Pro-Life prayer warriors, many of them youth, went to St. Augustine, Washington, D.C., and Ave Maria, in mid-January 2023 to be witnesses for life marking the tragic 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision which cleared the way for legalized abortion in the U.S.
The difference in 2023 is that on June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization effectively overturned five decades of unlimited access to abortion.
This allowed the three Marches for Life to be celebratory in nature but tempered with the political reality that now each state has different laws regarding abortion ranging from outright bans to allowing an abortion up until birth. This means the Catholic Church’s fight to protect life from conception until natural death continues.
Several groups from the Diocese participated in the State March for Life in St. Augustine on Jan. 14, 2023, while some 200 from the Diocese were in D.C. for the National March for Life on Jan. 20. The next day, nearly 1,000 took part in the second annual March for Life organized by Ave Maria Parish.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who was in DC and Ave Maria, said he was impressed by the signs in DC carried by the young people which proclaimed, “Our Generation Is Pro-Life.”
“There was a determination and excitement – it electrified the whole crowd,” Bishop Dewane said when speaking at the Ave Maria March. “The message I gave those young pilgrims, and for all of us, is to take on in their life the message of Jesus Christ and live it always, that is understanding the absolute value that life must have as we live as men and women of God.”
Living one’s life this way comes with certain challenges, Bishop Dewane admitted.
“Let us be the radical witness that is called for in today’s society,” Bishop continued. “Let us be that voice in the wilderness that cries out repeatedly about the value of life – just like what happened to Christ when he was among his neighbors in Nazareth – and as we heard in today’s Gospel (Mk 3:20-21), you are going to get bullied. Someone is going to yell back and respond. That’s fine. Address them – remember it is personal for you and we must work to change the heart of that person, so they value life, and come to know the truth of Christ.”
Annabella Augustine, a pilgrim to DC from Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, is taking up the call to spread the word of life.
“This is my first time coming to the March for Life and I can say this was such an exhilarating experience that I will never forget. My goal is to be a voice for the younger generations and help them see the truth in a world of chaos.”
Mooney schoolmate James Rowan described the March less as a peaceful protest and more as a “celebration of life and recognition for the families who are going through or have gone through an abortion.”
In the 50 years since the Roe decision more than 63 million unborn children were deprived of their right to life.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a Jan. 22 statement, the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, that the Dobbs decision “is a fruit of prayer, born of a commitment to justice.”
However, subsequent Florida legislation still allows abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. “Our advocacy for the legal protection of life in the womb must continue to make the most of the opportunities presented by Dobbs. The legislature must enact further limits on abortion,” the Florida Bishops stated.
Sharon Levesque, who is President of the Respect Life Outreach at Ave Maria Parish and helped organize the community march, was pleased with the large turnout, but said it would return in 2024.
There will be a third annual March for Life on Jan. 20, 2024, because “we will continue to march so long as the life of any unborn child is threatened in the world.”
At Ave Maria, the gathering began at the university football field, where various dignitaries, including Bishop Dewane, spoke. Then everyone marched through the Ave Maria University campus more than a mile to the steps of the Parish Church, all while praying the rosary and singing along the way.
Among the larger groups in DC were representatives from Cardinal Mooney, Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, Ave Maria University and the Ave Maria School of Law. Several smaller groups from a variety of Parishes also took part.
Two Diocesan priests, Father Eric Scanlan, Chaplain at Cardinal Mooney as well Pastor of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota, and Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, Director of Spirituality at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice, were part of the March.
Participants from the Diocese attended the Vigil Mass on Jan. 20 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and a Mass on the day of the March for all Florida pilgrims at St. Peter Parish on Capitol Hill where the main celebrant was Bishop Dewane.
Diocesan seminarians from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach and Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, participated with their respective schools.
Bishop Dewane gave the group in DC and Ave Maria direction to go forward and be agents of change in society.
“We must act because being in a personal relationship with the Lord does not allow us to permit abortion at any time,” Bishop Dewane said. “Let us speak out! Be the strength! Be the message of the Lord that you are called to be! Let us stand up next to Jesus Christ and proudly be Pro-Life!”
If you would like to learn more about the Respect Life issues and how you can be a witness for life, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/respectlife.