March 8, 2017
Sometimes the most eye-opening pro-life message is realized in the most unlikely places. In this case, it was the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C.
The diocesan group made a stop there as part of the recent pilgrimage to the March for Life.
Watford City High School senior Devin Schmitz perhaps described the museum experience most eloquently, “It really helps to remind you of how important life is and to appreciate it. That’s ultimately why we took the trip.”
On the evening of Jan. 24, 22 students and six chaperones boarded a bus en route to our Nation’s Capital to participate in the 44th annual March for Life.
The annual event has occurred each year since 1973’s Roe vs. Wade supreme court decision. The Bismarck Diocese group consisted of 7-12 grade students from Watford City, Harvey (Diocese of Fargo), Regent, Max, Center, Mandan, and Bismarck.
Fr. Terry Wipf, Parochial Vicar at Corpus Christi in Bismarck served as the group’s chaplain. The pilgrimage was planned and led by the Diocese’s Respect Life/Natural Family Planning Coordinator, Christie Collins.
Roughly two thirds of the way into the journey, St. Rose of Lima Church, in Perrysburg, Ohio kindly opened their doors to the pilgrims for daily Mass celebrated by Fr. Terry. A certainly welcomed respite for the road-weary diocesan crew.
As the early morning hours of Jan. 26 arrived, so did the pilgrims to their Alexandra, Virginia hotel. Mass in the crypt Chapel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and self-guided tours kicked off the pilgrimage time in Washington D.C.
“We spent a good 45 minutes there. We got to see a lot of it. There was a lot of cool paintings, and side chapels, in general the whole thing was real neat,” recounted William Liffrig, a junior homeschool student from rural Mandan.
After lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill, “Washington’s oldest, most historic saloon,” the eager assortment of North Dakotans embarked upon the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Upon entry, visitors collected an identification card that read, “For the dead and the living we must bear witness.” Inside, the card told the story of a person who lived during the Holocaust.
"What stood out to me was how young the children were, they didn't even get a chance to live,” reflected Monica Schmitz, a senior at Harvey High School.
The museum's permanent exhibit is divided into three floors. The first portrays the “Nazi Assault”—1933-1939. The second floor depicts what is called the “Final Solution”—1940-1945, and the third is titled the “Last Chapter.”
“It was very eye opening and tragic to see what happened during the Holocaust,” said Emily Storick, a homeschooler and 7th grade student and member of the Church of St. Anne in Bismarck.
On to the rayer rally
Next, the “Life is Very Good” prayer rally awaited at George Mason University in nearby Fairfax, Virginia. Pilgrims had an opportunity to avail themselves of the sacrament of confession, as well as listening to a deeply inspirational talk from renowned Catholic speaker Mark Hart of Life Teen International. The event concluded with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and benediction. The band, “The Afters,” and Catholic recording artist Ben Walther performed the music for the rally and evening of prayer.
Mass with Cardinal Dolan
The following morning’s 6 a.m. wake-up call came early for the exhausted group of pilgrims. However, this was the day that they were all waiting for and, what better way to start off the day than morning Mass with Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, at St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Washington, D.C. Seating proved to be sparse as the pews were overflowing with attendees from several different groups, from all over the country, attending for the March for Life.
The diocesan group joined St. Mary’s Central High School, and the University of Mary’s over 600 students, faculty and staff, along with students from Minot’s Bishop Ryan, and Dickinson Trinity, as they made their way to the pre-march speeches highlighted by Vice President Mike Pence. It was the first time that a sitting vice president had ever spoke in person at the March for Life.
“It was encouraging to see the vice president show up, and the improvement in media coverage this year drawing more attention to our cause,” Devin Schmitz recalled.
March for Life
Estimates are that over a half a million attended this year’s march. The Bismarck diocesan group was invited by Msgr. James Shea, President of the University of Mary, to lead the march right alongside them.
"To see how many people were on our side and just how many people think that life truly matters was amazing," Monica Schmitz explained.
Olivia Gronos, a junior from Watford City High School, and one of eight students making the pilgrimage from Epiphany Catholic Church, said about the March for Life, “Being at the front especially, and being able to see that we were leading something that we all believed in, was a great experience.”
The March for Life concluded for the groups with North Dakota’s own Senator John Hoeven greeting all and thanking them for standing up for life.
Return trip home
For their final day of the pilgrimage, the group attended the Students for Life 2017 National Conference
. Equal Rights Institute speaker, Josh Brahm, keynoted the morning with an empowering talk entitled, “How to Win People to our Movement: What makes us Equal.”
Gloria Martens, a junior, homeschooler, from St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, in Center, said of Brahm’s message, “His arguments really got into the point of why we are pro-life.”
As the bus rolled into the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit parking lot on Jan. 29, the clock neared 10 p.m. The Watford City pilgrims had yet another three hours of travel ahead. However, full hearts and optimistic minds looked toward the future missions for the pro-life movement.