January 29, 2016

Pilgrims live out pro-life beliefs while stranded on turnpike

Members of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis pose on Jan. 23 in snow along the Pennsylvania Turnpike after the bus they had traveled on to the March for Life in Washington was stranded after traffic accidents ahead of them and a blizzard dumped three feet of snow in the region. The group from St. Patrick was part of a trip to Washington sponsored by the Indianapolis North Deanery. (Submitted photo)

Members of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis pose on Jan. 23 in snow along the Pennsylvania Turnpike after the bus they had traveled on to the March for Life in Washington was stranded after traffic accidents ahead of them and a blizzard dumped three feet of snow in the region. The group from St. Patrick was part of a trip to Washington sponsored by the Indianapolis North Deanery. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Pro-life Catholics from across central and southern Indiana have travelled for many years to Washington to participate in the March for Life on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion across the country.

Two groups of March for Life participants from the archdiocese had the chance to put their pro-life principles to the test this year when their buses were stranded in Pennsylvania during a massive blizzard that struck the central Atlantic region in the hours after the pro-life event.

Buses with youths and adult chaperones from the Indianapolis North Deanery and St. Nicholas Parish in Ripley County were stopped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike when traffic accidents happened ahead of them around 9 p.m. on Jan. 22. Snowfall increased after the accidents, with up to three feet accumulating around the buses and other stranded vehicles.

Organizers of both groups had been following weather forecasts earlier in the day and cut short their stay in Washington by a few hours, thinking they would still get on the road ahead of the blizzard.

They ended up spending nearly 24 hours on the turnpike, not getting underway again until the night of Jan. 23. They both arrived home on the morning of Jan. 24.

During the time they were stranded, Catholics from the archdiocese had on their buses what they needed to stay safe—enough fuel to stay warm, bathrooms and plenty of food and water.

Their faith soon moved them to share what they had with people in cars around them that didn’t have those resources.

“Our students were looking out the windows, and when they would see a car’s headlights go out in the middle of the night, they would walk to the front of the bus and say, ‘We have heat and they keep turning their car off. Can we go out and give them our blankets?’ ” recalled Ann Collins, administrator of youth ministry at Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis. “They were kind. They knew that they were marching for life.

“It was all life—whether you were an unborn baby or a stranded motorist. Their purpose was to protect life. And they did. They were concerned about everyone around them.”

Collins and Angie Hyre, youth minister at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, were co-coordinators of the North Deanery March for Life trip.

Hannah Cooke, a junior at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis and a member of Christ the King Parish, was on the deanery’s stranded bus.

She spoke about how the 38 other teens and 10 adult chaperones traveling with her kept a positive attitude through the nearly 24 hours they spent on the turnpike.

“It brought us a lot closer together,” Hannah said. “None of us expected this to happen. It showed us that you have to have a positive outlook. If you don’t, you’re going to get depressed.”

One key factor that kept the group optimistic was their faith.

“We said a lot of prayers,” Hannah said. “In the end, all you have left is to rely on God. So that’s what we did, and it brought our faith together, too.

“We have to trust in God. He was the one who brought us to the march. He obviously had a plan for all of this. It got more attention on the news than it usually does. So something good came out of it.”

Collins said that the community brought together by the shared experience of being stranded by the blizzard extended up and down the turnpike through communication by motorists on social media.

“We made lots of friends with lots of people on lots of buses and on lots of semis,” she said. “There was a lot of communication.”

The 96 people in the two buses sponsored by St. Nicholas Parish were stranded on the turnpike several miles to the west of the group from Indianapolis.

Father Shaun Whittington, pastor of St. Nicholas and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris, was impressed by the March for Life participants.

“We were all frustrated,” he said. “But nobody got beyond the normal sense of ‘Why aren’t we going?’ People patiently accepted it. They prayed and just waited it out. They got into the spirit that it was beyond their control.”

Like the group from the North Deanery, the one led by Father Whittington reached out to help people in stranded cars.

Adult men among the chaperones also helped get their buses and others moving again by shoveling away snow with anything they could find, including some of the pro-life signs the group had used in the march.

“The men in our group freed about eight buses,” said Father Whittington. “Then we were able to start going, and other buses came in behind us.”

Colleen Dietz, a St. Nicholas parishioner and a junior at Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg, said her faith helped her cope with the stress of being stuck on the turnpike.

“It was important for us to remember that we’re standing up for life,” she said. “We’re trying to get an end to abortion. And that comes with a consequence sometimes. This time, we were willing to sit through [being stranded], and we all made it out all right. We trusted in God, and everything was OK.”

Emily Cornett, also a St. Nicholas parishioner and a junior at the Academy, said there was a message in the way that people from her group reached out to stranded motorists around them.

“It showed people that, even when nothing seems to be going right, you can still have a positive mindset and help each other,” she said. “We were all in the same spot. People really saw how positive we were trying to be and how much hope we had to get home.”

Collins and Father Whittington were both encouraged by witnessing how well the youths and adult chaperones in their groups lived out their faith and pro-life beliefs.

“If I ever get stuck on a highway again, I want it to be with these same 96 people,” said Father Whittington.

“It was beautiful,” Collins said. “It made me very hopeful for the future. We have great Catholic teens. There is hope for the Catholic Church to grow. We have young adults right here who are going to carry on the mission.”†


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