Diocesan News

Students, chaperones stranded in ‘Snowzilla’ returning from March for Life

LINCOLN (SNR) - A group of 165 Catholic students, chaperones, and priests arrived in Lincoln Sunday, Jan. 24, after a bus trip during Winter Storm Jonas left them stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for approximately 24 hours. 

Upon arrival, the students had been traveling homeward by bus for up to 44 hours.

The buses were returning from Washington, D.C., where they participated in the annual “March for Life” at the National Mall, Friday, Jan. 22. While numbers for 2016 have not yet been reported, several hundred thousand Americans typically participate in the March each year. The Diocese of Lincoln took five buses to the March with 236 students, 12 priests, and 33 other adult chaperones.

To avoid the impending storm, the five buses from the Diocese of Lincoln, and the group of students from the UNL Newman Center who traveled separately, departed Washington, D.C. Friday afternoon. As they travelled, stalled trucks and accidents on the Pennsylvania Turnpike caused a delay. Three of the buses, along with hundreds of others, were stranded in Pennsylvania as the snow fell.

The students and chaperones were delayed on the Turnpike for roughly 24 hours. Students kept their spirits high by playing in the snow, watching movies, and updating social media. Students shared photos of meals delivered by the National Guard and rescue crews, as well as pizza, water, and other supplies donated by local citizens. Lincoln students assisted in distributing food to other stranded motorists.

When an alternate route allowed passage, the buses continued the journey homeward, picking up reserve bus drivers to replace those who’d begun the trip. 

As the three buses arrived at the John XIII Diocesan Center, seven of the traveling priests concelebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for the group and their families before the students departed. Some students continued on to Hastings, Nebraska City, and other towns across the Diocese of Lincoln.

Jeff Schinstock, diocesan director of youth ministry, expressed pride in the student travelers. 

“These kids are amazing,” he said. “They’ve weathered a tough situation with generosity and virtue. And they’ve done it because they care about why we travelled: promoting the message that all human life, from conception to natural death, has dignity and value.”

UNL student Haley Hrnchir said the blessings of the adventure continued to be learned after they returned home. Because the groups left Washington early and didn’t use the hotel rooms they’d reserved, they couldn’t get refunds for the hotel cost.

“But God’s plan is always perfect,” she said. “We found out (Sunday) that the hotel rounded up all the homeless people in the area and let them stay in our hotel rooms. They didn’t have to worry about finding a warm, safe place in a blizzard, because God had them covered.”

“Sometimes we wonder why God allows suffering to happen and it is really beautiful when we have been given the clarity to see how we have been used as His instruments,” said Georgeanne Rashilla, youth and young adult ministry assistant for the Diocese of Linoln. “In spite of discomfort, boredom and uncertainty, and with the kindness of strangers, 168 teens and their chaperones from our diocese - some being interviewed by the media anxious to cover the story - read account after account of hundreds of pro-women, pro-life participants who faced a blizzard rather than remain home. The National March for Life has not had this much coverage in the secular media in years. God used His children for His greater glory.”

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