Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Pilgrimage For Life 'more Than I Expected'

By Maria Sermersheim
Maria Sermersheim, right, holds a sign as she marches with other pilgrims from the Diocese of Evansville during the Jan. 27 March for Life in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kori Fink, special to The Message

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, I boarded a bus and embarked on the March for Life Pilgrimage. I packed the night before and added last-minute items that afternoon, leaving my room in absolute disarray. I sat next to my friend on the bus, and we discussed the snacks we brought and the movies we were excited to watch. I anticipated a wonderful trip, one that would strengthen my pro-life convictions and add my voice to the thousands of others meeting in Washington D.C.

This pilgrimage was much more than I expected, better in every way.

To start, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, located in Virginia just outside of D.C., was fantastic! I can’t imagine the number of hours they dedicated to preparing for us, and yet they wanted nothing in return. The morning after our overnight drive, they had a hot breakfast waiting for us. Every day, they provided sack lunches with a variety of sandwiches, and dinner in the evening. They had charging stations set up for our phones, so I could always find an outlet to use. They even set out paper tablecloths with crayons, so we could draw on the tabletops and play hangman or tic-tac-toe with our friends. They took into account our every need, and I hope that someday we can return the favor.

As for the March for Life, I heard that more than 500,000 people were in attendance. Having looked behind us down Capitol Hill as we marched, I believe it. There was no end to masses of heads and hats and signs. I expected many thousands would be there, but I never imagined they would number a half-million. I was one of them, and it was remarkable to chant and cheer and feel the energy of the crowd of like-minded individuals.

Chants faded in and out as we passed Congressional office buildings, the most prominent one being, “We are the pro-life generation.” Some held sobering signs that took my breath away; for example, one read, “One fourth of our generation is absent because of abortion.” Others held more light-hearted signs that would elicit chuckles amidst the serious nature of our cause. One group adapted the song, “Do You Hear the People Sing” from “Les Miserables,” and they sang it as we all marched in a moving performance.

More moving, though, was the sight of a single protestor standing silently on the steps of a building holding a pro-choice sign. Next to her stood a man silently holding a pro-life sign. They seemed to be strangers, but it was remarkable because it appeared he was standing there to protect her from any potential abuse. It was evident to all who saw them that pro-life means more than anti-abortion. It means respect for all life, including those who may not respect it themselves.

I agree with the concept of protecting all life, but that is a very difficult position for me to maintain when it comes to real, despicable criminals, especially in the context of the Holocaust.

We visited the Holocaust Museum the day before. There were videos of the immediate aftermath in the camps and slideshows of people before and after experiments. We walked on the bricks of a ghetto, through a train car, and under the roof of a barracks unit from a concentration camp. We saw the shoes. The wood still smelled, and the air tasted of ash.

As I stood in the barracks and walked through the train car, I couldn’t help but put myself in their situation. How many had died looking at this same wood? I felt their fear of imminent death and their cold, hopeless expectation; but as bad as I felt, I know it was exponentially worse for those who actually experienced it.

The utter disregard for human life by these despicable Nazis struck me to the core, and that is where I struggle with respecting all life under all circumstances.

There were pictures at the March that I’ll never forget – pictures of what is done to aborted babies by Planned Parenthood and others. The babies were not whole, and that is all that can be said. A baby’s leg is not meant to be separated from the rest of its body. It is terrifying to think, but the photos of the aborted babies were just as horrifying as the videos of the concentration camps.

We have our own civil genocide in America, and it’s been permitted for 44 years. It’s a tragedy that the United States of America allows such atrocities.

Before the March began that day, we strolled around the area, observing the memorials. On one side of the Korean War Memorial, the only inscription on the wall reads, “Freedom is not free.” It’s so profound and applicable in more ways than one.

We are free to do whatever we like, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the consequences of our free actions. Our freedom does not mean there are no strings attached. Freedom is not equivalent to the absence of responsibility or accountability for our choices. We are not free to take innocent life.

As we marched, I detected an undercurrent of hope. Everywhere I turned, I saw the love and respect for life. Vice President Pence’s and Kellyanne Conway’s remarks at the rally before the March were inspiring; and no matter a person’s politics, it was a good day for our cause. Our group was off to the side during the speeches, so it was a bit difficult to hear; but a few statements stood out, especially when Kellyanne Conway said, “We hear you. We see you. We respect you, and we look forward to working with you.”

There was a huge roar from the crowd when Vice-President Pence said, “We will not grow weary. We will not rest until we restore a culture of life for ourselves and our posterity.”

We were a part of a movement, organized and effective, and it was invigorating to be one of the many who came together to support life. With the support of the current administration, there is real potential for abortion to finally be made illegal, and the people of the March were acutely aware of this fact.

About 40 minutes into the March, my shoes came untied. First one, and then only a few minutes later, the other. I didn’t want to make my way to the side and tie them because I didn’t want to get so far behind, and of course there was no way to stop in the middle of the street.

Since I was aware that they were untied, I was fine with walking that way. I wouldn’t trip since I knew to pick up my feet more, and my friends around me knew of my predicament so they wouldn’t trip, either. I walked for a very long time in my untied shoes, and I didn’t have a single problem with it until concerned strangers all around began telling me my shoes were untied. I thanked them and assured them that I knew, it was okay, but it reached the point that I felt I should just tie them already.

Facing the same problem of getting stuck behind the group, my friends and I brainstormed alternative ways to tie my shoes. One suggestion was that I take one shoe off, tie it, and slip it back on. I tried it several times, but that resulted in me walking with one tied shoe in my hand and an untied one on my foot!

Eventually, Father Jason Gries noticed our situation and could not let it continue. He grabbed several more members of our group and they formed a “v” to split the crowd around me so I could tie my shoes. We caught up to the rest of the group afterwards, and it was amusing to me that my untied shoes had become such a hassle. I am grateful, though, to have experienced such solidarity with those around me. If a small group can help an individual tie her shoes, then a large group should be able to affect change and protect the gift of human life.

The pilgrimage exceeded all expectations and ignited a burning passion and love for life in every attendee. From the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish’s provisions, the crowd’s enthusiasm, the devastating truths and my frivolously untied shoes, I feel blessed to be alive and to have been a part of the Pilgrimage for Life 2017.


Maria Sermersheim is a junior at Reitz Memorial High School. She is a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Evansville and attends with her parents, Keith an dConnie Sermersheim. She writes a monthly column, “Meditatione Ignis,” for The Message.