Every January, hundreds of Catholic University students, bundled in their warmest winter attire, gather in Caldwell Auditorium. They grab signs that say things like, “Everyone deserves a birthday” and “Life is a Gift. Protect it.”
After a brief rally, the students head downtown en masse via the Metro to the March for Life, a peaceful demonstration against abortion. At the National Mall, they join thousands of others to voice their support for life. This year, the students will be at the front of the Jan. 22 procession for the 43rd annual march, leading participants from around the country down Constitution Avenue.
Although the March for Life happens just one day a year, pro-life ministry is a year-round movement at Catholic University.
A Pro-Life Culture
The University takes on a pro-life attitude and commitment in many of its activities, explains Pamela Tremblay, associate campus minister for women’s ministry and pro-life ministry in the Office of Campus Ministry. Weekly service opportunities offered through the office put students in direct contact with people from different backgrounds. There are food deliveries to the homeless, chances to spend time with the elderly, and opportunities to tutor local children.
“We really promote life from conception to natural death in Campus Ministry,” says Tremblay. “We have opportunities to do service with both children and elderly. We have mission trips so that we can encounter life and different ways of living. We are able to promote an entire culture of life so that it seeps into someone’s heart. It’s more than just one day of going to a march.
“For us, the march is important because we are advocates of life, but I think the focus of an encounter with life is what really transforms our heart to be pro-life. The encounter with a woman who is pregnant and struggling, the encounter with the elderly man or woman who has been neglected by society, these encounters are what really transform people. The encounters create a pro-life culture.”
Students for Life
Senior theology major Molly Boland of Catonsville, Md., has been participating in the March for Life since she was in fourth grade. She’s now president of the Students for Life group at Catholic University and will speak at the rally in Caldwell Auditorium before students depart for the march.
“The March for Life is an awesome event,” Boland says. “There are so many people there, which is really cool. They’re happy to be there celebrating life. The energy is upbeat. We’re there for the same thing. We all believe everyone should have the chance to live.”
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For Students for Life, creating a pro-life culture also means more than just participating in the march. Every week, members of the group pray outside an abortion facility. The group also hosts formation nights.
“We invite students to come and learn more about life issues and different takes on [those issues], so we talk about immigration, abortion, what it means to interact with another person,” Boland explains. “Living a culture of life isn’t just about not killing someone. It’s about interacting with everyone you meet with charity and love and showing them that you respect their dignity and that you love them.”
The group will host a series of events leading up to the March for Life. Boland says the group hopes to “pack the sidewalks” when they pray at the abortion facility the Saturday before the march. Other events throughout the week will include the viewing of a movie with a pro-life message and volunteer opportunities related to the march.
The day before the March for Life, nearly 1,000 high school and college students will pack into the Raymond A. DuFour Athletics Center, where they’ll spend the night. This hospitality is something Catholic University offers every year to march participants. With so many guests staying on campus, there is a large need for student volunteers.
“Every year I get nervous that I’m not going to fill those volunteer spots,” says Tremblay. “There are long shifts and they are not the most glamorous. Yet every year I have plenty of volunteers. It amazes me.”
Approximately 150 Catholic University students will assist with the hospitality. They will help set up the DuFour Center, welcome people as they arrive, and give out meal tickets. Some will be on hand throughout the night in case anyone needs assistance.
“These students stay up all night, take a little nap, and then they go on the march. Our students are really dedicated to life and I think hospitality is a huge part of our Catholic tradition,” says Tremblay.
In addition to the volunteers in the DuFour Center, nearly 100 students will help Jan. 21 at the National Prayer Vigil for Life in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which draws more than 20,000 people every year.
Leading the March
On Jan. 22, Catholic University students will be front and center as they lead the March for Life. Rev. Eric de la Pena, O.F.M. Conv., associate chaplain for faith development in Campus Ministry, said the organizers for the march reached out to Catholic University about taking the leading role.
Father Eric says the organizers of the march wanted to show that young people are pro-life.
“It’s a deliberate effort to put young people out front,” he says. “Catholic University participates every year. A campus represents young people and our young people are invested. Their voice counts.”
Boland says she is excited about the University’s leading role.
“I think it’s awesome that CUA is leading the march this year. I think it’s time that we develop our [country’s] culture into a culture of life, not just on this issue, but on every issue.”
Tremblay says Catholic University’s location in Washington, D.C., gives students a chance to experience the march every year.
“The march is a unique opportunity to see how activism is part of our Catholic tradition. We’re fighting for and defending the least among us. To be able to have our students defend the least among us in a political way every year is a unique opportunity that our location in the District provides.”