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Trump at March for Life: 'I am truly proud to stand with you'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 12:07 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump addressed the annual March for Life Friday, telling pro-life demonstrators that he is an advocate for the right to life of unborn children, and calling for a federal prohibition on late-term abortion.

The president spoke about his administration’s record on abortion policy and criticized Democrats at the state and federal level for their positions on human life.

He is the first president to attend in person the March for Life, which began in 1974 and has become one of the largest annual political events in the country.  

“All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” Trump told the crowd, which spanned across a large section of the National Mall and which the president described as a “tremendous turnout.”

“We’re here for a very simple reason, to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential,” the president said.

“As President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said.

“Together we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life.”

“You embrace mothers with care and compassion, you are powered by prayer and motivated by pure, unselfish love,” the president told the crowd.

Trump especially praised the college and high school students in attendance at the March for Life.

“Young people are the heart of the March for Life, and it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation. The life movement is led by strong women, amazing faith leaders, and brave students, who carry on the legacy of pioneers before us, who fought to raise the conscience of our nation and uphold the rights of our citizens,” Trump said.

The president’s attendance at the March for Life was announced earlier this week. In 2019 Vice President Mike Pence attended the march, and in 2018 Trump welcomed pro-life leaders to the White House Rose Garden on the same day as the event.

The president’s unexpected attendance at the event led to heightened security. Initial security announcements said that no strollers would be permitted at the event, leading to criticism from attendees who had brought children. Security organizers eventually relented on the stroller policy, saying the initial prohibition was the result of a miscommunication

Trump took the stage shortly after noon to chants of “Four more years” from some, but not all, in the crowd. Some attendees held signs distributed by the president’s campaign team, some of which read “Most Pro-Life President Ever.”

Before he spoke, Trump greeted leaders on the stage while Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” played. Before he had taken the stage, songs from the Rolling Stones and Tina Turner played, as well as The Animals’ 1964 “House of the Rising Sun,” had played for the crowd. The songs are standard fare at Trump campaign events.

The president was welcomed enthusiastically by March for Life president Jeanne Mancini.

Describing the March for Life as a “pro-life and pro-woman” event, and the “largest human rights demonstration in the entire world,” Mancini told Trump that “your presence here today makes a very powerful statement.”

“You are leader of the free world and you stand for life. Thank you for being here. Thank you for everything you’ve done for life. And thank you for everything you will be doing for life in the years ahead,” Mancini said, apparently in reference to the president’s upcoming election.

The welcome marked a stark contrast to a March 2016 statement from Mancini, who responded to remarks from Trump calling for the imprisonment of women who undergo abortions as “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion.”

“Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion," Mancini added in 2016.

But Trump has made efforts since his 2016 election to respond to the policy proposals of pro-life leaders, administration officials say.

On Friday, he touted some of those efforts, mentioning his expansion of the Mexico City policy that bars federal funding from supporting abortions in foreign countries, along with his 187 appointments to the federal bench, among them two justices of the Supreme Court. The president also mentioned that new regulations on Title X policies block abortion providers from some federal funds.

Trump said that his administration is concerned about protecting religious liberty, and is “taking care of doctors, teachers, nurses, and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” the president said, to applause from the crowd.

Trump has faced fierce criticism from the U.S. bishops’ conference and other faith leaders for his immigration, social welfare, and foreign aid policies, and did not make mention of those issues during his speech. His rhetoric and policies on this issues have been criticized by Catholic leaders as inimical to respect for human dignity. Nor did the president mention his recent drone strike against Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which has also drawn criticism from faith leaders who have raised concerns about the possibility that the U.S. could enter another war in the Middle East.

The president also did not mention directly his reelection, but he did tell the crowd that “Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades, and you can even say, for centuries. Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer-funded abortions all the way up until the moment of birth.”

Trump mentioned the 2019 passage of New York state’s Reproductive Health Act, which ushered in a wave of legislation in several states aimed at expanding legal protection for abortion. He also mentioned Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, who in 2019 made public comments that seemed to support allowing a child who survived a botched abortion to die without medical treatment.

The president did not mention Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat scheduled to speak at the March for Life shortly after Trump. Jackson sponsored a Louisiana law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius. That law, signed by a Democratic governor and now under judicial review at the Supreme Court, is expected to pose a challenge to the binding precedent of Roe v. Wade.

