Students from southeast Michigan learn from the March for Life experience

By Cari DeLamielleure | The Michigan Catholic

Washington, D.C. — Chanting along the way and holding their signs high, the eighth grade students of Spiritus Sanctus Academy in Plymouth and students with Right to Life – LIFESPAN, let their voices ring as they participated in the 2012 March for Life in Washington, DC on Monday.

Students from Spiritus Sanctus Academy in Plymouth pose with their signs during the March for Life. Detroit-area youths and young adults joined with thousands from across the nation, starting early on Jan. 23 with a Mass at a local arena, then marched through the afternoon.

“When you’re all crowded in, shoulder to shoulder, and everybody’s got signs, it’s hard to realize how big it is,” said Matthew David, an eighth grader at Spiritus Sanctus. “And then we got to the top of the hill, and I couldn’t see where the signs stopped.”

Prior to their trip, teachers at the academy prepared the students for the march in the classroom by educating on the meaning of life through historical holocausts and genocides.

“We talked about the whole pro-life issue,” said Donna Rose Echeverria, teacher and trip organizer. “It’s not just abortion. It’s not just destroying pregnancy. It’s about how we treat one another.”

Echeverria has led the March for Life trip the past five years at Spiritus Sanctus. She was also trained at the Holocaust Museum in Southfield  in order to teach about the Holocaust.

Students are taught about events after World War I to the Lost Boys of Sudan and then asked to look for dehumanization in their own society.

“Every human being deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. And treating them as objects is awful,” said David.

At the March for Life events, David said that they heard approximately 30 percent of the population has been aborted the past few years.

“That’s like one-third of my would-have-been friends are gone and I’ll never know them,” he said.

The March for Life trip, for Spiritus Sanctus students, is the best part of their time at the academy, said Echeverria. Since she started organizing the trips, she found many alumni returning to participate in the march. This trip, alone, she saw alumni from Brother Rice in Bloomfield Hills, Detroit Catholic Central in Novi, and Fr. Gabriel Richard in Ann Arbor.

“It gets bigger and bigger every year, and yet we go home and we see nothing,” she said. “The parents say, ‘are you sure these pictures are correct? I’m looking at these pictures of thousands of people streaming down the avenue and there’s nothing in the news.’ So we do our best to spread it ourselves.”

Lynn Gura, Youth Program Coordinator for Right to Life – LIFESPAN, has travelled to the nation’s capital with the youth for 11 years. During this time, she said, everything has been increasing. For the 2012 march, Right to Life – LIFESPAN took 302 students and chaperones to DC. Approximately 75-80 percent of the participants were young people, Gura said. 

“Each year it gives me so much encouragement and hope. Experiencing it through the young people’s eyes is really important to me,” she said. “I like to take that all in. It helps to keep me young at heart.”

Right to Life — LIFESPAN has been around for 40 years in metro Detroit. Started out as an organization working to defeat Roe v. Wade, the organization, today, offers young people ways of being involved with the right to life issue, Gura explained. From emailing about local events to providing pro-life information to students, the number of volunteers and participants climbs annually.

“It’s been really uplifting — a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd,” said Kateri Rybicki, a third-year, march participant with Right to Life-LIFESPAN.

Rybicki not only volunteers with LIFESPAN, but also has her own group called Crusaders for Life, which protests Planned Parenthood abortion clinics in Michigan. The Crusaders partake in events like peaceful prayer outside abortion clinics and flash mobs.
“Being one of the thousands of people that come here to the march, just seeing everyone really happy and excited, was really cool,” she said.  “Hopefully there won’t be a next year. We want abortion to be illegal before then.”

Michael Perez, a second year student at Baker College, took the initiative, he said, and made the 2012 march his first march.

“My local parish priest put an article in the newspaper and I read it. It was something I always wanted to do, but never got around to doing it. Just seeing it in the paper, I decided I wanted to come and try it out once.”

From his experience, Perez said that “by seeing such a peaceful protest, and that was the important part, seeing peace and people come for something that’s an important issue, I can take that peace back to Michigan to show that we can peacefully resolve things.”

James Weil, a junior in high school, has participated in the march for four years with LIFESPAN, but this year, he said, getting involved with the Crusaders is where he first experienced being pro-life, which also made the 2012 march more enjoyable.

“The Crusaders made a lot of noise,” he said.

His favorite part of the trip was seeing all the people there for a cause, he added. “If one baby is saved then everything is worth it.”

Nico Teeter, another first-year march participant, said there’s nothing better than saving babies and working to make abortion illegal.

“My favorite part was walking down to the Capital building, showing politicians that we’re here and we’re never going to give up,” he said. He already has his ticket for next year, he added.