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home : bishop : columns

2/2/2017 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
March for Life with love
A diary of my day at the march
ANNE RILEY (LEFT), an alumnus of St. Marys's Institute in Amsterdam and NotreáDame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady, attends the March for Life. She's now a sophomore at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Right, SEMINARIANS SAM BELLAFIORE and Kyle Eads and Deacon Jim O'Rourke of the Albany Diocese at the March for Life.
ANNE RILEY (LEFT), an alumnus of St. Marys's Institute in Amsterdam and NotreáDame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady, attends the March for Life. She's now a sophomore at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Right, SEMINARIANS SAM BELLAFIORE and Kyle Eads and Deacon Jim O'Rourke of the Albany Diocese at the March for Life.
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


Last Friday, I joined the March For Life, the 44th since its inception following Roe v. Wade (Jan. 22, 1973), the landmark decision of the Supreme Court legalizing abortion on demand.

It was a day full of joy and youthful exuberance. For me, it was also an experience of being surrounded by love.

My day started too early. I had to set my iPhone for 4:20 a.m. so I could say my prayers and get the morning ablutions done in time to drive to the airport, park in E-Lot, pass through TSAPre (a great timesaver) and arrive at the gate in time for a 6:10 flight to Washington, D.C.

Everything went smoothly. An on-time arrival, a quick 20-minute hop on Metro, and I was in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel in D.C.'s Chinatown, where I met up with Dr. Joe Dutkowsky, a fellow Knight of Malta who had invited me to accompany that group.

I had wanted to ride a bus down with a group of collegians from Siena College in Loudon­ville who had kindly invited me, but Ginny Daley, my trusted assistant, had advised me that this would mean two eight-hour treks and at least one "overnight," which my schedule would not allow. (Albany is not as close to D.C. as my former home in Brooklyn was, from which I could easily make it on wheels as a day trip.)

After a buffet breakfast, we mounted the bus to St. Patrick's Church, where I celebrated Mass in a church packed with the knights, families, students and people of all ages -- including a group of high school pilgrims from Ohio, who arrived just in the knick of time.

That made me think. Although I was playing commuter-for-a-day, it was really a pilgrimage for most who were drawn prayerfully from coast to coast to the march.

Starting Mass penitentially, as we always do, with a reminder that Jesus (and none of us) is our Savior, and confessing our sins and attachments to false gods, it seemed worthwhile to recall how Jesus always reaches out to us sinners at their lowest points. God's mercy is never more powerful than when we are most in need of it.

I felt impelled to preach about truth, justice and the American way, Christianizing the heroic motto of that fictional secular savior, Superman:

•  We were assembling that day to be witnesses to the truth about the dignity of all human beings, regardless of status, born or unborn.

•  We also wanted our message to be more than words, but action on behalf of justice, which is -- as the 1971 Synod of Bishops declared -- "a constitutive part of preaching the Gospel."

•  We were doing something in "the American way:" gathering peacefully to defend the rights of the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable among us, the unborn - totally dependent and defenseless -- and to support the women who are their mothers, so that the violence of abortion never again is the false and fatal "choice" to which they are abandoned.

After a quick lunch, we were on the bus again and on our way to the March for Life. Wow! What a colorful sea of humanity. It was amazing. Although the day was not as cold and blustery as some in recent memory, it warmed both heart and spirit to feel the joy, love and solidarity of such a dynamic and diverse gathering of witnesses.

It was impossible not to absorb the strains of so many different passions and emotions. Absent were the poisons of fear and hatred and the judgmentalism that sometimes accompanies religious and ideological zealotry.

I had the impression that, for many, the March for Life was a mission born of real-life experience, conversion and love: the many women well acquainted with pain, stoned and scarred by their own guilt or the verdict of the self-righteous, but present here now with great courage and conviction, yearning to spread God's mercy...and fathers, too, mourning the women and children they once abandoned. Some of them even carried placards poignantly bearing witness to very personal stories.

What stood out this time to me was not only how young (on average) the marchers were, but how diverse. There were Feminists for Life, reclaiming their rightful battle for the equality of women in all situations of life -- born and unborn, pregnant or not -- and forming bridges over the false and destructive divisions in our nation with roots stuck in the late 1960s. (Read Sue Ellen Browder's "Subverted: How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women's Movement," Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2015).

Another prominent banner, borne by www.secularprolife.org -- a website well worth visiting for insight on ways to defend life on human, rational and scientific (not necessarily religious) grounds -- was visible high above the throngs as we stood before the U.S. Supreme Court. It proclaimed: "I'm pro-life because every embryology textbook tells me so." Among the many forms of denialism in the face of clear and unassailable scientific evidence, none is less sustainable than what spurns the humanity of the unborn from the moment of conception.

What attracts so many young people to the March for Life? Is it their experience of seeing their own sonograms? Is their natural abhorrence for violence as a means to resolve conflict, or their sense that the goals of equality and inclusivity are not honest or even credible unless all aggressive forms of violence against human beings cease?

For myself, I wanted to be personally present to do what pastors do: lift people up in prayer and share their joys and sorrows. A passion for life and love is a wonderful experience to share.

At one point, standing before the Supreme Court, we noticed and heard a small but boisterous band of protesters, propounding the "War on Women" trope. No one was shouting back. No voices were silenced. But my group, across First Street, N.E., decided to pray the Rosary.

We had no megaphone and I doubt anyone could hear us much -- except those who began to join us, including a cameraman from EWTN, who captured the moment.

As we continued, the din of the shouters across the street gradually seemed to dim. "That's how Mary does things," one of the pilgrims observed. We were all at peace.

The day was not over: A reporter from the TWC television station in Albany had been trying, unsuccessfully, to phone me for an interview to be recorded for the evening broadcast. After two attempts, we finally connected. By that time, I was back on the bus for our next stop, at a Catholic Charities center, for a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup and a tuna salad sandwich (oh, and the best hot chocolate I've had all winter).

The knights, as is their custom, were hosting a group of young people and about 20 Sisters of Life, as fresh, joyful and vibrant at 4:30 p.m. after completing the march as if it were the crack of dawn.

Soon, I was back on the Metro, headed to the airport. My 8:30 p.m. flight was delayed an hour or so and made a hard landing in Albany on a wind-swept runway. In flight, I had been dreaming of whipping up a double hamburger with my own version of McDonald's special sauce when I got home, but the seduction of sleep overruled the pangs of hunger. I barely had my hat off before my bed peacefully swallowed me up for the night.

Grateful for a day of amazing grace and for all of the wonderful people I was blessed to share it with, I wanted to end it as I had begun and spent it, in prayer. I started my Rosary as usual, but only made it through the first decade. The angels had to finish it.

Maybe that happens more often than we realize.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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