On Monday, I attended the thirty-ninth March for Life. It is strange to think that I have gone to about half of the Marches for Life in history. I last was not able to go fifteen years ago because I was in Europe at the time. As such, I have a good understanding of how the march has evolved. One strikingly visible change has been the numbers, appearance, and age of men and women in the consecrated life at the march. Roman Catholics have always been the overwhelmingly dominant group at the march, and they continue to be so. However, their priests, friars, sisters, monks, and nuns are more numerous every year. Their garb has become much more traditional, reflecting the return to traditional practices that is so evident in Roman Catholicism. When I arrived at the pre-march rally, I could not find the Orthodox group at first, and I moved around the Mall trying to spot them. The proliferation of cassock wearing Roman priests complicated my efforts. I finally got so tired of scanning such groupings of men that I approached some Latin priests and said, “I’m glad that you guys are wearing cassocks, again, but it makes my life harder when I’m trying to find the Orthodox group.” The priests had a jolly laugh and then pointed me in the right direction to find the group.
The religious folks are also getting younger. I told my friend Andrew that I saw hundreds of pretty young nuns on Monday and such made me very happy. Not in a weird, Catholic school girl uniform fetish sort of way, mind you! Rather, youth is vibrant and attractive, and I find the sacrifice of youth and beauty to the consecrated life particularly beautiful. The practice is clearly dysgenic, which is unfortunate, but sacrifices are necessarily important losses. I also talked to a group of handsome, masculine, well groomed Jesuits about the state of affairs in that long suffering order so dear to my heart, and I have further confidence that the younger Jesuits will end that particular community’s recent rebellion. The new generation holds much promise.
Furthermore, these folks are, in fundy terms, “on fire for the Lord,” and they are actively recruiting. At the exhibit hall for the March for Life, religious women were passing out vocations material specific to men and women. One order had a brochure labeled “Joseph” and another labeled “Mary,” each well suited to reaching their targeted demographic. For instance, the men’s material uses very martial language. One of the responses to “Why devote yourself to God in religious life?” is “To bolster the ranks of the Church Militant in choosing for your tour of duty during this short life to fight on the front lines for God and His Church.” Amen! This is how to recruit strong, energetic young men to the consecrated life! I am happy that the Latins have finally rediscovered their testicular fortitude after a long exile in the estrogenized desert.
As for the Orthodoxy community, I was pleased by Metropolitan Jonah’s address. When the introducer stressed that the invocation would be a historic first joint witness and prayer of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox bishops at the March for Life, I was alarmed, thinking that the Metropolitan had gone rogue and was about to cause the heads of all the Churches’ external relations departments simultaneously to explode around the world. Yet, the bishops were very clever. They stressed that they were having a joint prayer, but Metroplitan Jonah delivered it with Timothy Cardinal-elect Dolan standing next to him. That way, unity was shown without causing scandal to the Orthodox, who are wary of joint prayers. After the prayer, the two men hugged and shared the kiss of peace. It was satisfying to see the Latin and Orthodox bishops exercise such diplomatic intelligence. Harmless as doves and wise as serpents! Perhaps, the Metropolitan’s recent political turmoil has taught him to be shrewd.
The Orthodox marching, group, however, continued to be dysfunctional. On George Michalopulos’ site, I saw that a deacon had mentioned the march. I responded thus:
Father, if you have any influence on the group, could you please remind the banner carriers that they are always negligent of the crowd behind them? For years, I have thought about writing a letter, but I don’t know to whom I should send it. I have attended the march pretty much every year since I was a child, and I have marched with the Orthodox group most years over the past decade. However, for the past five years or so, the banner carriers—probably due to their being feisty seminarians—behave as though they are not leading a crowd of people through a gigantic mass of folks. They always leave most of the group behind, especially at the beginning. This year was no different, but thankfully they stopped at the corner on Constitution because they left the bishops! Maybe that was their plan for regrouping, but they need to wait every year for the group to collect.
