Cold Air, Warm Promise, and Fiery Zeal
For a Wisconsinite to say that it was bitterly cold, it was bitterly cold! Yet, an estimated half million people gathered last Friday for the fortieth time to peacefully demonstrate and march for life. The annual March for Life has been called by some “America’s largest uncovered event.” As we have done for more than a dozen years, Catholic Memorial High School sent a group of pilgrims to Washington, DC. There, our three dozen pilgrims added their youthful voices of conviction to the March for Life, and powerful and wonderful voices they were.
Over the last few years, a growing theme in the pro-life movement has been to frame our stance as being the most significant civil rights issue of our day. With that as a backdrop, our CMH students travelled to Washington knowing that the opportunity to see in our American history figures like Abraham Lincoln and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., would give insights into the efforts we must make for the respect of all life from conception to natural death.
Like most visitors to Washington, we spent our first (very cold) day going right from the airport to the monuments around the Capital Mall. Always the most impressive edifice is the Lincoln Memorial. Even that day, the bustle of tourists took a little bit away from the potential solemnity of the place. More moving in many ways for our kids was the Vietnam War Memorial. There, they found the names of the three CMH students who died in that conflict.
With smartphones out, they were able to find a picture of one of the young men, David Frischmann, who died in May, 1967. There was clearly an impact about the history lesson to be learned when some of the girls commented on how cute the young David was in his uniform, or when the boys in our group learned that the average age of those named on the wall was nineteen. In these moments they discovered for themselves a new way to connect with this historic event. The Vietnam War was an event which, for them, is as far removed from their lives as World War II is from mine, and WWI was from my parents. Yet they had an epiphany of sorts when they found a new thread of relationship to the persons involved. Unbeknownst to them at the time, this sense of relationship would be a lesson carried through the weekend.
The day of the March was again cold, certainly tiring, and yet, overwhelmingly exciting. The day started early at the Verizon Center where over 20,000 young people gathered for a Rally, to pray the Rosary, and to celebrate a “Mass 4 Life.” (Another 18,000 youth gathered up in Maryland, at the Comcast Center, for the same start to the day.) The March for Life itself had intensity, solemnity and also, celebration. Back and forth chants between we Cheeseheads and a group of Cornhuskers from a high school in Omaha, Nebraska helped keep both groups focused on the meaning of the march, instead of the depth of the cold. For some, new friends were made, and shared commitments to a common cause were forged.
On the evening after the March, our group attended a screening of the movie Lincoln. So much can be said about this movie, but for our purposes it was the real, human connections which gave everyone, from Abraham Lincoln all the way to the black and white Union soldiers shown side by side, the conviction they needed to act for the real common good. Risking the need for a spoiler alert, in the person of Representative Thaddeus Stevens and his relationship with his mixed race housekeeper, Lydia Smith (said by Carl Sandburg to have been a devout Catholic woman), we learn the lesson of the relationship being his inspiration to act. When we can love and care for another in a truly human and Christ-like way, then we have no choice but to rise up to a compulsion to act for their rightful place in both law and morality. The relationship makes the difference.
Practically speaking, it is through the advanced ultrasound images provided at places like Milwaukee’s Woman’s Care Center which reinforces that in the womb it is a child to be loved instead of a mass of tissue. Interpersonally, it is through shared and truly committed love between the mother and father that the child can be understood as fruit born for a future, instead of a mere burden of the present moment. Culturally, it is in the realization of a young generation that as many as one-quarter to one-third of their classmates, teammates, coworkers and friends were never given a chance, that the degree of lost social stability and security is begun to be felt.
Each of these is a perspective on the relationship which we, as individuals and as a society, have with the unborn. It is in relationships, immediate or distant, present day or potential for the future, where we cultivate the compulsion to act for their dignity and for their rights. As we have learned from our nations past, and from our personal experiences, it is only through relationships of love and respect that we will be able to address the greatest civil rights issue of our time – the Right to Life!
The pro-life pilgrims from Catholic Memorial High School will continue to be Crusaders for Life. They are thankful for the chance to act on their faith and to work to make a difference in the world. They enjoyed immensely the chance to celebrate a special mass on Saturday morning with Archbishop Listecki and the other groups from Milwaukee in DC for the March. Many have pictures with Governor Scott Walker, taken on the plane ride home, which they will keep for a long time. All met strangers and made new friends with whom they will keep contact. I pray that they will see all of these relationships as sources of encouragement and strength to continue the great work to be done. I pray that all Americans will come to realize that, in the Body of Christ, we have a real relationship with all those threatened by the culture of death and, in that same Body of Christ, we have the responsibility to protect their God-given right to life.
Very Reverend Paul Hartmann
President, Catholic Memorial High School
Judicial Vicar, Archdiocese of Milwaukee