An estimated 5,000 gather for March for Marriage in Washington

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Rita Alderete is single, but she values the idea of marriage being a relationship between one man and one woman.

That’s why the young, diminutive pastor of the Kingdom Tabernacle of Worship church in Paterson, New Jersey, stood under overcast skies in hot, humid weather Thursday, preparing to “March for Marriage,” a now-annual rally sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage and other groups.

“We’re proclaiming Jesus and offering a choice of changing your life and experiencing what God can do,” she said.

The estimated 5,000 people present was small compared to the hundreds of thousands who braved the bitter cold of January earlier this year to participate in the annual anti-abortion March for Life.

But Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and a 2012 Republican presidential hopeful, believes that even a modest turnout can influence policymakers.

“It’s a process. You’ve got to keep fighting,” he said. “I’m encouraged that in an environment which is a very threatening one for people who stand up and fight on this issue, that people are willing to come out and voice their support.”

Though critics slammed the march as being “anti-gay,” speakers from Santorum to National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown to New York state Sen. Ruben Diaz, D-Bronx, to San Francisco Roman Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, each emphasized that the march wasn’t opposed to anyone, but was in favor of society’s traditional definition of marriage.

“This isn’t about hating anybody or any thing,” Santorum told the crowd in a speech simultaneously translated into Spanish from the platform. “This is about loving truth and what’s best for men, women and children.”

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San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, meantime, spoke at the gathering. (You may recall some controversy surrounding his appearance.) His remarks, in part:

In our Catholic faith tradition, young people around the age of junior high school or high school receive the sacrament of Confirmation, normally administered by the bishop.  At a Confirmation ceremony I celebrated recently in a large, Hispanic parish, two of the young people shared some reflections on what their Confirmation meant to them.  They said that their Confirmation gave them the grace to go forth and “build a civilization of truth and love.”  I could not have said it better myself!  And that, my friends, is why we are here.  Both are necessary, both, together, if we wish to have a flourishing society: truth and love.

This is the legacy we have received from our ancestors in faith.  To my fellow believers in Jesus Christ I would call our attention to those first generations of Christians in the city of Rome, who were so often scapegoated by the powerful pagan Roman government.  But when a plague would strike the city and the well-to-do fled to the hills for safety until the plague subsided, it was the Christians who stayed behind to care for the sick, at great risk to their own health and very lives.  And not just the Christian sick: all the sick, regardless of religion, of how they lived their lives, or even what they thought of the Christians themselves.  The historian Eusebius noted about the Christians of his time, “All day long some of them tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them.  Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”  Likewise, the Emperor Julian complained to one of his pagan priests, “[They] support not only their poor, but ours as well.”

It is this kind of love and compassion in the service of truth, especially the truth of the human person, that has marked the lives of the holy ones of our own faith tradition and others as well: hospitals, orphanages, schools, outreach to the poor and destitute – giving without concern for getting anything in return, seeing in each human being, especially in the poor and destitute, a priceless child beloved by God, whom God calls to turn away from sin and toward Him, so that they might be saved.  In1839 Jeanne Jugan met one such priceless child of God, a blind old crippled woman whom nobody cared for.  That night, Jeanne carried the woman home to her apartment, and put her to sleep in her own bed.  From this profound encounter was born the Little Sisters of the Poor, who even today are loving, caring for and providing homes for thousands of elderly who deserve dignity as well as care.  These are the very nuns who now face the possibility of being shut out of spreading the love of Jesus to the needy because of their refusal to comply with a healthcare mandate that violates their moral convictions, convictions which stand on the truth of basic human dignity.

Let us, then, take our cue from the best our predecessors in faith have inspired, and not humanity’s frequent failings and sins.  Like them, we now in our own time need to proclaim and live the truth with charity and compassion as it applies to us today: the truth of a united family based on the union of the children’s father and mother in marriage as the foundational good of society.  Every child comes from a man and a woman, and has a right, a natural human right, to know and be known by, to love and be loved by, their own mother and father.  This is the great public good that marriage is oriented towards and protects.  The question is then: does society need an institution that unites children to the mothers and fathers who bring them into the world, or doesn’t it?  If it does, that institution is marriage – nothing else provides this basic good to children.

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