Pro-life marchers return home

It was not “marching” as usual for the more than 50 people who boarded a bus Jan. 21 to ride to the March for Life in Washington to protest the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

That part went well, but the snow storm of the ages that threatened the east coast was hovering in the peripheral vision of local organizers.

Doug Lugge who manages the event and handles the plans on the ground and goes on the bus, said he was aware of the weather predictions before the group left. He and other chaperones and parents of the marchers kept a close eye on the “window” that would allow the diocesan marchers to get out before the storm.

And they did just that, or almost. It began to snow while they were marching in what was estimated to be around 50,000 people, down from the number of people who usually go, according to estimates.

While the weather discouraged some of the marchers, the event received a good deal of publicity because of the snow.

In other years, Lugge said, mainstream media did not report much about what the march is or why people were involved. The snow and the fact that people were stranded on the highways, caught media attention.

Members of the group usually go to the offices of political representatives to remind them of the pro-lifers’ position, but when the snow began to fall and predictions changed the timing of the storm, the group left at 4 p.m. instead of the scheduled 7 p.m., thinking this would give them enough time to get away.

That was a good idea, but trucks were having trouble getting up a hill on the Pennsylvania turnpike, and eventually traffic came to a complete stop.

The riders received assistance from the National Guard and the Red Cross, eventually finding refuge in a school for the night.

It was not only a march but also an opportunity to learn many lessons along the way.

They received help, especially after the traffic stopped on the highway where snow was reportedly two feet deep.

They also offered help to stranded motorists who didn’t have the supply of food their bus had, passing out extra water and snacks to people in cars, Deacon Linus Klostermann said.

According to Lugge, the group knew that accumulating snow and stopped traffic would keep them right where they were.

“The kids were terrific, both the high schoolers and those in grade school from Notre Dame Academy and St. Teresa in Belleville,” Lugge said.  “They really got to see the works of mercy in action, both in their giving water and snacks to cars around us in more difficult circumstances and in getting ‘rescued’ by the National Guard to get off the turnpike.”

When they reached the 24-hour mark on the bus, “they cheered,” Lugge said “but even louder when the Guard showed up and we started driving an hour later.”

However, the bus turned east once more and returned to Bedford, Penn., where the Red Cross had set up an emergency shelter for stranded motorists.

Deacon Klostermann said many of the folks were treated to MREs from the National Guard. For those unfamiliar to the letters MREs are “meals ready to eat” that people in the military are served when no cooking facilities or fresh foods are available.

While it was a “hot” meal and much appreciated, they were happy to get to the school where the Red Cross gave them Subway sandwiches, PB &J.

Four Missouri Right to Life buses and a few other buses stopped for the night at the school with the Belleville diocesan bus.

“The Red Cross provided food, cots for sleeping, and lunch bags before we left,” Lugge said.

Deacon Klostermann said he felt like he was in heaven with the cot, mostly because he was able to stretch out.

Priests with the Missouri groups celebrated Sunday Mass before we got back on the road to head home, Lugge said..

Everyone, including the young people recognized the “gift” of the snow storm because of the increased media coverage, so they said they could promote a pro-life message in the midst of what Lugge described as “our relatively minor inconvenience.  They really experienced an important life lesson in caring for and in seeing the good come out in their neighbors.  It’s something they’ll never forget.”

One story Lugge described was about pizza, the mainstay of teenagers everywhere.

Here’s what he said: One of the moms had Facebooked that we needed a dozen pizzas at mile marker 135 after about 13 hours on the turnpike.  I didn’t think much about it after the posting, but, when we made it to the shelter about 12 hours later, people from one of our sister buses from Missouri asked us if we had ordered pizza.

“It turns out the local fire department delivered 12 pizzas to mile marker 135, but it went to the bus behind us.

“They were very appreciative as they had not eaten in 24 hours rushing out from the March and trying to get on the road.

“Our kids gave out a cheer when they heard the story rather than be disappointed in not getting the pizza themselves since we had plenty of snack food and water up until that point,” Lugge said.

Another important lesson that those on the bus learned was they needed to keep in close contact with their families at home who were really worried about them.

Deacon Klostermann said everyone was safe, well fed and cared for, but the families couldn’t see that. They just needed reassurance.

The trip “was amazing,” the deacon said. When asked if the young people would make the trip if they knew everything that would happen, “they all said they would. I would too.”

By the time the group returned home, they calculated they had been on the bus about 60 hours, Deacon Klostermann said.

But they spent the time in discussions about life issues and reviewing videos and other materials.

Some students expressed concern that they hadn’t finished their homework before the trip, planning to finish it on Saturday when the got home.

The adults saw a side of students some of them seldom see: young people concerned about their responsibilities at school and how they would fulfill them.

They also saw themselves as a family on the road, helpless, dependent on the generosity of others and hoping no one would harm them.

They were not disappointed in the trip, the march or the return home. They knew people at home were keeping them in prayer and waiting anxiously for their safe return.

John Bouc, campus minister at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, was one of those parents keeping track of his son.

On Facebook, he summed up the experience: “Well, after 25 hours, 171 beef jerkies, 1,000-plus granola bars, National Guard, firemen, Red Cross and a warm school for shelter, they have settled down to sleep after the worst part of the ordeal. Tomorrow starts the rest of the drive back — 12-14 hours? Thanks all for prayers. It’s a good day to be people of faith.”