March 8, 2017
Jesus said in Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
This January, a pilgrimage of over 600 people from North Dakota traveled to Washington D.C. where students from the University of Mary would lead over 600,000 pro-lifers on the March for Life.
Our large group from the University of Mary was made up of mostly students, but also faculty, families, and others from the diocese. I knew going to Washington D.C. was going to bring many incredible opportunities. I would get to visit an amazing city, march for a cause I firmly supported, and if I was lucky, I knew there was a slight chance I could get stuck in snow on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for over 30 hours like the resilient students who made the trip last year. But, what made the trip so powerful was the feeling of encouragement and optimism that came directly from so many faithful people gathering in Jesus’ name to stand up for the good.
Mass at St. Patrick’s
Early in the morning on the day of the march, the group from the University of Mary met with others from North Dakota for the Dakota delegation Mass. Looking over a full-to-the-brim St. Patrick’s Church, I saw fellow students, former and present teachers of mine, high schoolers from across the state, and many others who came to worship with us prior to taking to the streets.
The Mass was celebrated by the always-incredible Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who preached the need for endurance in striving to do good even after many years of marching with what may seem like little result. Following his homily, we were able, as a delegation from North Dakota, to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. In the most real way possible, Jesus was in our midst in this sacrament, and He nourished us with his own body and blood.
Now, it may be easy to dismiss this moment as unimportant or a usual part of Mass, but it is important to pay attention to the sequence of events. After receiving an inspiring homily encouraging us to endure for the sake of good, Jesus gives Himself as the nourishment to make this endeavor. But, how many times does it happen when after receiving Him in the Eucharist, the problems we have remain and it feels as though not much has changed?
This lack of a feeling of big change may resemble what people have felt upon finishing the March for Life in years past. Catholics who believe that God is in their midst when they gather, have probably stood in front of the Supreme Court at the end of past marches and realized that abortion may not be abolished in that moment in the way they were hoping, but like receiving the Eucharist, it is not about how one feels, it is about what is really happening. Jesus gives us His body and blood, and regardless of how we feel this influences us. Six hundred plus people from North Dakota who made the trip across the nation to continue to stand up for what is good, and no matter what the immediate fruits of doing this in Jesus’ name is, we can take solace that in receiving from Jesus and then acting, we had an effect.
I realize this may seem idealistic. A part of what led to the University of Mary leading the March for Life was the joyful and passionate witness they brought in years prior. Because of this witness, they were asked to lead the march, which is an amazing honor, and in response, the university set out to encourage as many students to go as possible.
Because of this encouragement, a massive amount of college students were convinced to do the thing most college students try to avoid—spend money. Going meant sacrifice. Yet, a huge number of students could go, gather together at Mass, hear Cardinal Dolan speak, and receive the Eucharist.
Leading the march
After Mass, we left the church and made our way to the starting point of the march. It was there, where for the first time ever, the Vice President Mike Pence spoke and not only gave his support, but boldly claimed, “Life is winning.”
From here, one of the largest marches for life began, being led by the group from the University of Mary and others from the diocese who joined us. Late into the march, there came a point when the road we marched on took a slight incline. I had been told ahead of time to look back once I began making my way uphill because it would make a great photo opportunity, so I was just expecting simply to see a lot of people behind me. But when I turned around, what I saw was hundreds of thousands of people gathered to march for the same cause. What I saw behind us was proof that the pro-life movement was strong and God gathered us together to show how what we are doing is in fact influencing a huge number of people in the world.
There were many exciting and fun moments that happened over the course of the trip, and hearing the many testimonies of the students and faculty who accompanied the university on the trip, I can write with certainty this was a powerful experience for all involved.
What made the trip so powerful for me was the feeling of encouragement and optimism that came directly from so many people joining us in Jesus’ name to stand up for life.
Markel is a
Bismarck native and
University of Mary senior
majoring in philosophy and minoring in history. He graduated from St. Mary’s Central High School in 2013