BENTON - A group of eighth grade students from St. Denis Grade School learned a lesson in government and life by taking part in Washington, D.C., protest march.
The students and their chaperones recently participated in the 31st annual March for Life in Washington D.C. The march was held to protest the decision of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion in 1973.
St. Denis faculty member Pat Moore raised the idea of participating in the march to the group of eight students. "I wanted to share the pro-life stand with them," she said. "I wanted to show them what is important before they left grade school."
The students' initial feelings weren't quite as strong as their teacher's but they all agreed to participate in the trip.
"At first it was just a way to get out of school," said 13-year-old Katee Moore. "But when you got there, it changed your thoughts - it was a whole different thing."
Although the anniversary was on Jan. 22, the march didn't actually take place until the following Monday. "We waited until Monday so they (the Congress) would be in session," Moore explained.
The group left for Washington on Jan. 22, as part of a larger group representing the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese. After a long bus ride, including sleeping on the bus, they arrived early Sunday afternoon.
Since the scheduled Mass didn't begin until 8 p.m., they decided to take advantage of their free time and do some sight-seeing.
"We went to the Smithsonian," Austin Greer, 14, said. "That was pretty cool." The group also saw the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Holocaust Museum and the Washington Monument. And a trip to Washington D.C. isn't complete without seeing the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court building, which the group saw the next day, during the march.
After celebrating Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the group also visited the Exposed Blessed Sacrament at the Basilica for night prayer, which wrapped up at midnight. Then they went back to the Catholic University of America for a short night of sleep.
"We were sleeping bag to sleeping bag," Moore said, explaining that marchers from across the nation slept on the gym floors. She added that college students were out on patrol as well. "I felt so safe that night."
After experiencing "blustering cold" and 8-inches of snow on Sunday, Moore admitted she was a bit nervous that the weather would not cooperate for the march. But she was relieved to find that the weather was much better when the group left at 6:45 a.m. Monday. "God was with us every minute of the way," she said.
After another two-hour Mass, the march finally began. The group said they were overwhelmed by the number of people participating in the march.
"I looked ahead and couldn't see the end of people, and when I turned around I couldn't see the end either," Moore said.
Andrew Hahn, 13, added "it was crazy."
The marchers encountered several people along their route. "There were people with signs that said 'I regret my abortion'," Katee said. "That took a lot."
Some spectators even clapped for the marchers. However, Moore did see one group opposing the march, who were dressed in black. Even so, she and the group kept positive. "We were outnumbering them all the way," she said.
The number of young people participating in the march was overwhelming, according to Moore. "To see all the young people ... it was just something," she said. "It gives me hope for the future that it (the decision) will be overturned."
Moore added that the march was the experience of a lifetime for her and that she hopes to go back one day. "A lot of times I've felt like I haven't done enough," she said. But this trip changed her perspective. "I've always wanted to show my support by making a sacrifice," she said.
The students all realized the value of life, Austin added. And they found that they are not alone in their beliefs. "There's a whole lot of people just like us who are against it (abortion) he said."
Most importantly, the eighth grade students felt as if they made an impact. "When I got back, I realized that it (the march) could have changed people's minds," Katee said.
The students agreed the trip was not only worthwhile but also an eye opener for them. Although the main purpose of the trip was to march against abortion, the group made the most of the trip.
"It's not just about abortion, you can also make new friends," said Laura Felter, 14. "It's definitely something that I will remember.