It was a long night for the 56 travelers riding an overnight bus to the nation’s capital to participate in the annual March for Life — which marks the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion — in an opportunity sponsored by the Diocese of Providence’s Office of Life and Family.
Most were bleary-eyed as they stepped off the bus at the Capital One Arena at about 7 a.m., where more than 20,000 of the tens, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of pro-life supporters fortunate to have received free tickets to the venue, began their day with a couple of hours of lively Christian rock music, followed by a Pro-Life Youth Mass celebrated by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington.
“We were really tired in the morning, then the really cold air hit you and we said, ‘We’re here now,’” Giselle Martinez recounted of her arrival, as she and her fellow pilgrims stepped off their chartered bus in Washington, D.C.
During these annual Masses at the arena, perhaps the most memorable sight for those in attendance is watching from above as hundreds of priests cloaked in bright white vestments from parishes across the country stream onto center court to concelebrate as participants cheer and applaud their heroes for life.
St. Patrick Academy has a choir called Jesus Band, which routinely performs many of the same songs that were sung at the event, making the students feel right at home.
“There was music playing and people talking. The music was really nice. There were a lot of priests, and Father James got to be in it. It was really exciting,” said Martinez, a senior at St. Patrick Academy, recalling the sight of seeing Father James Ruggieri her pastor at St. Patrick Parish, concelebrate the Mass.
“Everything’s right there in front of you,” she added of the incredible feeling she felt being part of the day.
“You’re doing something, you’re there present, with other people supporting you. You don’t feel alone, you are a family.”
Isabel Arnaut, also a senior at St. Patrick Academy, was, like many of the dozen other students on the trip from the school, visiting the nation’s capital for the first time. She was excited to be taking action on a national level to support life.
“I’ve gone to pro-life rallies before here at the Statehouse,” Arnaut said of her efforts in Rhode Island.
“I’m really passionate about it; I just think it’s unfair what happens to those fetuses (during an abortion). When I went there it was really impactful.”
After they left the Verizon Center and made their way toward the National Mall to begin the march up Constitution Avenue toward the Supreme Court, the marchers encountered some very disconcerting signs depicting in stark terms the horrors of abortion.
“The images were graphic, but it just opens your eyes,” Arnaut said. “This is real; this is actually what’s happening. It was really just a powerful experience.”
St. Patrick Academy freshman Sergio Espinoza, who was also making his first trip to Washington, D.C., said that he was a bit taken aback by the graphic depictions as he marched.
But he felt the enormity of the confluence of the pro-life movement and the systems of the nation’s government together in one place, which he also found humbling.
“There were so many people, but I enjoyed walking and interacting with the crowds,” Espinoza said, noting how he met many different people from several states, including Nebraska, Florida, Tennessee and Illinois.
“They were loud and making cheers,” he said. “Somebody was passing a sign around with each state asking people to sign it.”
An especially memorable highlight of the day was having the opportunity to see President Donald Trump address the gathering from the National Mall, the first time a U.S. president has ever done so.
“We had to wait about 30-35 minutes to see him,” Espinoza said, after they were screened through tight security and gathered into a cordoned-off area near a stage erected for the talk.
While all were glad to be part of the historic day, Martinez expressed that this year’s event, with the president’s appearance, for her made enjoying the day and camaraderie with other pro-life advocates a bit more difficult than in previous years.
“It was more calm in the past,” Martinez reflected.
“This year, with the elections coming up, it seemed to be more chaotic. The president came out to talk and there were a lot of people who really supported him and there were a lot of stands and they were selling his merchandise. I feel it was more focused on him this time than on pro-life issues. We were surrounded by people wearing his merch and selling his merch and talking about him and to us about things that were really not related to the pro-life march. So I feel it was really mixed this time.”
“Many people were in shock,” she said.
Mary Ernster, 23, and her father Chris Ernster, both parishioners at St. Luke Parish in Barrington, also traveled with the diocesan delegation, and both felt honored to be part of the historic day and witness President Trump address the gathering.
“People started to line up for the March around 1:15 p.m., and I was in complete awe by how many people surrounded me,” Mary Ernster said.
“Prior to the March, I had researched pictures and knew that a lot of people would be in D.C., to support life, but actually being there was unlike anything I had imagined. There was such a strong sense of faith and love emanating from the massive crowd. It was the most peaceful and joyous rally,” she said.
Ernster, who graduated from La Salle Academy in 2015 and then from the University of Rhode Island in May, 2019, with a degree in Economics and Business, now works as a financial services professional who helps people protect their families and reach their goals, a career she says she very much loves.
She found the entire day at her very first March for Life to be fully engaging and exciting.
Prior to the morning Mass everyone was pumped up by the speakers, including Melissa Ohden, a failed abortion survivor, she noted.
“It was absolutely moving to hear her story. Her life is a testament to the fact that abortion affects each and every one of us.”
At the end of the March the group arrived at the U.S. Supreme Court, where people gathered to pray the rosary and where there was also an open microphone where any woman, man, or couple could share their own experience with abortion.
“I could feel the pain in their voices that abortion brought into their lives, and it was powerful to hear their journey of self-forgiveness,” Ernster said.
“The reason I marched was to show my support for all women, mothers, fathers, babies and humans — to honor my parents for choosing me and to continue to choose life every day.”