Trump is currently subject to impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate, which he did not mention directly in his speech. He did, however, aim to connect his political challenges to his pro-life advocacy.

“Sadly the far left is actively working to erase our God-given rights, shut down faith-based charities, ban religious believers from the public square, and silence Americans who believe in the sanctity of life,” Trump told the crowd.

“They are coming after me, because I am fighting for you, and we are fighting for those who have no voice, and we will win, because we know how to win.”

“We all know how to win. You’ve been winning for a long time. You’ve been winning for a long time,” Trump told the crowd.

As he closed his remarks, the president told the crowd his attendance was a “very special moment.”

“It is so great to represent you. I love you all...God bless America.”

As Trump left the stage, the Rolling Stones' 1969 classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” played over the speakers.

 

Christine Rousselle contributed to this report.

 

 

HHS Secretary says he is proud to lead 'Department of Life'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department is committed to protecting life “from conception to natural death,” as he prepares to attend Friday’s national March for Life.

“We are proud to be ‘the Department of Life’ and will continue protecting life and lives while upholding the fundamental freedoms and inherent dignity of all Americans,” said Azar in a statement released on Jan. 23.

Azar said that “it is an honor to lead a department that has demonstrated our full commitment to protecting the dignity of life from conception to natural death.”

HHS released the statement the evening before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., an annual pro-life gathering that is attended by tens of thousands from all over the U.S. and foreign countries.

The theme of the 2020 March for Life is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.”

A spokeswoman from HHS’ Office of Public Affairs confirmed to CNA that Secretary Azar will be attending the March for Life.

The secretary also noted the department’s efforts over the past year to oppose “an international right to abortion” at the United Nations and at other international meetings. In September he read a joint statement of the U.S. and other countries against finding an “international right to abortion,” at a meeting on universal health coverage on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

He also noted the department’s efforts to uphold conscience rights. In May, HHS issued a final rule based on various federal laws protecting conscience in health care, allowing health care workers and providers to opt out of participating in or paying for procedures such as abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide.

Azar will join President Donald Trump at the March for Life, who this week announced he would be addressing attendees of the march at a rally on the National Mall. 

Trump will be the first president to speak at the March for Life. He will do so while his impeachment trial, on two counts of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, is underway in the U.S. Senate.

“Jeanne Mancini, President, March for Life: ‘We have never had a President of the United States actually come in person to the March for Life.’ But now you do! See you later Jeanne,” the President tweeted early Friday morning.

Youth Mass for Life told to 'give back our life to the One to whom it belongs'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- Living the “Gospel of Life” requires sacrifice but God is infinitely generous in return, the secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S. told youth at the Mass for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

“To be a witness to the Gospel of Life, we have to give back our life to the One to Whom it belongs,” said Father Daniele Rebeggiani, a Washington archdiocesan priest and secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S. and the homilist for the Mass for Life celebrated at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. on Friday. The Mass preceded the 47th annual March for Life, expected to attract nearly 100,000 people from across the U.S. and foreign countries.

Fr. Rebeggiani preached on the Gospel for the Mass, the story of the rich young man who left Christ sad because his “heart was divided.”

“This Mass is an invitation to all of us to leave everything, to abandon our life totally to the Lord,” Rebeggiani said, inviting those present to ask a priest if they “ever regretted living a life of celibacy” or their parents if “they’ve ever regretted their sleepless hours.”

In order to be a witness to the gift of life, “we should be willing to undergo some persecution,” he said. Yet, he said, “the Lord will never, ever disappoint you,” and “I have never, ever regretted giving my life to the Lord.”

The Mass, preceded by a youth rally, was attended by an estimated 18,000 teenagers and young adults from more than 50 dioceses around the country just hours before the March for Life was set to begin on the National Mall.

The March for Life is held each year on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that overturned state abortion bans and legalized abortion nationwide in cases before the unborn baby is “viable.”

On Friday morning, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. celebrated the Mass for Life, with the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, concelebrating along with more than 180  bishops and priests.

Archbishop Pierre greeted those present at the beginning of the Mass and thanked them on behalf of Pope Francis for “showing your solidarity with the unborn in the ‘throwaway culture’.”

“We don’t fight for an idea. We fight for the future of the human being,” Pierre said.

