January 26, 2024

Crowd of 1,800 at Mass before Indiana March for Life proves ‘united we stand’

Brian Greer, right, principal of Lumen Christi Catholic High School in Indianapolis, kneels in prayer with students from the school on Jan. 22 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during a Mass celebrated prior to the Indiana March for Life. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Brian Greer, right, principal of Lumen Christi Catholic High School in Indianapolis, kneels in prayer with students from the school on Jan. 22 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during a Mass celebrated prior to the Indiana March for Life. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Natalie Hoefer

The seventh Indiana March for Life and Mass for Life, both held on Jan. 22 in Indianapolis, were ones for the record books.

For the first time, groups from all five Indiana dioceses participated. They numbered an estimated 1,800 at the Mass and about 2,000 at the March—shattering last year’s record of about 1,100.

(Related story: Sisters of Life tell record Indiana March for Life crowd ‘you are a hope to this nation’)

For the first time, nearly all of Indiana’s bishops—save for one who was out of the country—concelebrated the Mass. They were joined by nearly 30 priests from throughout the state.

And for the first time, that Mass was celebrated in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis—the number of participants could no longer fit in the former location, St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis.

During his homily, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson offered a challenge to the roughly 1,800 youths and adults.

“Anytime I say, ‘United we stand,’ I want you to reply, ‘Divided we fall,’ ” and vice versa, he said.

It was an engaging tactic as he interspersed the phrases throughout his homily, keeping the listeners on their toes.

But mostly it was a statement on what happens when pro-life advocates from all corners of Indiana unite as one to support the sanctity of all life in their home state.

‘The movement of the Holy Spirit’

Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand nationally in its Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision, national and local marches for life have taken place annually on or near that date in solemn remembrance of unborn lives lost and to promote the pro-life cause.

The case was overturned by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in June of 2022, and abortion regulation returned to the states.

As a result, “A conversation was raised to the forefront among groups across Indiana as to where they would be sending [March for Life] pilgrims in 2023—to the national march [in Washington] or to the state march,” said Brie Anne Varick, director of the archdiocesan Office of Human Life and Dignity, in an interview with The Criterion.

Last year, a group from the Evansville, Ind., Diocese decided to participate in the state march in Indianapolis.

As a result, St. John the Evangelist Church “was overflowing with [more than] 1,000 in attendance” for the Mass for Life, said Varick. “Groups were on the floor and packed in the back.”

The Indiana March for Life planning team—consisting of members from the archdiocese, the Lafayette, Ind., Diocese and Right to Life of Indianapolis—“started seeing the movement of the Holy Spirit,” she said. “We discerned whether it was time to expand, so our presence, our voices could make a significant impact and change in our state.”

The team reached out to Archbishop Thompson about moving the Mass to the Indiana Convention Center and encouraging groups from the five Indiana dioceses to participate.

“He took this proposal to the Indiana bishops,” said Varick. “They unanimously agreed.”

‘Healing wounds, transforming hearts’

The result was powerful.

The convention center’s largest ballroom was packed with about 1,800 youths and adults from schools and parishes throughout the dioceses of Evansville, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Gary and Lafayette, as well as the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

After explaining his call-and-response challenge, Archbishop Thompson began his homily.

When it comes to sports, he said, “There is nothing wrong with celebrating success. But the celebration must not deflect from the task ahead.”

The same is true of the need to stand up for the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, he said, even after the June 2022 overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide—and even after an Indiana law safeguarding the lives of nearly all unborn children went into effect last August.

“Our gathering to pray and march for life is as important today as at any other time,” he said.

The Indiana March for Life has “never been about merely overturning laws, but healing wounds, transforming hearts,” the archbishop explained. “It is for this very reason that we must keep our center of gravity with the altar rather than the capitol, prayer rather than politics, in divine grace rather than in human merit, dialogue rather than condemnation, and mercy rather than demonization.”

“United we stand,” he added. “Divided we fall,” the congregation responded.

Referring to the day’s Gospel reading from Mark 3:22-30, Archbishop Thompson noted that Jesus “does not hesitate to explain that a kingdom or house divided cannot stand. … It is the Holy Spirit that unites, or the demonic that drives us to dehumanize and even demonize one another.”

He noted that such lack of respect for human dignity leads to the polarization so prevalent in today’s world.

To combat such division, the archbishop said, the Church and its members need “to be intentionally synodal in the commitment to mutual respect, to accompaniment, to dialogue and encounter, with Christ at the center—the beauty, the truth and the goodness of God, not any particular ideology or agenda or ego.”

‘Human life is a joyful mystery’

He went on to note that to be pro-life is not merely to be against abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, racism, injustice, the death penalty or other attacks on the sanctity of life.

“In the Church’s understanding, a pro-life witness includes defense and care for the unborn, for the mother—whether wed or unwed, for the pregnancy—planned or unexpected, for the sick, the elderly, the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the imprisoned, those with differing political views, those suffering from mental illness, persons of all ethnicities and religious beliefs” and more, he said.

Archbishop Thompson recalled a line from Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home”: “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise” (#12).

“It is the same in human life,” he said. “Rather than a problem to be solved, from the moment of conception to natural death, human life is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise. The unborn child is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to contemplate with the mind and heart of God.”

As for this annual public witness to the sanctity of life, it is “most appropriate for Catholics to mark this day foremost with the celebration of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our identity and our mission, our ministries, and our services,” Archbishop Thompson noted. “Whatever progress we make in this cause, let us never underestimate the grace of God working in us.

“Divided we fall,” he said in closing. After the congregation answered, “United we stand,” he added, “May it be forever.”

‘It’s about our spirit, building that up’

Catholics from throughout the state remarked on the Mass as an important part of the Indiana March for Life.

Aidan Mohr was “very excited” about the liturgy.

“I love Mass,” said the senior at Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese. He called the Mass for Life in particular “a beautiful, pro-life liturgy and expression of our faith.”

“Beautiful” is a word that Jordi Martinez Morales, a senior at Fr. Michael Shawe Jr./Sr. Memorial High School in Madison, also used to describe the liturgy—twice.

“I enjoyed the homily,” he said. “I enjoyed everything about it. It was a really beautiful, beautiful Mass.”

Admitting she is not a fan of frigid weather—the windchill during the march was about 20 degrees—Vivian Abdalla said the Mass would “definitely help me get through the day!”

The junior at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, was “amazed how many people showed up” to worship at the Mass compared to the past “three or four” years she attended the Indiana March for Life.

But she also noted the importance of celebrating the liturgy before taking part in the march.

“It’s not about a political movement,” she said of the Mass. “It’s about our spirit, building that up” before making a public stand for life. †

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