Could the “Life Fest” become a new staple of the annual March for Life?
There were promising signs early Friday morning as an estimated 3,500 people, including many young people, filled a district arena for the inaugural, pre-march rally, organized by the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus.
“Good morning, Life Fest! Our early arrivers — it’s so good to see you!” Catholic singer Sarah Kroger said as her band got the 7:30 a.m. rally started inside the Entertainment & Sports Arena in southeast Washington, D.C.
The theme of the first-ever event — which included musical entertainment, personal pro-life testimonies, eucharistic adoration, and the celebration of Mass — was “Because Love is the Answer.” You can watch a video of the livestreamed event here.
In her welcoming remarks, Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life, who served as emcee, shared the story of meeting a 5-year-old kindergartner named Simeon at a Catholic school in Kansas who told her that the purpose of life was to fill our hearts with love and share it with other people “so we can fight the devil.”
“I was like, ‘Now Lord, let your servant go in peace,’” she said, repeating the words of the biblical Simeon upon seeing the infant Jesus at his presentation in the Temple.
“That’s exactly the plan, my boy,” she said, “to receive the love of God so fully that it overflows from our hearts into the hearts of others so that we can fight the temptations of the evil one and can live in the victory of Jesus Christ. That is God’s plan.”
Life Fest coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 that legalized abortion throughout the country. That watershed moment in U.S. history galvanized the pro-life movement, which was finally able to celebrate Roe’s reversal on June 24 last year.
“After 49 years of prayer, fasting, and witnessing it was revealed for what it was: bad law that led our country astray and wounded many hearts,” Sister Bethany Madonna said.
“Now we are here to celebrate life and we are here to march,” she said. “We are here to continue until every heart knows the truth that love is the answer because love is a person — and that person is Jesus Christ.”
Among the speakers who shared their personal stories were a New Jersey couple, Peter and Tricia DeMaio, who opted for abortion twice as a young, unmarried couple.
Through a series of tragedies, they began to see God in their lives and eventually got engaged.
“From that point on we knew that we needed forgiveness and we needed love because love is truly the answer,” said Peter DeMaio, an insurance agent who is now president of Pennsylvanians for Human Life.
A major turning point was going to confession while on a retreat, he said.
”For the first time in our adult lives we felt that healing grace that comes from the sacrament of confession,” he said. The couple eventually married and now have seven children.
Sister Mary Casey O’Connor, a Sister of Life, and her twin sister, Casey Gunning, a teacher’s assistant and lifelong athlete in the Special Olympics who has Down syndrome, also spoke at the event.
O’Connor said that as children she and her sister wished they were the same. In time, however, she said, “I came to realize that God hadn’t made a mistake.”
“The truth is we all have weakness, we all have needs,” Gunning said. “Weakness gives other people a chance to love.”
Four bishops, 75 priests, and 80 seminarians attended Life Fest, said Alicia Mucha, a spokeswoman for the Knights of Columbus.
“What you see here is the whole family of the Church, a whole family of faith, coming together to strengthen one another and … proclaim the beauty of the human person,” said Sister Agnus Dei of the Sisters of Life.
“I have been so moved by the faith in young people’s hearts,” she added.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
“What do I see and hear? A spirit of, yes, rejoicing in the victory that is the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” she said. “And yet we all know, actually these first 50 years of the pro-life movement were actually just the warmup. We still have some of the most important battles in front of us.”