The pilgrimage began for the Eparchy of Parma’s group on Saturday, January 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that had made abortion legal 38 years ago. About 50 teens, young adults and adults from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio, for the vigil Divine Liturgy, followed by pizza, introductions, the assembling of the group’s matching scarves, the painting of a banner and compline (night prayer).
At 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, January 23, the bus load of already sleep-deprived but energetic marchers departed the Cathedral. On the way to DC, the group watched the video “Nine Days that Changed the World,” a recent film about Pope John Paul II’s nine-day visit to Poland in 1979 when the country was under communism. In small groups on the bus, the marchers had the opportunity to discuss the film and make connections between the experience of millions of Poles gathering together during the pope’s visit and the experience they would be having at the March for Life. Luke Iyengar, 16, of Holy Ghost parish in McKees Rocks, Penn., commented to the whole group that although the secular media will distort the facts of the march or ignore it altogether, just as the media did in Poland, he pointed out that his fellow marchers on the bus had cameras and video cameras. “They [the Poles in 1979] did not have Facebook or YouTube, but we do!” he exclaimed, encouraging his fellow marchers to share the truth of their experience on the internet.
When the bus arrived in Washington, DC, the marchers were dropped off at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for an even more intense reflection on historical events that have much to teach modern society. This experience “made me realize even more that we have to speak out and stand up for what is right,” said Darlene Hritz of St. Joseph parish, Brecksville, Ohio. “After visiting the Holocaust Museum I realized how truly precious life is and it made me grateful for all I have,” said Madie Pochatko, 15, of St. Michael parish in Hermitage, Penn.
The marchers then trekked out into the freezing evening to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. At the bottom of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in a shivering huddle, teens took turns reading quotes from Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., further tying together historical events through the words of two of our nation’s great leaders on the respect for life and the rights of all.
The hungry group then arrived in Annandale, Virginia, at Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic parish, welcomed by the wonderful hospitality of parishioners and greeted by ByzanTEENS from Epiphany parish, Philadelphia and Long Island, New York. After dinner the teens had time to get to know each other and enjoy card games before they headed back out to DC for Byzantine compline at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated by Bishop William of the Eparchy of Passaic. Hundreds of Roman Catholics also participated in the service. Bishop John, of the Eparchy of Parma, gave the homily, and explained that the unborn teach us that faith is about a relationship with Christ—one that they have not broken as we have.
|Third Hour at Epiphany Parish|
Young adult Kristin Striker (St. Columbkille, Parma, Ohio) said, “I loved the prayerful intention of the trip. It was more of a pilgrimage atmosphere than just a fun trip.” For Jessie Houck (St. Francis de Sales, Akron, Ohio), the best part of the trip was singing Marian hymns. She said, “It was so great to lose my voice in supplication to our mother for those who cannot speak up for themselves.”
The march concluded in front of the Supreme Court building, and the group stopped there to pray the Akathist to the Mother of God. Many marchers passing by paused to listen or accepted an invitation to share a book and join in. Andrea Trompak, 16, of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, said, “My favorite part of the march is praying the Akathist in front of the judicial building…I loved being able to share this experience with my good friends and randomers from the march!” An adult participant commented, “One of our young members brought a friend…I saw the two of them singing the Akathist—this was an incredible sight.”
Amidst the estimated crowd of 400,000, the intensity of the Byzantines’ prayer was not unnoticed, as illustrated by the follow-up article by John-Henry Westen on LifeSiteNews.com, a prominent Internet pro-life news service:
“Long after most marchers had dispersed, a group of young people remained across the street from the Supreme Court, heads bowed in solemn prayer. Their sign “ByzanTeens for Life” signified that they were Byzantine Catholics known for their intense and lengthy prayers. Rachel Pawluszka, 16, one of the ByzanTeens, told LifeSiteNews that the best thing about the March for her was meeting so many others, even those of different religious backgrounds, who all share the love and reverence for life.”
The trip was not only an opportunity to stand up for the dignity of human life but also to share Byzantine spirituality with Roman Catholic friends. “I really enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the beauty of the Eastern Church,” said Striker. Amanda Jancewicz, 13, of St. Ambrose parish in Brunswick, Ohio, commented the day after the trip, “It truly was an awesome and moving experience for me to be a part of the fight against abortion. I enjoyed seeing the differences between the Byzantine and Roman Catholic religions, and hope to continue to be a part of the religious retreats and activities the ByzanTEENS offer. I have enjoyed the trip so much that I am going to be presenting my experience at my school, Saint Ambrose, tomorrow.”
Besides LifeSiteNews, several blogs noted the “ByzanTEENS for Life” and included a picture of the group’s icon signs in their blog entries following the march, including a National Catholic Register blog by Steven Greydanus, a popular blog by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf and the blog “Lead Kindly Light.” The group was also seen on EWTN’s live television coverage of the event.