By Kaitlyn McCarthy Schnieders
The face of the pro-life movement is changing. Roe v. Wade was once the cause of those who remember when abortion was illegal. Now, 40 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1973, the pro-life mantle has been taken up by those who've never known a world without abortion. One glance at the young people who attend the Jesuit Mass for Life January 22 in Washington, D.C., confirms that fact.
Every year to commemorate the Roe v. Wade decision, the Society of Jesus hosts a Mass and rally in the nation’s capitol for students of Jesuit institutions. What began as a small gathering now attracts more than 700 attendees. Students from across the country, hailing from more than 30 Jesuit schools, pack St. Aloysius Church near Capitol Hill, often leaving just standing room.
This year, the Jesuit Mass for Life will be celebrated by Fr. Gerry Stockhausen, S.J., and feature Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J., as homilist. A number of Jesuits from around the country are also expected to concelebrate. The Mass is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at St. Aloysius Church, 19 I St. NW, in Washington, D.C. A Jesuit March for Life Rally begins immediately following Mass
Steven Trottier, a graduate of De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis and a current student at Notre Dame, is a past attendee. Trottier says he learned about pro-life issues at De Smet, which prompted him to attend the Jesuit Mass and rally.
“I think student involvement brings youth, energy, and excitement together, giving the pro-life movement a driving energy,” said Trottier. “Young people want their voices heard. The youth is the future of the pro-life movement and with all of our access to technology and media, we can stay informed of public policy concerning issues of abortion and life.”
For many students, attending the Mass and rally is often the culmination of a semester’s worth of work – saving money, attending meetings, hosting bake sales, and sacrificing their time to fund the trip to Washington.
“This will be a significant experience of service of faith and promotion of justice for many students because the Masses, prayer services, and holy hours that they participate in while in Washington are done alongside a series of talks about what it means to take one’s faith into the public square,” says Jesuit Ronald O’Dwyer, currently studying theology at Boston College and one of the event’s organizers. “Just being in Washington sparks these conversations.”
Patrick Grillot, president of Students for Life at Saint Louis University, says the March for Life creates an opportunity to promote the importance of valuing human dignity with fellow students before, after, and during their trip. “At SLU, we are especially committed to supporting pregnant and parenting students and have raised about $100,000 for our endowment. I believe this holistic, consistent life ethic approach is gaining steam across the country. One of the major critiques of the pro-life cause has been that its supporters do not value life after a child's birth; we cannot allow this belief to exist in perception or reality.”
That consistent ethic of life is exactly what the Society of Jesus has been advocating for, working to restore a respect for all human life. In their statement on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Jesuits vigorously affirmed their opposition to abortion and their support for the unborn:
“As all human life is sacred and should be protected by law, the Society of Jesus believes in a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death, an ethic which includes our opposition to the death penalty and assisted suicide and our support for improved palliative care. All human life deserves dignity and respect, and all of God’s children, particularly the most vulnerable, must be protected and supported by the laws and policies of our nation.”
Matt Cuff, policy associate for the Jesuit Conference, which is organizing the event, says, “Our students know that coming to the Mass and rally isn't enough, nor is opposition to abortion enough. We need to be advocates for programs that improve the lives of mothers, especially in low-income neighborhoods. In today's political environment that means opposing cuts to government programs that serve low-income mothers as vigorously as we oppose abortion.”
The rally features student speakers from both Jesuit high schools and universities. There will also be reflections from Fr. Stephen Spahn, S.J., director of Ignatian programs at Georgetown University, and Mary Peterson, founder and executive director of Maggie's Place, a community that provides housing for expectant women who are alone or on the streets.