Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Diocesan Pilgrims March To Share God's Love

By Maria Sermersheim Special To The Message
Photos courtesy of Maria Sermersheim

The 2018 Pilgrimage for Life left me with this thought: we must accept the challenge of God’s authentic love and save lives through it.

People gathered from all over to participate in the 45th annual March for Life because they have a love for life they want to share; a love they want others to experience. And on a gorgeous Friday in January, such love was palpable in Washington, D.C.

               Having attended the March for Life once before, I was able to look beyond the initial excitement and appreciate the underlying details. I saw renewed energy in weary travelers, support from strangers, and a community of hundreds of thousands of people. I saw love as the common thread uniting us all.

Pilgrims from across the diocese gathered for Mass on Jan. 17 at Christ the King Parish’s  St. Ferdinand Church in Ferdinand to launch our 2018 Pilgrimage for Life. In his homily, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel spoke of David and Goliath, and our fight against the culture of death. He reminded us of our human solidarity, quoting a fantastic poet John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of itself… Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” This reference resonated with me because in the same poem, Donne wrote, “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.” To think that every person and every action affects me is baffling, but it emphasizes our purpose in Washington, D.C. As Catholics and human beings, we must live for others and not for ourselves. This is the very definition of love, the greatest commandment by which we should live.

On the day of the March, it was easy to choose to love others. So many people had gathered for the same cause, and the feeling of camaraderie was profound. Our group was next to one from Louisiana for a while. During this time, we were moving slowly, so we had fun cheering and singing with them. When the group started praying the rosary, we prayed with them. Later, I was delighted to find a familiar face from Source and Summit, Joel Kelley. We went with different groups, so who knows how far apart we started, yet we crossed paths. It was a nice reminder of how small the world is, especially if we take the time to sincerely meet people. How small would the world become, and how much better would we be able to relate to people if we simply loved strangers enough to remember their names?

At the end of the March, we returned to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Virginia, a community that once called us strangers, but loved us. They provided delicious meals, restrooms, charging stations, and more for us throughout our trip. They’ve done this for our group for about seven years and ask for nothing in return. In thanks, we gave them a thumbprint heart with the verse from Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,” and nothing could describe our relationship more perfectly.

The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish community was a true witness to God’s love for us, and it transformed the atmosphere of our trip. It helped us understand why we, along with so many others, were descending upon the nation’s capital.

The day after the march, we traveled to Emmitsburg, Md., to tour the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Father Jerry Pratt, associate pastor of Good Shepherd Parish, celebrated Mass there and emphasized the radical truth of God’s love in his homily. In the Gospel of Mark, people say of Jesus, “He is out of his mind.” Father Jerry reminded us that St. Elizabeth’s peers were incredulous of her decision to convert, and those pursuing religious vocations can be considered strange in society, too. To sum it up he said, “Apparently if we’re doing God’s will, we must be crazy!” It does seem that way—if we are to sacrifice for each other, to always aim for others’ good above our own, then the world is certain to believe we are insane. God’s definition of love is much more serious and intense than most interpretations.

Before returning to Evansville, we were blessed to be able to celebrate Sunday Mass in the exquisite Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It contains 70 chapels devoted to honoring Mary, her many appearances and the miracles attributed to her. It’s an astonishingly beautiful, prayerful place.

During Mass, the priest there spoke about repentance and how it has layers; it is more than apologizing. “Repent” is “metanoia” in Greek, which conveys the more complex meaning, “change of heart.” Metanoia is a true and permanent conversion. Many of us need to convert our attitudes toward others in order to genuinely love one another.

We are frequently under the impression that if someone has fundamentally different views than ours, we cannot love them. Father Jerry was on my bus, and as we headed to D.C. for the March, he reminded us that those who might protest our movement think what they’re doing is right. We don’t know what they have experienced in their lives or what beliefs they may associate with their loved ones. Therefore, we must approach them with love because they, too, are our neighbors. We are called to love all people indiscriminately.