National march draws 700 South Carolina pilgrims to be a voice for the voiceless

All photos, Miscellany/Juanita Bustamante: Participants from the Diocese of Charleston join the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24.

WASHINGTON—More than 700 people from the Diocese of Charleston attended the National March for Life on Jan. 24, where they made their presence felt with signs, vocal chants and prayer.

The group, from parishes and schools across South Carolina, converged at Madison and 14th Street on the day of the march to join their voices with an estimated crowd of 100,000 people.

“We marched, we prayed, we remembered the unborn and the marginalized, and we hope that one day we will no longer need to march because of a greater respect and honor for the dignity of human life,” said Bobbie Anne Abson, a teacher from Cardinal Newman School in Columbia.   

A group of priests and religious men and women from the diocese also attended the event, including several seminarians.

Prior to the march, youth from the diocese and across the nation kicked off the day with the Youth Rally and Mass for Life at the Capital One Arena.

Joining nearly 160 priests and bishops from throughout the country, Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory — formerly of the Archdiocese of Atlanta — concelebrated the Mass for Life for the first time since being installed as archbishop of Washington in 2019. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, retired archbishop of Washington, concelebrated the Mass, along with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Other bishops and priests also concelebrated the Mass.

A parishioner from St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville bears witness for life at the march.

Seeing so many young people at the rally, Archbishop Gregory said their presence at this event shows that the Church’s “witness to the dignity of life is youthful and has a future.”

“The whole world is ahead of them,” the archbishop said before the Mass. “The fact that they have taken such an enthusiastic position is an indication that our future in our young people is right. They have the right focus, the right intention. They have the energy to pull it off.”

Archbishop Pierre brought a message of gratitude for the “eloquent witness” of the young people from Pope Francis, also imparting his apostolic blessing.

“We don’t fight for an idea, we fight for the human being,” Archbishop Pierre said. “Abortion is never the answer that families are looking for.”

During the rally, which included speakers as well as praise and worship, Sister Maria Juan, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, who was one of the emcees for the rally, shared with the young people the importance of being ready to stand up for life at all moments.

“It is good for us to be prepared to guide someone in our own lives,” she said. “No pregnancy is unplanned to God.”

Father Rhett Williams shares a video with Paul Lacombe and Nicholas Shiver, two diocesan seminarians, and fellow priest Father Andrew Fryml.

Melissa Ohden, one speaker at the rally, who herself is a survivor of a failed abortion attempt, shared her story with the young people, expressing gratitude for their witness for life.

“It is important that we stand up as witnesses in this world, that every life matters,” Ohden said. “We live in a culture that has sold us a lie, that abortion empowers women, that abortion isn’t anyone’s business, … that innocent lives in the womb have no value.”

Participants from the Charleston diocese said it was a beautiful experience that has motivated them to be a voice for the voiceless, not only at the march but every day.  

The day after the march, on Jan. 25, more than 400 people from the South Carolina contingent attended Mass at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine and filled the chapel. Mass was celebrated by a trio of diocesan priests: Father Andrew Fryml from the Basilica of St. Peter in Columbia, Father Rhett Williams from St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville, and Father Francisco Javier Onate-Vargas from St. Michael in Murrells Inlet.

“This weekend you didn’t just join hundreds of thousands of others, you joined billions of Christians” plus an immense army of angels and saints walking beside you, all fighting the same battle, Father Williams told the group in his homily. 

“Now go home and carry a message, because God knows your potential and will use it. Do what you were created to do, fulfill your potential,” he said.

More than 400 people from the diocese attended Mass at the chapel in Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington on Jan. 25.

The 47th annual March for Life also marked an historic occasion, as President Donald Trump became the first president to speak in person at the event.

“You stand for life each and every day. … I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump told the massive gathering at a noontime rally on the National Mall. “We’re here for a very simple reason: to defend the right for every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.”

His presence drew mixed reactions, with some praising his commitment to the pro-life movement, while others said it diluted the all-encompassing message of life, including policies on migrants, refugees, the poor and the environment.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, addressed the rally in a video recorded in Rome prior to Trump’s arrival at the event. Pence met with Pope Francis earlier in the day.

The Catholic Miscellany contributed to this story.