I’ve related this story to multiple people prior, during, and after this particular trip. And they think me crazy. And I’m like “whatev”. I don’t apologize for having a sense of adventure.
Yes, on Wednesday January 20, 2016, I flew 6000 miles from Japan escaping a mild snowstorm, spent 12 hours at home in Texas to completely unpack and totally repack differently as well as nap for a few hours, hopped on a plane on Thursday January 21, 2016 to fly another 1000 miles at 6AM to Washington, D.C., walked 8 miles around town carrying everything I packed with me, went to bed, got up early on Friday January 22, 2016, marched in the cold as the most epic blizzard hit, got snowed in all weekend, dealt with flight cancellations and delays through Monday January 25, 2016, finally arrived home in my own bed at 1:00AM Tuesday January 26, 2016 and still got to work by 7:30AM. And it was totally worth it!
You see, one of my former housemates is now my parish’s high school youth minister. Every year, we take a group of high school youth on a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. to visit some of the typical sights, both federal and Catholic, as well as attend Masses. He needed some chaperones with previous March for Life pilgrimage experience, and this was my third time to go since 2013. Luckily, I was able to time my business trip to Japan to not totally overlap this pilgrimage so I could help my bro out.
The things that we typically do for this pilgrimage are:
- Visit Arlington National Cemetery
- Pray in front of Planned Parenthood
- Visit the monuments and memorials along the Mall
- Visit the Smithsonians
- Visit the White House
- Become experts of the Metro system
- Visit the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land (and sometimes the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration next door)
- Visit the Holocaust Museum
- Attend the Vigil Mass for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
- Attend the Youth Rally and Mass for Life at either the Verizon Center or D.C. Armory
- Participate in the annual March for Life
- Eat at Nando’s (zomg, Portuguese chicken so delicious)
- Attend daily Mass and commit to other Catholic prayers/devotions daily
- All the while roughing it by staying at a host parish or church, or host families
The purpose of this pilgrimage is to participate in the annual March for Life, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (January 22), which legalized abortion 43 years ago. Everything we do, we try to connect to the pro-life movement in some way, both physically and spiritually.
Unfortunately, the Most Epic Blizzard of All Time™ kind of changed the schedule. Just a bit.
I caught up with my group on the morning of Thursday January 21, 2016. I was supposed to catch up to them while they were praying in front of Planned Parenthood, but apparently that location has shut down recently. Whoop!!! They ended up visiting the White House instead. I met up with them afterwards at a Potbelly’s nearby, but it required me to use the Find Friends app and the Metro. And totally passing them by a Metro station or two. It was a brisk walk back to them, both in temperature and speed.
After soups and sandwiches, we headed to the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land for the usual tour of the place. It’s fantastic because it’s the closest any one can get to visiting the Holy Land in America without actually going to the Holy Land! Our tour started just as a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan of New York finished. I did think about creeping up on him. He’s kind of a big deal. One comment one of my friends made is that every time we take this tour, he learns something new. And I agree. The tour guide was different this time from my past two trips, and I learned other tidbits I hadn’t learned before.
After the Monastery, we walked over to the Catholic University of America because the Basilica is located there. We arrived several hours before the Vigil Mass started because that’s what it takes to not get a seat in a pew. Crazy, I know. However, in that time while waiting…
…I ran into two friends who entered religious communities! Both instances were rather fortunate happenstances as I didn’t even know if I could meet up with either of them anyway. It was most excellent to catch up with both of them!
The Vigil Mass itself felt pretty short since the procession only took about 15 minutes versus the 40+ minutes that I’m normally used to. Maybe seminarians, priests, deacons, and bishops were wise enough not to show up because of the impending Jonas storm.
After the Mass, we met up for Night Prayer with a group from our diocese. And after that, we headed back “home” to our host parish in southeast Washington, D.C. I was relieved because I had been carrying all my clothes, sleeping bag, and other effects all day.
