Last week approximately 450 teens and chaperones ventured to Washington D.C. from Our Lady of Mercy and the Diocese of Baton Rouge to experience a week diving into the Catholic faith, our American heritage, and ultimately to walk in the National March for Life that took place on January 18th at our Nation’s Capital.
The Diocese of Baton Rouge takes what could be any other trip and turns it into a Pilgrimage experience for its attendees. The goal is not a typical “educational tour,” rather, a life-changing spiritual Pilgrimage. To reach this end, the goals of the pilgrimage are: deep, personal conversion; vocational discernment; pro-life advocacy; fellowship and fun; and to form the next generation of pro-life leaders.
The primary means to meet the formation goals of the trip are “prayer and sacrifice.” This mantra is repeated constantly to help participants prepare for the thousands of ways they will make personal sacrifices during the Pilgrimage. It becomes something of an automatic response to every pain, annoyance, or hassle, and although it seems like a running joke at times, it becomes a central lesson of the trip.
Meeting the goal of personal conversion, the group visits several spiritual places and shrines, attends daily Mass, participates in evening praise and worship, and experiences several prayer vigils with Eucharistic Adoration and Confession. Every year, the group attends Mass in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with the other dioceses from Louisiana.
To meet the goal of vocational discernment, seminarians, priests, and religious sisters spend dozens of hours “hanging out” with the teens, helping them to see that religious vocations are for people who are ordinary, “down-to-earth,” and real – just like them. These interactions play a unique role in giving teens the ability to imagine and picture themselves choosing a religious vocation. Married couples, single adults, young adults and college students are invited on the Pilgrimage as witnesses to the truth and joy of each particular vocation and state of life in which they are living.
Through pro-life advocacy, the group explores America’s pro-life roots in places like Gettysburg and Independence Hall. They also visit the Holocaust Museum each year to draw connections between the eugenic efforts of the Nazis and the targeting of our weakest citizens in the unborn, especially the targeting of potentially disabled unborn children. They take advantage of Martin Luther King Day by presenting the pro-life issues through the lens of civil rights and draw comparisons between Martin Luther King’s D.C. March and their own.
To meet the goal of fellowship and fun, the pilgrims play games, watch skits, enjoy music, engage in faith sharing, and other youth oriented activities. The hours spent on the bus are an especially great time to grow in these goals, as there is plenty of time during the 24-hour trip to D.C. and the 24-hour trip back home; plus the spirituality of Pilgrimage demands that the focus is on both the “journey” and the “destination.”
Participating in this year’s March for Life from Mercy – Bailey Ardoin, Molly Blouin, Trevor Caruso, Monica Chasuk, Robert Chasuk, Olivia Clark, Emma Daniel, Caroline Dazzio, Warren Dazzio, Nathaniel Frank, Mary Granier, Chris Hermann, Gracie Jones, Theresa Kadair, Janus Korevec, Jane Laville, Lucy Laville, Bridget Mahoney, Elise Marchand, Joseph Romero, Audrey Stanford, Phillip Tullier, Renee Tullier, Parker Wilson, and Delaney Walsh.