By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

According to much, if not most, of the secular press, it never happened.

News flash – hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates were joyfully clogging the streets and jamming the subway lines in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22 for the 37th annual Rally and March for Life, marking the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion on demand throughout the country.

Included were more than 90 busloads of people from parishes and schools in the Philadelphia area.

Cardinal Justin Rigali got a jump on the proceedings by concelebrating the opening Mass of the annual event on the evening of Jan. 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Mass, which this year featured Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston as the principal celebrant, had a number of cardinals and bishops and hundred of priests as concelebrants. It is annually the best attended Mass held at the Basilica, which is America’s largest church.

Other Philadelphians at the evening Mass were the regional vicars, Msgrs. Joseph R. Duncan, Joseph T. Marino, George A. Majoros, Arthur E. Rogers, Joseph L. Logrip and Kevin C. Lawrence.

Expressing the sentiment of the group, Msgr. Majoros said, “We are here to witness for life and remind everyone we march for those not yet born. All of the vicars are here joining our people as we stand up for life.”

The next morning Cardinal Rigali was principal celebrant at the 10 a.m. pre-rally Mass at the Basilica attended by many of the travelers from Philadelphia.

The large turnout for the annual event “represents the growing tide of public understanding of that unchanging truth that the right to life is sacred and inviolable from the first moment of conception until the moment of natural death,” the Cardinal said in his homily.

Among those at the Mass were 157 seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and about 10 faculty members, according to seminary rector Msgr. Joseph G. Prior.

“We’ve been coming since the March started, and we are hoping some day when the law is overturned we won’t have to come,” he said.

Not everyone came by bus or train. Dave Altomare drove down with his wife, Ann-Marie, daughters Rose, Monica and Rita and a couple of other kids. “It’s our fourth time; we feel very strongly as a family for the sanctity of life,” he said.

Dr. Stuart Barbara, who has been attending “off and on for 20 years” was there with a bus from St. Albert the Great Parish in Huntingdon Valley, which was paid for by the local Knights of Columbus. “We’ve had some great days at this over the years,” he said.

The Philadelphia Chapter Knights of Columbus had 52 people on another bus. “I’ve been coming for 22 years, and it always gets better. There are a lot more young people,” said K. of C. chapter president Pat Corey.

“We came to be against abortion, we are trying to stop it and our whole school feels that way,” said Alaina Kopcko, one of 17 eighth-graders among the busload from St. Ignatius in Yardley.

At Devon Prep, school was closed for the day because 186 students, more than two-thirds of the school, signed up for the march, according to the headmaster Piarist Father James J. Shea. “We’ve been coming since 1993,” he said. “That first year we had 35 students and it’s been growing. We also collected baby items for distribution by archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services.”

There were some former Philadelphians in the throng too, for example Bishop Joseph Cistone who led seven busloads of people from his diocese of Saginaw, Mich.

“The fact that people come so far shows Saginaw is pro-life,” he said. “We got in last night and attended the Mass at the Verizon Center this morning which had 20,000 people. We will leave tomorrow, drive all night and get home Sunday morning.”

Oblate Sister of St. Francis John Marie was there with a busload from St. Bernadette Parish in Drexel Hill. “We come in support of life and we’ve been coming for many, many years,” she said.

A number of those who visited Washington took the opportunity to lobby their legislators. For example Edel Finnegan of the Pro-Life Union of Southeastern Pennsylvania visited Sen. Robert Casey, with mixed results. Although Casey told them he supported pro-life efforts he also told them he favored funding of contraception, “which is against Catholic teaching,” Finnegan said.

Mike McMonagle, also of the Pro-Life Union, has travel plans that will take him farther than Washington. This summer he will be with a group on a march from Dublin to Belfast, Ireland, to keep abortion out of Northern Ireland. “Locally, especially since the Massachusetts election, news on the abortion and health care is encouraging,” he said, “but we have to keep on it.”

While young people made up the majority of the marchers, they weren’t alone.

“I’ve been coming for 28 years,” said Jan Raubenstine. “About 10 years ago we thought there was a glimmer of hope, and we would be on our last march but it wasn’t to be. We just have to be persistent in our support for life.”

The St. Charles seminarians marched with the archdiocesan banner and among them were Matt Morrelli from Harrisburg and Patrick Muka from the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Morelli, who is in first college, said it was his fifth march but the first with the seminary.

“We come to pray that the judgment of Roe v. Wade is overturned and that God fulfills His work. It’s up to us to pray,” he said.

Muka, who is in second college, said it was his third march.

“We come to bear witness to the truth. Life starts in the womb and our country needs to support that with justice,” he said.

Cardinal Rigali joined the seminarians along the march and met with many other Philadelphia groups.

“We are so happy to have so large a delegation from Philadelphia,” he said. “So many people have been coming for so many years, and they never grow tired of doing good.”

Among those he met were seven students from St. Dominic School in Northeast Philadelphia.

“We come because we think life is precious and we should respect it,” said St. Dominic student Shane Flanagan.

Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, another school that always sends a bus, was there with Father Joseph Bongard, school president.

“I think abortion is wrong,” said Roman sophomore Mark Casasanto. “It is a human being and everyone has a right to life.”

Down with a group from St. Matthew Parish in Conshohocken were young adults Mark Pennington and Andrew Amrhein who came on a bus from St. Philip Neri Parish in Lafayette Hill.

“It’s amazing. The Holy Spirit is here,” Amrhein said.

“Last year was the first time I came,” Pennington said. I’d never heard about the March for Life, I guess I wasn’t paying attention. I’m paying attention now.”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising Pennington hadn’t known about the march because it is seemingly so underreported.

Jim White, of St. Katherine of Siena Parish in Wayne, who has been going to the march for the past decade or so, estimated the crowd at half a million, “although I’m sure ABC, CBS and NBC will say there are only a hundred people here,” he said.

“It’s a great witness to life and good to see how many people come such a long way,” he added.

White’s estimate is probably high, but the crowd, including those who could not get into the rally itself, was easily a couple hundred thousand. He has a good point about the coverage.

That night, the Washington NBC affiliate didn’t even mention the march although it gave great coverage of the rescue of a dog from a river.

In Philadelphia, it didn’t fare well in the local press outside of the Philadelphia Bulletin. For the Philadelphia Inquirer, on Jan. 23 it was a non-event with zero coverage. The Philadelphia Daily News ran a very nice picture of Cardinal Rigali with the seminarians in Washington, but the local story was all about a Planned Parenthood rally at Philadelphia City Hall attended by 40 people, by the paper’s estimate. It entirely missed the City Hall rally on the same day attended by about 75 to 85 pro-lifers who hadn’t gone to Washington.

Do the local papers with their highly publicized “local ownership” give Catholic issues fair coverage?

“No,” said John Stanton of the Pro-Life Union. “I could go on forever about the coverage.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.