I went to the March for Life every year as a teen.
We were always told “Remember: you’re representing the Church.”
We took a bus up from Columbus. Father France-Kelley, who had lived in Washington, DC, went on the bus with us. He gave us an tour of the area and said Mass in the beautiful Dominican House of Studies instead of taking us to Mass at the Basilica. I loved the Dominican House of Studies– that glorious little chapel with choir stalls facing each other instead of benches facing the altar. Besides, it was much more convenient than the Basilica, because there was no line for the ladies’ restroom.
We ate breakfast in the hall at the Dominican House of Studies before heading for the subway. Father France-Kelley shouted instructions at us, because he was used to the subway. Don’t hesitate in doorways. If we get separated, meet at this or that station. You want to get off at L’Enfant and meet at such-and-such a church.
We ate our lunch at that church’s social hall. Father France-Kelley gave us a tour of the stained glass windows upstairs. Then we headed to the National Mall.
“Remember: you’re representing the Church.”
One year, at the National Mall, there were counter-protesters– real ones, not random demonstrators who happened to be there for another event. They weren’t just pro-choice protesters but anti-Christian protesters. They had signs calling for the jailing of Christians and the banning of the Bible. Earlier, they had gotten violent and hit somebody with a picket sign. Right now, they were standing in a fenced-in counterprotest area, just shouting at people.
Our path to the rally led right past them.
Father France-Kelley warned us not to look up or engage them in any way, but to remember what Christ said and remain silent. And we did, for the most part; we shuffled past the bright orange plastic fencing, staring straight ahead. No one dared say a word. We were representing the Church.
I made a mistake, and glanced up. I couldn’t make eye contact with them because they were wearing sunglasses, but I looked at their signs– black Sharpie drawings of Bibles crossed out with red slashes. Then I remembered myself, and moved on.
I was representing the Church.
I don’t believe that the teenagers who allegedly harassed Nathan Philips, that Native American veteran at the March for Life this year, were merely “standing their ground”– they appeared to be chanting to drown out and annoy insulting African-American protesters when the Native American gentleman began to play his drum to distract them, and they swamped him with what looked like racist gestures and mocking imitations of his chant after he tried to walk among them. That’s what I saw when I watched the video. And this is wrong even though the African-American protesters seem to have begun the shouting and chanting match. But even if that weren’t true– even if a single elderly man had tried to harass a group of teenagers on the March for Life, who were standing at the Lincoln Memorial, with no provocation– they could have chosen to ignore him, remember Christ, and walk away silently.
I see people saying that the teens made a “mistake.”
That’s not a mistake.
White people imitating Native American chants, and making the racist “tomahawk chop” which you can see in other footage, at a Native American man who’s outnumbered, is not a mistake. It’s abuse and harassment, no matter what the provocation. Children too young to know you shouldn’t do that, should be at home with their parents. Teenagers– seniors in High School– ought to know better. They’re representing the Church.
A mistake is an accident. Forgetting the responsories at Mass in the Dominican House of Studies, is a mistake. Dropping your ticket on the subway and having to have Father France-Kelley buy you a new one is a mistake. Getting off at the wrong Subway station and having to try to find your way to L’Enfant and the National Mall is a mistake. Glancing up at a counter-protester you’ve been instructed to ignore, is a mistake.
Taunting a person of color with racist gestures, is not a mistake. It’s a deliberate act of violence. And if you commit that act while representing the Church, you also commit the sin of scandal.
I used to go to the March for Life every year. As it’s become less and less about support for life from conception until natural death, and more and more about support for the Republican party’s platform no matter what evil they espouse, I’ve wondered more and more if I can really stand behind such a demonstration anymore as a Catholic. I’m quickly deciding that I can’t. But one thing’s for certain: when teenagers get a day off of school to ride there on the bus in their Catholic high school clothes, they are representing the Church. They ought to be expected to be on their best behavior. That’s not too much to ask. Teenagers are capable of being on good behavior at the March for Life, I happen to know.
It’s not a mistake.
(image via Pixabay)