The nuncio cited Pope Francis’ comparison of abortion to hiring a hitman to kill someone, saying “never, never eliminate a human life or hire a killer to solve a problem. Abortion is never the answer that women and families are looking for.”

“The Holy Father is close to you, and believes in you, and with his spirit he marches with you,” he said.

The Youth Rally and Mass for Life is the largest annual event of the Archdiocese of Washington. It precedes the March for Life, attended annually by tens of thousands of pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and internationally.

Friday’s rally and Mass carried the theme of “Living the Gospel of Life,” taken from the “life in abundance” promised by Christ in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, in answer to the culture of death which promotes abortion.

At the rally preceding Friday’s Mass, abortion survivor Melissa Ohden told her story to the audience. Two religious sisters—Sister Josephine Garrett of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and Sister Maria Juan Anderson of the Religious Sisters of Mercy—addressed the youth, and Catholic singer Sarah Kroger performed.

Archbishop Gregory hails youth for life: ‘They have the energy to pull it off’

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:40 am (CNA).- An estimated 18,000 young Catholics from around the country filled the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, DC, Friday morning for the annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life.

Organized by the Archdiocese of Washington, the early morning rally opens a day of events for the March for Life each year. Doors opened just after 6am, but busloads of pilgrims and marchers had already arrived in the early hours of Jan. 24.

Many of the attendees had been up late at the previous evening’s Mass and Vigil for Life at the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the campus of The Catholic University of America.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington told media that the annual rally and Mass was the largest event hosted by the archdiocese every year.

“This is about our protest, our positive witness to the gift of life, on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This is what we do. We gather so that we can pray and we take action.”

Speaking to reporters during the rally, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory talked about the significance of the event, his first since succeeding Cardinal Donald Wuerl last year.

CNA asked Gregory about the use of abortion as a political wedge issue by, and how the Church could help build unified culture of life, Gregory said the event showed the breadth and youth of the pro-life movement.

“First of all, [abortion] can be used in a very isolating way,” Gregory acknowledged.

“But part of the rally, part of our Catholic witness, is that while life within the womb is certainly threatened, on so many levels, it is the first step of the significance of life in all of its manifestations. So what we try to do, especially with our young people, is to say ‘it is the beginning,’ its not the end of our respect for human life and its dignity.”

“I think one of the things that this event does, and I am new to it, is it makes a promise that our witness to the dignity of life is youthful and it has a future,” Gregory said.

Gregory was also asked about the announced address by President Donald Trump scheduled for later in the day at the main rally for life on the National Mall, hand the president's closeness to the anti-abortion movement politically, but divergence from the Church on other issues such as immigration and social welfare.

“The bishops of the United States have consistently, and for a long time, spoken about the integrity of our teaching on the dignity of human life. While the focus today in many respects will be on protecting life in the womb – that is not the end. Because of that, individuals from whatever political persuasion might decide to focus on one dimension, but we as Catholics have to say ‘we are grateful for that focus on that one dimension, but there is more to come.’”

The rally portion of the morning was led by Sr. Maria Juan of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, who opened the event calling out pilgrims from across the country and inviting young people, priests and religious to share their own experiences of this and past events.

The rally program also included an address from Melissa Ohden, founder of The Abortion Survivors Network, and herself an abortion survivor, while Christian rock bands and the choir of John Carroll High School kept energy levels high in the early morning.

Gregory greeted pilgrims and marchers on the arena floor before preparing for the 9am Mass, at which he was scheduled to be the principle celebrant, together with Archbishop Christoph Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.   

The Washington archbishop pointed to the enthusiasm of the crowd as a clear sign that they were undeterred in the fight against abortion, even though the vast majority had never known a time when it was not legal.

“The fact that they have taken such an enthusiastic position is an indication that our future in our young people is bright. They have the right focus, they have the right intention, they have the energy to pull it off,” Gregory said.

At Mass for Life, 10,000 pilgrims pack National Shrine

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2020 / 10:15 pm (CNA).- An estimated 10,000 pilgrims traveled from both near and far to attend Mass at the opening of the National Prayer Vigil for Life celebrated on Thursday, Jan. 23 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The pilgrims joined 67 deacons, 303 priests, 39 bishops, and three cardinals participating in the Mass, held the evening before the annual March for Life. The principal celebrant and homilist was Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the US bishops’ pro-life committee, together with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. 

