CHICAGO (CNS) — Despite high winds, freezing precipitation and cold temperatures, thousands turned out for the seventh annual March for Life Chicago, which kicked off in Daley Plaza Jan. 11.

The march, with the theme “Life Empowers: Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman,” proceeded east on Washington Avenue and south on Michigan Avenue, where it ended at the Congress Plaza Hotel. A youth rally hosted by the Archdiocese of Chicago took place at the hotel before the march, along with an expo of pro-life groups sponsored by WeDignify.

The “Mass for Life” was celebrated at the hotel following the march, and the evening featured a banquet and swing dance party.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich joined several speakers in addressing those gathered for the march.

“When a child is born into the world, it is a great gift, not just for the child but for a whole family, a family that sees a legacy carried on and can see in the eyes of that child the future,” Cardinal Cupich told the gathering.

The cardinal spoke of how his own family welcomed two new great-grandnephews in recent months, which makes 25 great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces in his family. Those new births, and all children, inspire generosity and hope for the future, he said. That generosity extends to helping all children and mothers.

“Today as we say we are pro-life we are also pro-women. We have to make sure that women have the resources that they need in order to bring that child into the world. We have to make sure they have proper health care and all the social amenities that are helping them to be mothers,” he said. “Being pro-life means being pro-mother.”

Participants came from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri. Among them was Jonathan Olesen, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He came from Batavia, Illinois, for the event.

He is a member of WeDignify, the organization formerly known as Students for Life of Illinois, and was one of the people selected to carry the “March for Life Chicago” banner at the beginning of the march.

“I’m a Roman Catholic and I respect life and I really do think abortion is an evil that has come upon the country,” said Olesen, who also attended the expo prior to the march. “It wasn’t always on my radar, but it really became more apparent as I went to college and things started coming up.”

He was looking forward to leading the march with fellow college students.

“I’m nervous, but I’m excited for it. I’ve never been on a march before so this should be fun,” he told the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.

In May 2019, Illinois passed legislation that permits abortion at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason. That action has recommitted many to support life at all stages, including Willows Academy senior Tess Birmingham.

“We care a lot about saving the babies. We’re unhappy with the legislation in Illinois that allows abortions, that allows this kind of thing to happen. We want to march to support life at every age and every stage,” said Birmingham, who attended with Kailey Mongoven from Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Mongoven, a freshman at St. Louis University, is involved with the pro-life group on her campus but couldn’t attend the upcoming national March for Life with them, so she wanted to show her support by attending the event in Chicago.

“Each and every single human being deserves the right to live their life, to have the opportunity to have a life and not have that taken away. We all have human dignity. That’s important to every single person no matter what,” Mongoven said.

Before the march started, Jim Holuj from Knights of Columbus Council 10926 in New Lenox, Illinois, passed signs out to participants.

Seeing all the young people at the march is “very encouraging,” the father of six said.

“That’s where it’s at,” Holuj said. “They give us the vitality to continue.”

Holuj has been involved in pro-life efforts for eight years.

“Life matters. Without that, without family, we have nothing. We need young life to continue. It’s not rocket science,” he said.

The national March for Life has been held annually in Washington since 1974 near the Jan. 22 anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973. Tens of thousands are expected to participate in the national march Jan. 24 this year. Groups from the Archdiocese of Chicago also will be in attendance.

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Duriga is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Pro-life advocates in Chicago are seen Jan. 11, 2020, during the city’s March for Life. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)