Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - Late in the night of Saturday, Jan. 18, five buses rolled out of Lincoln, loaded with 281 students, priests, religious sisters and adult chaperones, all heading for the annual March for Life in Washington D.C.
“This was our biggest group by far,” said Jeff Schinstock, diocesan youth coordinator.
Schinstock said it was the Holy Father who inspired such a big group.
“When I got home from World Youth Day, I told Father (Matthew) Eickhoff that Pope Francis said we should make a mess… so I registered five busses,” he said. “After that, we just started recruiting.”
In addition to the group sponsored by the Family Life office and led by Father Thomas Dunavan as the official chaplain, three others were organized from the Diocese of Lincoln.
Father Brian Conner brought a group from North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln; Father Brian Kane chaperoned one from Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo, and Father Ben Holdren arrived with college students from the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
All told, there were 347 people from the Diocese of Lincoln among the roughly half-million who braved cold weather and treacherous driving conditions to attend the March for Life.
Schinstock and his team planned the week carefully so it would be a true pilgrimage for each participant.
By Sunday, the group made it to Latrobe, Penn., and the Monastery of St. Vincent Archabbey, the first Benedictine abbey in the United States. There, they had Mass before completing their route to the nation’s capitol.
On Monday and Tuesday, they broke into small groups to explore various landmarks and tourist sites. Each night, the group would gather together again for night prayer.
Monday night included confessions. Eleven priests administered the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“Students look at (this trip) as a responsibility, not just a chance to get out of school,” Schinstock said. “It’s an opportunity to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
On Tuesday, Bishop James D. Conley arrived. After night prayer, he spoke to the students and answered their questions.
Wednesday dawned snowy and cold, but the group made their way to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Joining other delegations from other parts of the country, the Lincoln contingency prepared for the March with Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham of the Diocese of Syracuse (N.Y.) along with Bishop Conley, Bishop John Folda of Fargo (N.D), 13 priests of the Diocese of Lincoln and others.
“We were given plenty of opportunities to ready ourselves for this amazing march,” reported Nick Hinds, a senior at Pius X High School in Lincoln.
Bad weather had forced the cancellation of many flights and chartered bus trips into the D.C. area. Still, estimates for the total number of participants range from 480,000 to 600,000.
“The most impacting part of the March was reaching the peak of the hill by the Capitol and looking down at the mass of individuals marching before and behind you,” said Madeline DuBois, a senior at Lourdes Central Catholic Schools in Nebraska City.
Nick compared the March to the next largest event he’s been to – a Husker football game.
“The atmosphere for football pales in comparison to the sheer number and emotion of the people I saw on the march,” he said. “It was inspiring to see how many people, especially young people, have the same morals and ideals that I share.”
His classmate, Ellen Kopetzky, agreed “I thought it was amazing seeing so many youth my age from all over the country coming together for the same cause,” she said. “It gave me hope for the future of our nation.”
Brooke Taylor, a senior at Auburn High School and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Auburn, said, “It was by far the most amazing thing I have ever seen… It was also very diverse, all kinds of people from just about everywhere.”
Brooke was one of the 40 or so public school students who joined the diocesan delegation for the first time. Schinstock said that it didn’t take long for them to fit right in with their parochial school peers.
“After the bus ride, it was all just one group,” he reported.
While coverage of the event by national media outlets was scant, Schinstock noted that the presence of so many joyful and polite people on the streets and riding the Metro were impossible for D.C. locals to ignore.
“It just takes them off guard,” he said. “They expect extremist, crazy people and they get happy, joyous people… They are just shocked by the joy, the genuine kindness.”
Schinstock hasn’t yet decided how many buses to book for the 2015 March – this year’s students have suggested 10! – but he is confident that the number will continue to grow.
“I tell the kids abortion is legal when we leave, and it’s likely it will be legal when we get home. This is about changing their hearts first and then each of them changing the hearts of two or three others.”
The students say that’s exactly what has happened to them.
“The March has affected me more than any other single event in my life, and I am proud to have been a part of something that has undoubtedly changed countless others,” Du Bois said. “I intend to return to the March every year until Roe v. Wade’s fateful decision is revoked.”