The next morning, we got up early and Metro’d our way to the D.C. Armory for the Youth Rally and Mass for Life. After that, we Metro’d again to the Mall for the start of the March.
Upon arriving we got to hear from speakers such as Jeanne Mancini (president of the March for Life), Carly Fiorina, Matt Birk, and others. Apparently Kelsey Grammer attended, and I didn’t get a selfie with him! Oh well…
The snow started falling a few minutes before the march started at 1:00 PM. We started over by the Washington Monument and marched up Constitution Ave. until reaching the Supreme Court at the end. By the end of the March, everything was already covered in white. We didn’t stick around much longer at the Supreme Court in an effort to get everyone back over to our host parish for shelter.
But I did run into a seminarian friend from my diocese on our escape from the snow!
And that was it. That was all we were able to do. For the rest of the weekend, we got “snowed in”. The Metro closed for the weekend so we couldn’t go anywhere. It didn’t stop snowing, blizzard-style, until sometime early Sunday morning. Gosh, like two feet or so of snow fell! Crazy!!!
From a chaperone perspective, the weekend was challenging to make sure everyone had food, stayed healthy, and had enough activities. We were able to make some grocery runs and cook delicious meals. We were kept occupied all weekend by helping the pastor of the parish with organizing his outreach center and shoveling sooooo much snow so that locals and parishioners had access to the church. Of course we had hot chocolate breaks and played many games to pass the time, too. We even had a snowball fight with Father! He also offered to celebrate special daily Masses with us as well as join us for some meals!
The other challenge was stressing out about getting home. With cancelled flights and arranging alternative transportation because the Metro closed, we had multiple meetings as chaperones to make sure things were squared away.
Ultimately, we were able to get Super Shuttles to take us to the airport and leave on Monday January 25, 2016–a full day later than intended! I didn’t fly Southwest like the rest of ’em since I flew on American. Unfortunately, I got stuck even further due to aircraft maintenance issues. Because of my AAdvantage status, American kept rebooking me, thankfully. I caught a late flight to Chicago, and an even later flight back home to Texas, and that’s why I didn’t get home until past midnight on Tuesday January 26, 2016. Oh how thankful I was to finally be home!
Looking back, even though much of the pilgrimage was affected by the blizzard, we still had a pretty memorable time. Despite the discomforts, the inconveniences, the sacrifices, the aches, the pains, the snores, the sleep-talking, the feisty group games, and the 39762071 feet of snow, we were still able to build community and remind ourselves of the importance of making the stand for life. It’s always interesting how adversity brings about a sense of community.
I also thought it interesting that the March for Life still had thousands of participants. Not the “hundreds” that mainstream media proclaims. No amount of impending blizzard doom kept a substantial crowd from showing up. Although, I must admit–I actually did see some pro-choicers this year! There were like ten that I saw! Props to them for actually showing up and braving the blizzard! Respect! But we still outnumbered them 1000 to 1.
All the while we were killing time, and even after returning home, I read about some AMAZING stories from other groups who went to the March and had to deal with the blizzard. One of my good acquaintances was stuck on a highway for 40 hours with his group. It just might turn into a movie. Another large group of multiple charter buses of Marchers built an altar out of snow and had Mass outside. Another group had an ad orientem Mass in a motel bar. Awesome!
When I got home, it was a difficult week getting readjusted back to a work schedule due to Japan jet lag and pilgrimage-ing in Washington, D.C. Now that I’ve been back a week, I’ve been enjoying feeling pumped up about life now that I’ve overcome the difficulties with this pilgrimage to the point where even the most trivial of discomforts and inconveniences don’t bother me. And I’m also now constantly thinking about “what’s next?!”. It was the same question I asked myself back in 2014 on how I should respond to this pro-life pilgrimage experience. Because I don’t want to be boring and filled with inaction.
I think I have I have an idea. But that’s for another blog post.