In a sea of hundreds of thousands of people gathered from across the country to defend the sanctity of human life and protest against abortion, a group of eight Alaskans made their voices heard.
Led by military chaplain Father Peter Pomposello and St. Andrew Church youth minister Ricky Shoop, from Eagle River, five Alaskan youth and one adult chaperone traveled more than 4,000 miles to the nation’s capital to take part in the 44th annual March for Life on Jan. 27. The group took the journey to make their passion for the unborn known to lawmakers and government officials.
The trip was born of efforts by Father Pomposello, who serves at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Shoop. Planning began only weeks before the group set off.
“We had Father Peter come speak to our youth group at St. Andrew, and at the end of his talk, he said, ‘You know what? We should all go to the March for Life,’” Shoop told the Catholic Anchor. “Everyone was like, ‘Great, we should do that!’ And then we started planning!”
Donations from Eagle River Catholics made the trip possible.
The journey began with a flight from Anchorage to Portland. During a layover, Father Pomposello celebrated Mass for the group. For high schooler Alina Cook, this was one of the highlights of the trip because it prepared them spiritually for the importance of their pilgrimage.
“His homily was all about what we’re doing here,” she said.
After flying across the entire continental United States, the group finally touched down in Washington, D.C., and stayed at a church in Chinatown.
The following morning, they rose early for a youth rally and Mass at the Verizon Center in the city. The Mass in the nearly full stadium, which seats close to 20,000 people, was a great source of inspiration for the group. Every year, this gathering draws tens of thousands of youth, along with hundreds of priests and bishops from across the country, to begin the March for Life with inspirational talks and ultimately by Christ himself in the Eucharist.
“Everyone was singing together and they didn’t even know each other,” Cook said of the Mass. “But it was like they came together as one big Catholic family.”
Michelle Roth travelled with her daughter as a chaperone for the group. She, likewise, was spiritually invigorated by the liturgy and inspired by “the energy and the joy at the Mass. The mutual support.”
Following Mass, the Alaskans made their way to the March for Life rally to listen to pro-life speakers address massive crowds gathered under the Washington Monument. This year, marchers heard from the highest-ranking government official in March for Life history — Vice President Mike Pence — who was sent by President Donald Trump to convey support for the pro-life cause. Other speakers included Kellyanne Conway, Abby Johnson, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and several senators, among others.
As the speeches came to a close, attendees began marching from the Washington Monument to the steps of the Supreme Court. They started in prayer with Father Pomposello leading the Alaskans in the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Catholics from other groups surrounding the Alaskans also joined in the prayers. Father Pomposello echoed the March’s mission when he proclaimed at the end of the sorrowful mysteries, “Death doesn’t have the final word, so now we pray the glorious mysteries!” as the youth continued their journey along the National Mall.
Following the rosary, the Alaskans visited with other like-minded pro-lifers from across the country. The journey also provided time to reflect upon their motivation for traveling more than 4,000 miles to attend the demonstration.
First-time marcher Hannah Bolin decided to go after hearing Shoop talk about his previous experiences at the March for Life.
“I’m a nursing student, so I like to look at things scientifically along with my faith,” she said. “So this has been a major issue for me because I can’t fathom how someone couldn’t understand that it’s a human life and to think that it’s okay for a woman to kill her own child. So I just wanted to join in with the hundreds of thousands who are here and show support, even if I’m just one person.”
Fellow Alaskan Michaela Medland was equally enthusiastic.
“I am pro-life, so the chance to come and participate was huge,” she said.
Alina Cook said she went “to support those who can’t stand up for themselves.”
Marchers also commented on the atmosphere of the event. There was a real sense of solidarity among hundreds of thousands of people united in the common goal of ending abortion in the United States. All walks of life and diverse faiths and vocations gathered under this cause.
Alaskan Abby Roth said she was inspired by the enthusiasm of the crowd.
“All of the support here that I’m seeing — I’ve never been with so many people, just with such positive vibes,” she said. “It’s inspiring, it really is.”
Roth planned to bring this enthusiasm back to her community in Alaska.
“I’m definitely going to tell my friends about this,” she said. “Being in a place like this fills you with stronger feelings against abortion.”
The group had the backing of Alaskans back home who were unable to join the march. Not only was there a Mat-Su March for Life in Palmer that drew more than 300, but the Eagle River group carried a tangible reminder of the support of their fellow Alaskans — an image of a pregnant Virgin Mary, which was painted by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton youth minister Anna Schulten. Military parishioners from JBER signed the back of the painting as a reminder of their prayers and support.
Shoop said the experience was a boost to the kids, especially celebrating Mass in the airport and again at the Verizon Center with 15,000-20,000 other young Catholics from all over the country.
“I think in a very particular way that set the tone for how we approached the march,” he said. “I think that this was an experience of the universality of our faith. Several kids didn’t know that there would be a ton of kids at the march, so I think it gave them a sense of the youthfulness and vibrancy of the pro-life movement and more importantly showed them that they have a huge role to play in the pro-life movement.”