should be adopted so they have a chance to live,” said Mary Claire, who hoped to return home and start educating others about which local politicians were pro-life.
Although still dedicated to the pro-life cause, some of Mary Claire’s traveling companions held somewhat less lofty goals.
“I hope to make it to the end of the day,” remarked fellow St. Mary Our Mother parishioner Ben Coble, 11.