CHARLESTON—Conan O’Brien’s last television show received more attention in the press than the 2010 National March for Life, but front page news or not, it was a big deal for many South Carolina teens.
The total count of the crowd has been reported from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Kathy Schmugge, coordinator for the Office of Family Life, can account for at least 486 Catholics. She said eight buses motored their way to Washington, D.C., from the Diocese of Charleston not to mention the groups that traveled on their own.
College and high school age youth were in the majority at the rally and march held on the National Mall Jan. 22. Schmugge said youth and young adult groups from every deanery were well represented.
“There was a sea of people, it was amazing,” Schmugge said in an interview. “Just when you thought you were done another bus load of kids got dropped off.”
Schmugge said she is always proud of the South Carolina youth.
Alison Griswold, director of youth ministry at St. Francis by the Sea on Hilton Head Island, had some of the younger teens in the Southern contingent. She led a group of 32 middle and high school students accompanied by 13 adults, four of whom were Dominican Sisters of St. Mary.
In addition to parental permission and the reference of a teacher who could attest for their behavior, Griswold required her students to fill out an application telling her why they were ready to go. She described the trip to the group as more of a pilgrimage and warned them that they would get little sleep, have no showers, have to bring their own food, and sleep on a hard gymnasium floor.
They remained enthusiastic anyway, she said in an interview.
“I find it really interesting to see how the next generation is understanding the pro-life message and living it out,” Griswold said.
The group left shortly after midnight on Feb. 21. After a nine-hour drive, they visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, and then attended a pre-rally with an estimated 500 other teens. The rally featured a concert that focused on the Catholic teenager and what it means to be pro-life. They talked about defending life at every stage and incorporated issues such as bullying and chastity, Griswold said.
The Youth Rally and Mass for Life, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington, took place at the Verizon Center sports arena the next day. The youth groups joined the march at noon.
When they returned, Griswold had her teens write about their experiences. Some of the eighth-graders, including 14-year-old Skyler Kirkpatrick, shared their essays.
“I thought the coolest and scariest thing about the trip was that I was away from my mom and my brother for three whole days in a huge city filled with more than 60,000 people,” he wrote. “Although I could of gotten severely hurt or kidnapped, it made me feel little on the outside but big on the inside.”
Kylie Wilder, 14, said it was exhausting. She shared an experience she had with Dominican Sister Mary Joseph Campbell that she will remember for a long time.
“After a long day of marching we got on the bus and drove home,” she wrote. “This bus ride was so fun because Sister Mary Joseph brought her guitar along and we sang songs in the back of the bus for over an hour. Then it was time to fall asleep, Sister Mary Joseph sat next to me and we talked for a long time. It was really nice. We then arrived home in the morning very tired, but full of faith!”