By Claire Pohlen
I recently saw a series of videos on the Diocese of Lincoln’s Facebook page encouraging young people to consider attending the National March for Life this January. The videos brought back a flood of memories to many formative parts of my life for which I am thankful.
Raised by parents who took seriously their obligation to foster the spiritual development of their children, I was no stranger to the concept of putting my faith into action. It was not uncommon for my parents to corral us into the minivan to attend Lenten services on Friday evenings or pray outside the abortion mill in the summer. Admittedly, these outings were often greeted by a scoff or eyeroll when I was at the peak of dictating what I thought our family priorities ought to be, namely staying home and watching TV.
I was a sophomore in high school when an opportunity arose to attend the March for Life in Washington, DC. I cared about the purpose of the trip but also looked forward to exploring a new city and making new friends from area schools. It was on this trip that I really learned what it meant to be a disciple. I encountered 500,000 zealous people who shared the same truth as me: that life begins at conception, and that an unborn child has dignity and inalienable rights. We were energized and longed to share our message of hope with the world.
I continued to attend the March for Life in the following years due to the impact its energy had on me. It was never an effortless experience to make a pilgrimage as a high school student, but it was always worthwhile. We celebrated Mass in one of the largest churches in the world, toured our nation’s historical monuments, and had the privilege to meet with elected officials who represent Nebraska in Washington, D.C.
While a trip alongside peers lends itself to a time for entertainment and laughter, perhaps my most impactful memories were rooted in spiritual enrichment. I still vividly remember going to confession in the concourse of a large arena alongside thousands of peers. I was in desperate need of God’s mercy and I left that unconventional confessional a changed person. That moment remains a turning point in my spiritual journey.
The March for Life also served as a gateway for me to get involved with other youth ministry events such as TEC retreats and the summer catechetical program Totus Tuus. I met some wonderful people through these programs, many of whom I still see on a regular basis. While I am still growing and transforming every day, the opportunities available in my formative years paved the way for the spiritual ownership my parents had always longed for me.
Experiences like the March for Life help a young person see an authentic view of things happening outside of their personal corners of the world. When we put our faith into action, such as defending the innocent, the downtrodden, the suffering or the poor, it changes us. We become formed in the opportunity to see and choose virtue. We learn humility through fundraising, endurance through bus rides, and we grow in courage and compassion by standing up for the silenced, the exploited, the marginalized.
This year Jesus is leading me back to the March as a chaperone. I met some of my best friends on these trips. I have witnessed vocational discernment come alive on these trips. The March for Life has been a place of conversion for me and I want to be a channel of conversion for others. I am eager to help young women and men in our high schools see the impact they can have both at home and as pilgrims.
Jesus has called me to give witness at the March for Life: even if it means a long bus ride, even if it means a financial sacrifice, even if it means being ridiculed or frowned upon. Jesus has called and I will follow.
I hope you will join me.
Sign up at www.lincolndiocese.org/pilgrimages