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March for Life attracts ND pro-life community

Madeline Buckley | Sunday, January 24, 2010

WASHINGTON — Morning hail subsided into a light drizzle as hundreds of students stood on the National Mall Friday under a Notre Dame Right to Life banner, ready to march with University President Fr. John Jenkins.

Almost 400 students traveled to Washington, D.C. this weekend to participate in the March for Life, an annual trip organized by the Notre Dame Right to Life Club.

Jenkins donned the Notre Dame Right to Life hat distributed by the club before the March and walked with students and faculty members from the National Mall to the Supreme Court building.  

“Coming to the March was something I had always wanted to do, but Jenkins coming made it special,” junior Jena Doom, a first-time participant, said.

The students took the 12-hour overnight bus ride to D.C., slept on the floor in a parish center in Virginia and spent the day marching before returning to Notre Dame.

“It was a long bus ride and not a lot of sleep, but this is worth it,” junior Patrick Graff said. “I think it’s important for our leaders to see the support this issue has.”

Jenkins mingled with students and faculty before the March at a breakfast reception and joined them afterward for a dinner sponsored by the Alumni Association at the D.C. restaurant Smith and Wollensky.

He also said a Mass for the students and faculty before the March.

“Jenkins’ participation didn’t affect my decision to come but I’m glad he decided to step up,” Graff said.

Right to Life president John Gerardi, a senior, said students were supportive of Fr. Jenkins’ decision to participate in the March.

“Most didn’t agree with his decision to invite [President Barack] Obama to campus last spring, but he’s taking steps to support the movement, and we appreciate that,” Gerardi said.

Former South Bend-Fort Wayne Bishop John D’Arcy and Bishop Kevin Rhoades, current bishop of the diocese, were introduced at the rally that preceded the March, drawing cheers from the Notre Dame contingent on the Mall.

For Junior Katie McNelis, last spring’s controversy over Jenkins’ invitation to Obama made this March particularly significant.

“Going to the March is something I had always thought about, but this year was the time,” she said.

McNelis said Jenkins’ participation was an important display of solidarity with the students.
“I think the pro-life movement is something so much a part of the identity at Notre Dame,” she said.

But while many students came to Notre Dame with a clear understanding of the abortion debate, freshman Jiayi Lou, a native of China, had never debated the issue before.

“I had never heard of this before. I never saw anything pro-life or pro-choice,” she said. “In China because of the one-child policy, it’s almost common sense that abortion is legal.”

Yet Lou has always felt the one-child policy is inherently unfair, so she became involved in Right to Life activities on campus. The one-child policy and abortion are connected life issues for Lou.

“The policy is so cruel. You lose the right to have a baby,” she said. “I’m an only child and my mom already had her tubes tied.”

At the rally before the March, Jenkins talked with students and other political figures in the crowd, such as Joe Donnelly, congressman from Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, which houses Notre Dame.

Donnelly said he meets students at the March every year and offers his congressional office as a place to visit and warm up.

“I try to come out every year because as you can see, there’s a huge crowd from the Notre Dame community,” Donnelly said.

After chatting with Jenkins on the National Mall, Donnelly described the University president as “the best.”

“He’s a tremendous leader and a wonderful priest,” he said.

Freshman Tori O’Malley said she was impressed with Jenkins’ demeanor throughout the March, especially given that signs displayed throughout the March demanded he drop charges against people arrested for trespassing on the University campus during Commencement last year.

“It was cool to see Fr. Jenkins marching mixed in with everyone,” O’Malley said. “It was great how he reacted to the opposition against him. He just stayed calm and kept talking to people.”