Once again, Buffalonians had their plans crushed by their archenemy - snow. An incoming blizzard forced a contingent of 360 people from the Diocese of Buffalo to flee Washington, D.C. just an hour before the March for Life began.
The hourlong march, which runs from the National Mall near Fourth Street, up Constitution Avenue and ends in front of the steps of the Supreme Court building, did take place, but with half the usual number of participants. News reports of a "crippling" snowstorm made Bishop Richard J. Malone and Cheryl Calire, diocesan director of Office of Pro-Life Activities, decide to leave the nation's capital earlier than planned.
"The bishop and I had talked the night before, and we thought we would let everybody, especially the first-timers, have the experience of at least going down to the mall area, hear the speaker, which this year was at the monument, but at 6:30 in the morning we re-evaluated everything based on the reports that we got and pulled the plug," Calire said, after arriving safely back in Buffalo. She describes the weather as "dicey" for the first hour and a half of the drive home.
"I did apologize to those who had never been to the march, and I felt horrible that we had to make that decision," Calire said. "(One woman) made a point to say, 'There were so many other good experiences that happened that I look forward to coming next year.' Being able to travel as pilgrims, being able to attend the vigil Mass, those things, too, help build the crescendo. When you have the march itself, it is the culmination of everything you do in preparation to come."
Father Robert Wozniak, director of Priestly Formation at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, suggested a virtual march, with all the pilgrims praying the rosary at noon.
"People were excited about that, that we had something planned in unison together," Calire said.
Along with the actual physical trek, the March for Life includes a host of speakers, rallies and Masses.
New York City's Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception the night before the march.
Cardinal Dolan, the new chairperson for the USCCB's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, replacing Cardinal O'Malley of Boston, told the crowd of about 9,000 that people should be welcoming to new life. His own archdiocese experienced an unexpected baby this past November when a newborn was abandoned and placed into a Nativity scene in a Queens church.
"(Cardinal Dolan) was very inspirational," Calire said. "He used a specific story to say how important it is when people do decide to choose life, the next component is for them to feel that they have the support of others around them."
On the morning of Jan. 22, the Buffalo, pilgrims heard from syndicated columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez, who instructed them to use a soft tone when defending the faith and speaking against abortion, and be inviting when trying to reach people with good hearts and good minds.
Father Steven Jekielek, pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Tonawanda, celebrated the breakfast Mass for the group.
"The readings were certainly focused on our call to protect life," Father Jekielek said. "Each life is important. I just wanted to remind everybody there that that is our call. It is a youthful movement. The first reading was from Jeremiah and his call. As a young person, he said he wasn't old enough to do the work and God said, 'Yes, you are.' I wanted to tell young people to also understand that. This is your movement. They need to be the voices out there saying, 'We are not going to support this anymore,' and be the face of the march."