Incredible. Unbelievable. Inspiring.
Wow, my first time at March for Life--with my beloved husband and all 3 of our young children.
We rose at 4 AM to catch the free parish shuttle to the Verizon Center at 5 AM. The kids were so excited to take their first bus ride. We decamped at a super crazy, super crowded Verizon Center at 7:00 AM, a full 30 minutes before the Basketball Stadium Center opened. We needed all that time because trying to thread a group to the right entrance with a giant 3 kid stroller was a bit of a challenge.
Once we got inside, we got ushered into this amazing spot on the actual basketball court, a few rows back from the main alter. To the right was a giant slab of seminarians, the ones in NYC who got a visit from our Holy Father in April. There were also the extremely cool monks. Everything in their habit screamed 12 century, thick, course robes, giant wooden rosaries and their bizarre wool wraps instead of coats. I loved it when they pulled out cellphones to direct fellow brothers to their seats, what a contrast!
On our left was a huge section devoted to the Sisters. On the top were 30,000 high school and college students from all over the country. Around the floor stood hundreds of priests all in white at least four rows deep.
The 2009 Youth Rally and Mass started with a fun Catholic rock concert. My last concert was when I took Jon to U2 in Cleveland for his 29th birthday two weeks before we were married. It was surreal to sing my lungs out to "The Streets Have No Name" with my husband, my 3 tiny babies, hundreds of boisterous seminarians and thousands of students.
Then things quieted down with a 1/2 hour recitation of the Rosary. I thought the MC made a good point. He told all these students that it's easy to feel pumped up for God at a rock concert. Yet when the hard times come in college, when your girlfriend breaks up with you or your grandpa dies, their won't be a rock concert available. You have to get yourself immersed in the traditions of the Catholic faith that are dependable, these are the rosary and the Holy Mass. With that introduction, and the good example of hundreds of priests and religious, the rosary was quiet and deeply personal.
Then came the Holy Mass. What a transformation. After the Papal Mass, I was a little nonchalant about viewing hundreds of priest come in to Celebrate the Mass. Then this huge row of men in pointy hats entered. Honestly, there were at least 50 bishops and archbishops who attended this Mass from all over the United States. I started tearing up. I couldn't believe that all of these men fly to D.C. for one day, just to celebrate this Mass with the Catholic Youth and pray in front of the Supreme Court.
The Pope even sent an Archbishop from the Holy See. It was incredible. Every single person in a crowd of 30,000 stood up and screamed appreciation and adoration for the Holy See for a good 5 minutes. It was such an incredible act of Catholic universality to see these 20ish seminarians, these 50ish nuns and 18 year old high school seniors all shouting "We love you Papa Benedict!"
The actual Eucharist part of the Mass was handled by our Archbishop Wuerl with honor and dignity. The communion hymn was a Latin chant lead by the Mount Saint Mary's Seminarians. My own Archbishop handed me the host with such an intense, reverent gaze "THIS IS THE BODY", then I got to float away on gorgeous music for 20 minutes afterwards.
The thing that most struck me was the reverent way the hundreds of priests carried the silver bowls carrying the remaining consecrated hosts down hundreds of stadium bleacher steps. Everyone did it differently. Some carried the bowls with both arms outstretched, watching their feet carefully on each step. Some clenched the bowl tightly to the bodies on one hand and the other hand firmly held the handrail. Some reverently covered the bowl with one hand to protect the host from above. Some of less coordinated priests looked slightly panicked and held their entire abdomine under the bowl hoping to at least cushion the bowl with their own body.
Every single body position translated the same, however, "this is truly the body of Christ our King, not some plain wafer."
We finished Mass, which I have to say also carried an amazing amount of grace. My kids can usually not sit through 30 minutes of Daily Mass. Heck, my son can't sit through 10 minutes of "mat time" at pre-school. Yet here all three sat quietly in their seats from 8 AM until 12:30. We were helped so much. Some unknown, friendly parish members took turns holding Maria for 3 hours. She adored the fresh faces and novel environment. Alex started getting agitated during the rosary and mercifully fell asleep for the entire Mass. As we left, one usher waved us onto the VIP elevator because of our stroller. We ended up riding the elevator with all the bishop. One kind bishop from Rhode Island mentioned how happy he was that during the "encouragement to respond to the call for vocations, the Archbishop also included the vocation of marriage. That's such an important vocation," he said.
After our express trip past 30,000 exiting Catholics, we headed to the National Building Museum for our Parish Lunch. One more grace. This is Alex and Hannah's favorite museum of all time because of the expansive young kids play area. After being quiet church mice during Mass, they got to run around and have fun for over an hour.
At about 2, we headed to the March for Life. That was actually the only stressful part of the day. Mimi fell asleep in this weird position in her stroller, her whole body was projected 90 degrees of the giant 3 kid stroller. That meant that one parent had to push a stroller while the other carefully guarded Mimi's head from being accidentally knocked by another Marcher. I didn't get much praying down, maybe 3 Hail Mary's the whole march. We also didn't get to chat much with all the visitors to D.C. Our slow pace meant that we kept falling behind which ever fascinating conversation we had just started.
I'm happy on two counts. One, I got to see how important it is to pray for a Catholic event, even if you can't attend in person. I only got 3 Hail Mary's said during the March, but I know all of you dear readers had many more prayers going up to heaven. Second, I really hit me that I've got a prayer apostate just by living in D.C. Jon & I can go regularly to the Supreme Court building an pray for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. I hope we'll start doing that soon. It hit me as funny, that I spent most of my twenties wishing that I could argue at least one Supreme Court Case in my lifetime and idealizing those that did. Meanwhile, I hope to spend my life praying outside that same building- with far more powerful results!
Oh, I forgot to mention an incredible signal grace. Inauguration Day on Tuesday was freezing cold. My parents were so, so miserable in teen degree temperatures. Today, warm, sunny, high of 41 degrees. It was so warm that I didn't wear at coat or mittens during the March. This weekend it's supposed to return to frigid winter weather again.
It's as if Our Lady Clothed in the Sun peeked out today just to keep us company and I was so, so grateful that the antsy kids were not also freezing and miserable.
I hope you all had a lovely day of prayer. Please remember to pray for all of those excited, chaste pro-life Catholic students in the US. I meet 20,000 today and they were all lovely!
(I took pictures and video, but I'm not sure when I can get them posted. We just got a new camera, which means learning a new photo program. I'm not sure when I can get to reading the instructions. Funny photos of me and Jon puffing up a steep hill loaded down with children and excess water bottles to come, however!)
Pope Benedict says hello!