In his homily, Archbishop Naumann said he was cheered at the sight of so many young pilgrims for life, a powerful witness against an abortion culture, which he compared to an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ in which “beautiful is ugly and hideous is gorgeous.” 

The archbishop also spoke of his ad limina visit with Pope Francis. During his recent trip to Rome, said Naumann, he mentioned the controversy that erupted at the USCCB Fall General Assembly over whether abortion was the “preeminent” social issue of our time. Naumann said that the pope appeared confused at why this would be controversial, and re-affirmed that abortion is the most important social issue.

“The Pope is with you. He is praying for you. He supports you,” said Naumann. “My friends, the successor of Peter has our backs.”

Each of the pilgrims had their own reasons and motivations for why they found themselves in the Basilica on Thursday evening. CNA spoke to a few of them to find out their stories. 

Jenna Perrey and Grace Fender are two first-time marchers. They traveled on a bus together for 22 hours with the Diocese of Jefferson City (MO).

“We hope to see all the crowds and see all the wonderful supporters of life,” Perrey told CNA. The Diocese of Jefferson City sent six busses to Washington for the March. 

Fender told CNA she was looking forward to the experience of her first March, and to see everyone “marching together for the same cause.”

“Life’s good,” added, smiling. 

As in past years, attendees of the Vigil Mass and the March for Life are able to receive a plenary indulgence, provided they fulfill the other requirements of an indulgence of confession, total detachment from sin, and prayer for the Pope’s intention. This year, permission was granted relatively later than usual, but it was authorized on January 9 by Cardinal Marcus Piacenza of the Apostolic Penitentiary.  

Other marchers told CNA they returned to Washington after being inspired by past marches. 

“I went last year, and I felt like I actually made an impact,” Emma Galles, an 18-year-old pilgrim attending her second March for Life told CNA. Galles flew in from Iowa. 

“You could see how many people were with you. It lets you know that you’re not alone in this fight and that you’re getting somewhere,” she said.

Galles told CNA that she is pro-life, because “Without the right to life, all other rights are pointless. That’s the number one right that every person should have.” 

Carlos Rueda, a senior at Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL, flew up with some of his classmates to attend the March for Life. Rueda is the communications officer of his school’s pro-life club, and has attended the March for Life each year of high school. He told CNA that he is “passionate” about his involvement with the club. 

Rueda said the March was “inspiring,” which is why he keeps coming back.

“You see so many people with the same goal in mind, even [from] different backgrounds,” said Rueda. 

He said that in Tampa, he often faced pushback for his pro-life beliefs, but took solace in being surrounded by people who agreed with him in DC, “joining together, fighting for the same idea.” 

Jayla Johnson, 15, and Tanina Sentementas, 16, had similar sentiments. The two traveled from Connecticut to Washington with their school, St. Paul Catholic High School. 

Despite going to Catholic schools her entire life, Johnson said she was never taught about the reality of abortion until she was in the eighth grade. 

“It really made me realize that it’s wrong, and I should stand up against it,” said Johnson.  

Sentementas said that her group bonded during the eight-hour bus journey, and relished the chance to be with her peers and to better interact with them.

She told CNA that she is pro-life because she wants to “have a voice for children who don’t have them.” 

One of the 39 bishops present, Bishop Richard Umbers, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, had by far the longest journey to Washington. Umbers attended the March for Life last year with a group of Australian students en route to World Youth Day in Panama. 

The experience made such an impression that he returned in 2020, again with a group of students. He told CNA that the decriminalization of abortion in the Australian state of New South Wales in October last year inspired him to come back to help jump start the pro-life movement in his country.

“The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 that was passed in the State of New South Wales on the 2nd of October is our own Roe v Wade,” Umbers told CNA. 

“I’m bringing people to Washington with a view to promoting something similar in Sydney.”

Australia does not have any sort of annual March for Life demonstration. Umbers hopes to change that.  

“At the Vigil Mass this evening, packed with youth and clergy, mention was made of its humble beginnings. A generation later it’s huge,” he said.

“In Sydney we have already amassed in our thousands outside Parliament. I believe that the Pro-Life cause, which is the preeminent issue of our day, deserves our very best efforts.”

 

 



Correction 1/25: A previous version of this story said 46 deacons were in attendance. It has been corrected.