“I’m in ninth grade, and I’m marching to give those who may be threatened by abortion the chance to be ninth graders also.” Those words, spoken by Remigio Deventi, a student at Pope John Paul II High School in Greenville, reflected the sentiments of tens of thousands of teenagers and young people who took part in the 2011 March for Life in Washington, D.C., Monday, January 24.
Deventi was part of three busloads of Catholic faithful who made the trip from Greenville, sponsored by St. Peter Catholic Church and School. The group included students from St. Peter’s and the freshman class of the new Pope John Paul II High School. Father Justin Kerber, C.P., Pastor of St. Peter, said the young people from both schools were excited about the trip to the nation’s capital, especially the North Carolina Mass for Life, which was celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “Our parish community and schools are here in Washington to proclaim that life is sacred,” Father Kerber said.
More than 24 buses from parishes throughout the Diocese made their way to D.C., leaving in the early hours of Monday morning. They were joined by several thousands of other Catholics from the Diocese of Raleigh and the Diocese of Charlotte, who traveled by car, some departing as early as Sunday.
Once again, as in recent years, the Upper Church of the Basilica was filled for the 11:30 a.m. North Carolina Mass for Life. The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge was the Principal Celebrant. The Most Reverend Peter J. Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte, was Homilist and Principal Concelebrant. The large majority of those in attendance were from North Carolina, with worshippers from other Dioceses sprinkled throughout the 2,500-seat shrine. Several hundred other people stood along the sides of the Upper Church.
Prior to the final blessing by Bishop Burbidge, Director of the Diocese of Raleigh Pro-Life Office, Mrs. Jackie Bonk, asked all those present who were 21 years of age and younger to stand. Almost half of the gathering rose. In his closing remarks, Bishop Burbidge expressed gratitude to the young people for demonstrating, by their presence, their strong commitment to the pro-life cause. He expressed gratitude on behalf of Bishop Jugis for the large turnout of Catholics to witness to this important issue facing our society.
“I love coming up here,” said Katie Vaughn, a tenth grader and member of the Cape Fear Deanery Teens for Life. Vaughn, who plans to become an obstetrician, said the pro-life cause is important to her. As important as the march is to demonstrate support for life, she added, she also enjoys the celebration of the Mass with fellow Catholics from North Carolina in such a beautiful church.
“It was amazing,” said Olivia Dunn, an eighth grader from St. Peter School, commenting on the Mass. “I believe that life is sacred. It is a core value of our faith. It’s an experience I wanted to have and share with my classmates.”
John Kennedy, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rocky Mount, made the journey with his wife and four young children. “This is a big part of our faith,” Kennedy said. “We’re doing it for the protection of life and truth. I was honored to be at the Mass with other North Carolina Catholics.”
For Dr. Gene Glover, a parishioner at St. Therese Catholic Church in Wilson, a major motivation for his attendance at the Mass and march was getting the attention of Congress. “I’m here to protest any federal money that would be used to take life, whether at conception or natural death,” Dr. Glover said. Reflecting upon the Mass, Dr. Glover added, “It was beautiful to hear people’s voices in prayer and song and to be supported by such a strong Bishop as Bishop Burbidge. And to see young Catholics standing up for their faith and for life brings me and my family great hope.”
Present for the Mass and march were the 21 seminarians in the Diocesan formation program. For Deacon Brendan Buckler, who is scheduled to be ordained to the Priesthood in June, the Mass was a special occasion, in which he proclaimed the Gospel. “I always enjoyed coming to Mass at the Basilica when I lived in the area,” Deacon Buckler said. “To come back here and proclaim the Gospel was monumental for me. The seminarians enjoy coming down every year because it’s a moving experience,” Deacon Buckler noted. “It is great for the spiritual life of the men, to foster that prayer for life.”
Catholics from North Carolina were part of the estimated 300,000 people who took part in the March for Life down Constitution Avenue, past the Capitol and on to the U.S. Supreme Court. The attendance at the annual march has grown consistently in the past few years.
Bishop Burbidge and several groups of Catholics from the Diocese paid a visit to the office of Senator Richard Burr and met with newly elected 2nd District U.S. Representative Renee’ Ellmers, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Dunn.
Above: Part of the more than 2,500 Catholics attending the North Carolina Mass for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on January 24.
Below: Pro-life supporters, part of an estimated 300,000, who took part in the annual March for Life in Washinton, D.C.