I understand that they want to get to First Street to have time for the service, but there was plenty of time. Also, if they are worried of the Capitol Police kicking them off the corner as has happened before, why don’t they move to the plaza across from the Supreme Court? I know that we are there for a cause, but we are also quite a visible spectacle to thousands of positively disposed people who have only heard of Orthodoxy. Every year, I witness dozens of interested folks, mostly enthusiastic Latins, engage the group with questions and encouraging words. We would increase our visibility near the Supreme Court and allow for more onlookers to join us in prayer since it is the end of the marching route there.
This may not be able to be helped, but stationing the group far from the rally (like this year) keeps us from being able to hear the rally (and the Metropolitan’s prayer) and makes us largely invisible to the marchers and to the Orthodox in the crowd who are looking for us. I searched for the group for at least an hour in that muddy mess before I located them on Seventh Street far from the rally. On the way, I came across several disparate groups of Orthodox Christians, including nuns from All Saints Greek Orthodox Monastery on Long Island, who would have otherwise marched with us had the group been present and visible at the rally.
I know that organization is largely alien to our ethos, but we can do better. So, if you know how to rectify the situation, it would be highly appreciated.
Maybe, the deacon can forward such concerns to someone who can improve the group’s planning.
For the past four years, I have been able to play tour guide a bit for my brother’s high school group before and after the march. This year, the boys arrived in Washington a day early, which allowed them to see more of the city. If you take such a long bus trip, you ought to spend more time in the capital than simply the hours of the march. Plus, getting a decent rest in a bed makes the day of the march better in every way. I met the group at Union Station after the divine liturgy, which worked well since the group attended mass at the basilica in the morning. From there, I showed them some Capitol Hill sites on the way to the National Mall. We had the chance to visit many museums and monuments until I returned the very exhausted group to their hotel that night. Unfortunately, I only saw the group for a minute while they were passing the Orthodox memorial service at the end of the march, but I hope that their Monday went well.
Among other observations, I must say that I prefer freezing temperatures to the rain. The rally was a mud pit, and umbrellas and crowds go poorly together. Still, I was surprised by the turnout. Every year, people say that the march is getting bigger, and that usually seems to be the case. I remember that the march in A.D. 2001 was particularly impressive, but I attribute that to the inauguration crowds’ participants’ double dipping. Moreover, folks back then anticipated some positive political change with Bush’s election, and such energy likely affected a numbers boost at the march. Nonetheless, recent years have seemed larger than before.
I was also pleased that the route was lengthened this year due to the Mall’s restoration project that forced the rally back to Ninth Street. The eastward creep of the march over the past decade has bothered me a lot, as I mentioned in recent years in “The March and the Media” and in “Thirty-eighth March.” I wish that they would return to the Ellipse.
Unlike the last few marches, I did manage to see a counter protester this year. After the march, as I walked to the Hyatt Regecy to see the exhibit hall, I passed one scruffy looking, thirty something man who was wearing two cardboard pieces like the Soldiers of Hearts in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. The boards stated something about voting for “choice.”
I noticed a few signs that made me smile, but I cannot recall them now. I should have taken pictures. I did see a group of children with stuffed minion dolls (from Despicable Me) on which they had written, “Minions for Life.” That was cute. I also noticed a large banner held by Anglican converts to Rome that stated, “Thank you, Holy Father, for Anglicanorum Coetibus!” When I saw the Yoopers for Life sign, I had to ask the group if they had brought pasties for everyone. Sadly, they said that they had run out.
As always, my fellow Ohioans made a strong showing. The young priest who accompanied my brother’s high school group said that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had 1,700 student tickets, with additional staff, clergy, and chaperone tickets, of the 20,000 total tickets. If we add 150 more for staff, that makes 1,850 of 20,000, or 9.25%. That is amazing. If we added the tickets for other Ohio cities, it is possible that a fifth or even a quarter of the participants were Ohioans. Yet, it confirms the anecdotal evidence of seeing so many Ohio groups so well represented at every year’s march. Midwesterners, in general, have a strong showing, along with groups from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, as one would expect. Foreign delegations included Canadians, Germans, Italians, the French, Brazilians, Mexicans, and I believe Guyana, whose drum playing visitors I had never seen before.
In summary, the day went well despite the rain. I wish that every day in Sodom, there were so many righteous men in the city.