January 26, 2018

‘A powerful thing’: Inaugural Indiana March for Life shows pro-life movement ‘is alive and well’

Students from Saint Theodore Guérin High School in Noblesville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, lead a procession of approximately 500 participants along Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis on Jan. 22 for the inaugural Indiana March for Life, an event coordinated by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the Lafayette Diocese and Right to Life of Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Students from Saint Theodore Guérin High School in Noblesville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, lead a procession of approximately 500 participants along Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis on Jan. 22 for the inaugural Indiana March for Life, an event coordinated by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the Lafayette Diocese and Right to Life of Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Shawn Gillen reflected on her participation in the inaugural Indiana March for Life, she had only one regret.

“I wish I’d brought my kids,” said the member of St. Lawrence Parish in Lafayette, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “This was an historical, monumental event. We’ll look back on this and say, ‘I was there.’ ”

Gillen was one of approximately 500 participants in the first Indiana March for Life in Indianapolis on Jan. 22—the day when, 45 years ago, the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions by the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion across the country.

(See a photo gallery here | More photos)

The event was the culmination of efforts by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the Diocese of Lafayette and Right to Life of Indianapolis. Their goal was to support and raise awareness of the pro-life cause, and to promote pro-life action and legislation at the state level.

And what better place to accomplish such a goal than to march up Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis and hold a rally outside the Indiana Statehouse, where the state’s General Assembly is currently in session.

“For 45 years, legal abortion has been the law of the land,” said Right to Life of Indianapolis president Marc Tuttle from the statehouse steps. He was the first of several speakers to address the crowd at the post-march rally. “It’s time that we do something about this as citizens, and it’s time that we do something about this as legislators.”

(Related story: Speakers from all walks of life inspire crowd at Indiana March for Life)

After the rally, Sandy Burton of Bread of Life Ministries Church in Avon looked up at the statehouse’s towering limestone façade.

“I hope us just standing here will make a difference in the hearts of everyone in this building making decisions for us,” she said. “We can voice our opinion, but [the legislators] make the decisions.”

Burton participated in the march and rally “because it matters that we show up. I’m thankful to see unity across the board [here]—young, old, families, men, women, babies, different faiths.”

Her description captured the crowd that processed to the statehouse from St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis after a pre-march Mass. Banners, balloons, signs and chanting voices all proclaimed the sanctity of life in the downtown Indianapolis procession.

(Related story: Mass attracts 1,000 to give witness to the dignity, sanctity of life)

Trying to tame a yellow “Life” balloon blowing in the gusty wind, 10-year‑old Eli Elmore said he thought it was important to march “because babies don’t have the choice if they live or die. They have their entire lives ahead of them, and that shouldn’t be ruined.” Eli is a member of Southside Christian Homeschool Academy in Indianapolis.

Another youth participating in the march had a special reason to promote the pro-life cause.

“I love pro-life because I was adopted, and I’m grateful my mom didn’t abort me,” said Mary Green, 14, a member of St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in Zionsville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. “I feel so bad for people who don’t realize abortion takes away life.”

Young adults were also well‑represented in the march, including members of the pro-life club at DePauw University in Greencastle. Drew Cobb, a freshman, proudly waved a flag bearing the school’s name as he marched.

“I thought it was important to be here and support the pro-life movement,” he said. “I hope by attending this year that it will draw even more [people] next year.”

Fellow club member Sarah Hennessy, a sophomore, noted that “especially on college campuses, the feminist movement is strong. But to be truly feminist, you have to be pro-life.”

There were plenty of little testaments-to-life being pushed in strollers along the way to the statehouse.

“I can’t think of a better witness to life than to bring my children,” said Aurora Verkamp as two little faces peered out from a double-stroller.

The member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg is grateful for the opportunity to march locally for the pro‑life cause.

“Going to Washington [for the national March for Life] is just not practical given my current situation,” she said with a grin toward her toddlers.

While the only toddlers in his life are now his grandchildren, that didn’t stop long-time pro-life advocate Steve Martin from taking part in the march.

“When I heard [a] high school youth group chanting as they walked, I was in tears,” said the member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. “It is such a powerful thing to hear high school kids pick up this issue and be as excited as they obviously were.

“We pro-life people work all year long, and no one sees anything. … You’ve got to have a march to show people we’re alive and well, and that there’s many of us.”

After the march and rally, many participants ventured inside the statehouse to witness a Rose Ceremony. There, 45 people each held a sign representing one of the years in which lives were lost to abortion since it was legalized in 1973. On each sign was the number of children aborted in that year. The combined total was more than 60 million. (For comments by Rose Ceremony speaker Abby Johnson, see sidebar on page 9A.)

The Indiana March for Life event ended later in the evening, when about 150 people participated in a youth-and-young-adult rally and holy hour at St. John the Evangelist Church.

Abby Johnson served as the keynote speaker during this Vigil for Life, captivating the youthful audience with a message similar to the one she shared during the Rose Ceremony.

The former Planned Parenthood facility director turned-pro-life-advocate told the young people how she regretted taking so long—eight years—to leave a job where she assisted in the abortions of children.

“Being pro-life means you are advocating for the right to life every day,” she said. “One day, I had the opportunity to do something, to save a life, and I did nothing. I’m asking you tonight to find out how you can do something.”

Silent prayer and the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed in the darkened church before the soaring, heartfelt singing of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” closed the rally—and the day of witness for life—on another emotional note.

“I’m very passionate about the pro-life movement,” said Cari Weibel, the director of youth ministry for St. Lawrence and St. Matthew the Apostle parishes, both in Indianapolis. “I can’t think of anything more important than saving babies and saving lives.”

The Vigil for Life also left its impact on Matt Faley.

“The vigil gives us an opportunity to reconnect to the great miracle of our own lives,” said Faley, director of young adult and college campus ministry for the archdiocese. “Tonight’s vigil connects us to God, the source of this life and sends us back out into the world to bring others to that same reality. That is what the world is starving for the most—a witness to authentic life.”

From the opening Mass to the end of the evening youth and young adult event, the entire day was a success in the eyes of Susan Hoefer, Natural Family Planning coordinator for the Lafayette Diocese, who helped organize the inaugural Indiana March for Life.

“I am filled with joy about what I’ve witnessed today, … everyone coming together to proclaim that all human life has inherent dignity and worth, given to us from God Almighty,” she said. “How beautiful it is to see such an amazing gathering.”

The plan is to have another such gathering next year, and likely for years to come. As Tuttle declared to the crowd: “We will be out here marching as long as the culture victimizes the unborn through abortion.”

(John Shaughnessy contributed to this story.)

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