Canandaigua kids march for life

(Publication Date: 01-27-2010)

By Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier

Students from St. Mary School in Canandaigua recently proved they not only know how to talk the pro-life talk, they also know how to walk the pro-life walk. Thirteen students traveled to Washington, D.C., Jan. 22 to participate in the 37th-annual March for Life, which is held each year on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States.

"I just thought it would be really cool to go because I heard a lot of the parents were talking about protesting abortion. I just thought it would be fun, too," explained seventh-grader Adrianna Coha.

Adrianna and the other 12 students were accompanied on their journey by several parents, including Pamela Negley, who also is the school's secretary. The students and parents shared a bus bound for the nation's capital with dozens of fellow advocates for life from the Finger Lakes region. The bus departed the St. Mary parking lot at 10 p.m. Jan. 21 and, after picking up more marchers in Naples and Cohocton, arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., around 6 a.m.

The students were excited but their exhaustion soon got the best of them, and Adrianna said most of them slept as the miles slipped by. That's not to say that sleep came easily, noted Jackson Negley, who said trying to sleep on the bus was his least favorite part of the whole trip.

"You couldn't get to sleep, then you were really tired when you got there," he said.

The students were sleepy but impressed nonetheless by the basilica, which is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America.

"I liked the basilica because it's so big. It's really pretty," said eighth-grader Monica LaBorde.

After taking a quick look around the basilica, the group from St. Mary headed off to the Verizon Center for a youth rally and Mass in support of life. Tickets were required to enter the rally and Mass, and all of the 17,400 free tickets available online were claimed within 45 minutes, according to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which sponsored the event. The St. Mary group had tickets but still had to wait in line to enter the center, which was not a highlight of the trip for eighth-grader Alex Gilges.

"We stood in line for probably 45 minutes," Alex said.

The youth rally itself, however, was one of Alex's favorite parts of the trip.

"It's just a lot of fun. There are so many people," he said.

Featuring performances by such well-known Catholic singers as Steve Angrisano and Jesse Manibusan, the rally energized the young people for the long day ahead.

"I liked the youth rally. It was huge," Jackson said. "You had to wait a little while to get in, and then the concert started at 7:45. During the concert you could go to reconciliation, and there were like 400 priests you could go to."

Jackson didn't go to confession himself but his mother did, and Negley said it was a great experience. After the concert ended and the priests stopped hearing confessions around 9:30, everyone gathered at the sports arena prayed the rosary together before Mass with Archbishop Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The sight of hundreds of priests, bishops and seminarians worshipping with the young people was a thrilling sight, Negley said.

"It was amazing to have Mass with 17,000 people, and we all had Communion," she said. "It was a wonderful experience. You have to be there to experience it."

After Mass ended police escorted participants to the National Mall to wait for the start of the march to Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court building. Crowd estimates have not been released, but the 2009 march reportedly drew more than 100,000 participants, according to Catholic News Service.

Monica was shocked to see that so many thousands of people share her stance against abortion. Monica said she's been against abortion since she was about 8 years old, and as she's become older her feelings on the subject have become stronger.

"You wouldn't kill your child for doing nothing in your home, so why would you kill it in abortion?" Monica asked rhetorically.

Alex, a four-year veteran of the March for Life, said he didn't completely understand what he was marching against when he first made the trip as a fourth-grader.

"I just knew that it was bad. (Now) I understand that it's killing people," he said.

Alex said he'd encourage students to attend the march next year because it's a fun experience that strengthens pro-life beliefs.

"It teaches you that other people believe what you believe," he said.

Negley said she was impressed by the 13 students who marched, and she hopes that experience sticks with them as they get older.

"To see all the young kids, it's hope," she said.