Firefighters are known for their bravery, selflessness and determination to help others, a spirit that leads them to run into burning buildings and famously, up the steps of the collapsing World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 as others ran down the steps past them.
The blizzard warnings for Jan. 22 in the Washington area, posted for days beforehand in weather forecasts, understandably caused many stalwarts who march year after year in the March for Life to stay home with their families for safety’s sake. An armada of buses that would have rolled to the nation’s capital for the March for Life was grounded in city after city. Yet thousands still came to Washington that day to march against abortion and to take a stand on behalf of unborn children who can’t speak for themselves.
No marchers would compare their spirit to the undaunted courage of firefighters, but their sacrifice is also motivated by a desire to save lives, and for many, by their faith that God created all people with human dignity that should be protected and respected in all stages of life.
Preceding the march, thousands of youth and young adults still attended the Archdiocese of Washington’s Youth Rally and Mass for Life at the Verizon Center and the satellite rally and Mass at the D.C. Armory, and a couple hundred people attended the archdiocese’s Adult and Family Rally and Mass for Life at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
After the Adult and Family Rally and Mass at the cathedral, Michael and Bridget Tierney of Contoocook, New Hampshire, were asked why they had braved the storm warnings to join the March for Life, making an 11-hour drive with their four children, ages 4-13.
“To stand for life,” Michael Tierney said. His wife Bridget added, “Living the Gospel every day is the way we stand for life.”
The couple said they have been coming to the march together for about 15 years, and have brought their children for about the last 10 years. With the warnings of an impending blizzard, they had made arrangements to stay in Washington through the weekend. The family sat in a pew together for the cathedral’s Rally and Mass for Life, beside another family with children.
“It is important to live our faith both privately every day, and publicly,” Michael Tierney said, and his wife Bridget, holding their 4-year-old son Bill in her arms, finished her husband’s sentence, saying, “For the kids to see.”
Their oldest son Joe said he was marching against abortion to let other kids “know it’s a child, not a choice.”
In a pew near the front of the cathedral, Wes and Paula Bryant from Jesus the Divine Word Parish in Huntingtown, Maryland, were interviewed after Mass and asked why they had made the two-hour drive from Calvert County to take part in the March for Life, despite the blizzard warnings.
“We’re hardcore pro-lifers,” said Paula Bryant. “We want to see an end of abortion. We’ll keep coming until they outlaw it.”
For her husband Wes, it came down to a matter of faith. “We’ve got to do the Lord’s work, even in a blizzard.” He later noted, “If we don’t walk, who will?”
Another family at the cathedral, Maryland residents Pat and Liz Smith, had come to the rally and Mass with two of their six children – their sons Daniel, 9, and Matthew, 22.
“I think it’s important to march for the most vulnerable,” the unborn, said Matthew Smith. “I’m informed by my faith to be here and march for life.”
Liz Smith teaches the second grade at St. Bernadette School in Silver Spring, and her husband Pat teaches in the English department at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. “We’ve always loved children, both in our jobs and our home, and we believe every child should have the chance to share the joy that we share with our family,” Liz Smith said.
Echoing a point made by the homilist at the cathedral Mass, Father Dan Leary – the pastor of St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring, Pat Smith said, “If you’re going to choose to be Catholic, and if you’re going to choose to be Christian, there’s a choice to embrace life in all its aspects and at all times.”
The Smiths’ older children are following in their parents’ footsteps in choosing work that serves others, with their daughter Maria and son Sean working for Catholic Charities, and another son working for a program that promotes peace and understanding in Ireland. Matt Smith, who graduates this spring from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, will be serving in the Teach for America program at a school in San Antonio, Texas.
The uncertainty of the approaching storm, and the resolute spirit of the marchers, was perhaps summarized by a grandmother who traveled from Florida with four family members representing three generations, to participate in the D.C. Armory rally and Mass before joining the March for Life. During the rally, they learned that their flight home had been cancelled due to the storm.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, but I know who I’m going to do it for,” the grandmother said.
(Richard Szczepanowski, reporting from the D.C. Armory, contributed to this article.)