Every year they’re the life of the party at the national March for Life in Washington, D.C.

If you’ve attended the march, you’ve no doubt noticed them – teenagers sporting yellow “LIFE” sweatshirts and carrying towers of yellow balloons which match the official Vatican colors. They wave Vatican flags, all jumping, dancing, drumming and chanting, full of joy and enthusiasm.

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Credit: Addie Mena/CNA

They’re the “Crusaders for Life” from Chicago, Ill., based out of St. John Cantius parish. And this year they were one of many pro-life groups based far from Washington, D.C. that nonetheless risked a historic blizzard to maintain their annual presence at the March for Life. On their way home to Chicago, they halted in a Breezewood, Pa. hotel for the weekend as the great blizzard of 2016, Jonas, buried the region in a blanket of snow.

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Who are these crusaders who year after year turn heads at the march? CNA was able to interview one of the chaperones, Fr. Joshua Caswell, S.J.C. of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, at the march. This was his tenth year marching.

Recalling his first march, Fr. Caswell said that “there was very little spirit. People just moved along, walked along without any sense of joy.”

That changed with time, he noted. “Young people are celebrating that they are alive,” he said. “They’re celebrating the fact that they have life, and they want to let that shine.”

One hundred and fifty crusaders traveled from Chicago to the most recent march. Many other teenagers attend the march from all over the United States, but the crusaders stand out for their enthusiasm. Where do they get their energy?

It comes most of all their participation in the liturgy, Fr. Joshua explained. The parish offers both the Traditional Latin mass and the Novus Ordo mass in the vernacular, and it is dedicated to the “restoration of the sacred, especially the sacredness of human life,” he said.

“You can’t give what you don’t have,” he said. “And all these youth are in our choirs, they participate in the liturgies. And so their life of prayer is very centered. And when you’re disciplined in liturgy, when you leave mass, when you leave liturgy, it adds to that enthusiasm, because you have something to give.”

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Credit Addie Mena/CNA

To be a crusader is to be a part of something special, members say. Even crusader “alumni” who have moved out of the area still sport their yellow sweatshirts around the weekend of the march.

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Some of the students offered written reflections on their experience with Crusaders for Life and on the most recent March for Life. Their comments have been edited for clarity.

Peter Suchomski, one of the students who marched on Friday, summarized why they bring amazing energy to the March:

“We are literally the ‘life of the party’. But why? Where do we get this all from? Where does the energy, the love come from? It comes from our faith in God. He gives everything to all. We acknowledge that as a group and truly love life to the fullest through faith. And through our kind words, actions and love we light a blazing fire within our group. This is the source of our energy, this fire of kindness and love, and it is truly the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. This year has been my 5th and final year with the Crusaders for Life at the March for life, because next year I will be away at college, and it has truly been the most fun year of them all.”

Julia Wool, 18, also marched on Friday and reflected on her past five years of involvement with the crusaders. “Not much gives me the same pride as looking at my closet and seeing five yellow sweatshirts,” she wrote.

The common idea of the group was to come together and rid the main contributor to the culture of death that we live in today. I remember the first time being presented with a yellow sweatshirt and realizing that for the first time I was a part of something so much more significant than myself.

“We wear yellow because a big part of defeating the culture of death involves our faith. The yellow represents the Vatican colors; this is the most important aspect of the group.  Without each participants’ strong love of the faith we would not be able to accomplish what we have done.  We must remember that the march is not just about saving lives, but also giving everything up for the glory of God.  Our faith is why we radiate the joy and love we do. Faith is the first step to defeating this terrible shadow that has been cast over us as a society.

(…)

Because the crusaders are a group of young people [whose] core principals are faith, love, and selflessness…it has attracted many. These three principles are what create us and keep us strong.  Our leaders radiate these important values and are the glue to this important mission.

As I have seen the group evolve first hand I can say with much confidence that this past march is a testimony to how those very core ideals hold us together as a group.”

Ultimately, these core principles held the group together as they waited with anticipation for the roads to clear for their return home. A one-night stay at the hotel stretched into three nights.

“No one had brought the proper attire for a snow storm, many did not come prepared for spending the night twice more,” Wool wrote.  “Many were tired and being in close [quarters] created many trials.”

Yet the priests led them through the weekend with “constant prayer” including mass said in the hotel bar area, group walks, talent shows, and other group activities.

“This is why I am proud to say I’m a crusader,” Wool wrote. “Because a group that is based on faith, love and selflessness is bound to do greatness. Without these principles we would be nothing.”

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Credit: Addie Mena/CNA

Other crusaders summarized their weekend at the march in poetic fashion:

By Matthew Kelly

Crowds of crusaders marching through the flurry

Each one remembering that they must hurry

Winter storm Jonas approaching quite quickly

If they couldn’t get out, oh the thought was just sickly

So they piled on buses, to attempt their escape.

But soon figured out it was one big mistake

As the snow piled higher, their confidence swaying

It soon seemed apparent that they would be staying.

Their spot was a lodge in Breezewood PA

In rooms that were sketchy, which is the least to say

These were hardships aplenty, their comfort quite far

Heck, they even said mass in a bar

But despite these discomforts, the crusaders persevered

Where others had cancelled because they had feared

But what made the trip successful avoiding a bust

Was that they could work together in friendship and trust.

 

By Marley Wellworts

Why joy?

Why the yellow mixed with black

Why with hope do our words smack

Why the drums like a rapturous heart attack

Hearts are broken

Why joy?

Why do life balloons fly

Why the chants raised to the snowy sky

Why laughter and the lullaby

When the children are gone

Why joy?

Our capacity for joy is our capacity to suffer

Our capacity for love is how we lose self for another

For a father for a baby for a mother

We have suffered, we have lost

For joy

We can offer then our joy because we have felt their pain

We can offer them a love of life and this is our claim

That we can accomplish this goal when joy is our aim?

Why not joy?