On a chilly and cloudy morning on the National Mall in Washington, crowds gathered Thursday for the annual March for Life, this year marking the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion virtually on demand.
Tens of thousands gathered first to hear a lineup of speakers, before marching from the Mall up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill.
Early in the day, Pope Francis showed his support of the pro-life gathering by tweeting the theme: "Every Life is a Gift" with the hashtag #marchforlife.
By late morning, the temperature had reached about 40 degrees, warmer than many a previous march, and a music group opened the rally with the songs "To Be Loved" and "You're Not Alone." The music was upbeat with lively mandolin licks and the powerful voice of the lead singer.
Several members of Congress were in attendance, including U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who told Catholic News Service, "I am here to make my colleagues listen." Huelskamp said life is a core issue in the public debate, and that Kansas was already at the forefront of human rights issues. "They were at the forefront of the slavery issue," he said, and are now at the forefront of the life issue.
Levi Fox, a volunteer and a graduate of Liberty University, said, "Half of our generation is missing. Sixty million have been killed since Roe v. Wade, which is why I am dedicating my time to the March for Life."
After the musical opening, Patrick Kelly, the chairman of the March for Life board, told the crowd they were attending "the largest and most important human rights rally in the world," and noted the march is becoming "bigger and younger every year."
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the president of the U.S. bishops' conference, opened the rally with prayer alongside priests, bishops and patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox, Orthodox American, Antiochean Orthodox and Serbian Orthodox churches, in a show of what the archbishop called "a sign of Christian unity."
The archbishop called the marchers to not only "be joyful witnesses to the gospel of life," but also to be "loving and welcoming" to those in dire circumstances."
Jeanne Monahan-Mancini, director of the March for Life, addressed the marchers, congratulating them for making a "pilgrimage" before focusing on this year's theme.
"Every Life Is a Gift" emphasized that every life is a gift, regardless of a person's difficulty or disability, and also was meant to emphasize that everyone has a call and a mission -- and a role to play creating a culture of life.
A large congressional delegation in attendance emphasized the importance of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act before yielding the floor to a passionate and energetic address by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who said the defense of life was "the responsibility of every single person in America." The conscience bill would implement a broad religious exemption and conscience protections for private employers who oppose the federal contraceptive mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who followed Scott, told the crowd, "There have never been more pro-life lawmakers in Congress than we have today."
In discussing the Knights of Columbus' ultrasound initiative, which has just donated its 500th ultrasound machine, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said, "Women have a right to know the truth."
In what may have been the most inspiring address of the day, Julia Johnson, a senior at Shanley Catholic High School in Fargo, N.D., said it was up to the youth of America to "end the scourge of abortion."
As a member of "the pro-life generation," she said she was proud to have come alongside "400 pro-life warriors," referring to the school bringing its entire student body on the 1,300-mile journey to the march.
"Our generation has seen through the smokescreen of lies and secrets," she added.
The president of Students for Life, Kristan Hawkins, discussed the gift of her son's life despite a diagnosis of cystic fibrosis. Hawkins said, "I have personally witnessed the push in our culture to create 'perfect' babies." she said.
The remarks echoed those of the other speakers and marchers in declaring that "we are the pro-life generation."