On Thursday January 17th, 50 students from Portland St. Patrick's left on a pilgrimage to Washington D.C. Throughout human existence, most religions have embraced the concept of spiritual journeys. Throughout the Middle Ages, our Catholic Ancestors from Ireland, England, Italy, Germany, France, and other European Nations often set out on journeys across a rugged landscape, carrying very little other than some provisions and clothing. They did this to challenge themselves physically and mentally, and to always work towards personal holiness. Some pilgrimages were taken to defend lands, or to visit a holy site, some were taken to make amends or to right a wrong, but all of them were taken to improve yourself either spiritually or physically.
This pilgrimage was organized wholly by the students of Portland St. Patrick's high school. It was open to students from Portland Public School as well, but outreach was rather limited this year due to budget constraints and organizational challenges. This journey was taken to fight for the unborn children in this country that are lost every year to Abortion. The March for Life is the largest Civil Rights demonstration in the history of the planet, and it happens every year. Hundreds of thousands of people descend on Washington D.C. to ask our lawmakers to protect our unborn, and to draft laws to protect life.
The journey began at 5 am on Thursday morning, a bus had been chartered for the 600-mile journey to our nation’s capital. 50 students from Portland, and 6 chaperones packed onto a full bus and headed out into the unknown, hoping for clarity and community. Prayers the whole way, while pit stops at various places along the Ohio turnpike gave them opportunities to stretch their legs, but other than that the bus kept going all the way to Virginia where their first stop was. On Thursday night, the group attended the "Life is Very Good" event at George Mason University. Around 8,000 Catholics gathered to pray and worship together and ask for divine intervention in the cause of the unborn. Powerful speakers, music and community filled the air and refreshed the youth that gathered together. Self-reflection and reparation for sin was exercised in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the young people came away girded for battle and energized.
On Friday, the Portland youth gathered in D.C. to explore and pay homage to our nations heroes and to pray for the souls of our departed veterans. The WWII memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Memorial were all visited, offering our youth an opportunity to reflect on our Nation’s past, and to honor our fallen. The crowds began to concentrate around 11:00 am, for a concert, and then the speeches at 12:00, followed by the March at 1:30.
The crowd was enormous, even with the impeding winter storm that was flooding the news stations. 100's of thousands of people, from every corner of the world were there. Australians, Britons, Canadians, and from all 50 states people came to celebrate life. Diversity is the theme of the day, with people from all faiths, all races, all family types, all fighting for the rights of the unborn. Thousands of Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterian, Orthodox, LGBT groups, Feminist groups, and virtually all facets of human existence were united. There were no signs of hatred, or judgement for people who disagreed with them on this subject, just love for babies, and appreciation for the gift of human life. Prayer was the main means of combat, with singing and prayer following the procession up Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Supreme Court.
After the St. Patrick's delegation had participated in the March, they made their way to Union Station for an adventure during rush hour subway traffic. Making their way to the second part of their Pilgrimage, the students visited the Basilica of the National Shrine to the Immaculate Conception. The Largest Catholic Church in the United States, and one of the top ten churches in the whole world. It is dedicated to the various times that Mary has visited mankind all throughout the world, in every corner and every nation.
During this time at the Basilica, the student leaders of the Portland delegation were informed that Pennsylvania had announced that it was closing all highway traffic in Pennsylvania the next day due to the impending storm. This was quite a logistical issue, as they had plans to spend the night at a Catholic Parish in Virginia Friday night, and to visit another parish on the way home in Pennsylvania to eat a home cooked meal by the parish families. Unfortunately, that was not to be, as in the interests of safety, the students decided to head straight home and drive through the night. This was probably the most difficult part of the journey, as the youth and adults were packed into a full bus and not looking forward to a long 10-hour drive home through a snow storm. There were zero complaints however, with the youth stiffening their backbones, and taking the blows like true Christian soldiers. Singing, prayer and even an impromptu rap session over the microphone kept the kids happy and in good spirits. The adults just tried to sleep.
Everyone was thrilled to see mom and dad when they got back at 7 am Saturday morning.
Special thanks to Ralph Willemin, Veronica White, and Jeffrey Davlin for all the work put in to give this opportunity to the youth of Portland.
Photos courtesy of Nick Weller and Allison Girone.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Portland Beacon or it's management.