The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Catholic Church in North America; it was designed to hold about 10,000 people. The night before the March for Life there were at least that number present for the National Prayer Vigil for Life. People filled the pews, and nearly every space around them in the aisles.
At 5:30 p.m., a procession of priests, bishops, and cardinals entered the basilica. When they did, Knights of Columbus from 19 different local councils were among the volunteers serving as ushers to help keep the crowd in order.
One of those ushers was Alec McGuire, a sophomore at the Catholic University of America.
McGuire told CNA that joined the Knights of Columbus because his grandfather was a Knight. At Catholic University, the Knights of Columbus is one of the largest student groups on campus. On Thursday, it was his job to “make sure people are where they're supposed to be."
Patrick McAleer is a field agent for the Knights of Columbus, selling the insurance policies the organization offers to its membership. He is also the chairman of the Shrine’s usher ministry. He’s been a Knight for 25 years.
For McAleer, volunteering at the Vigil Mass and other events is “a way to serve and be around so many young people who travel long distances to take part in the Mass and March.”
As an usher, McAleer said it is his job to “welcome to all our visitors to the Basilica, handle the congregation with care when we have to move people for the processional and recessional, as well as the most important duty: protecting the Blessed Sacrament, at communion time.”
‘An amazing group’
The day of the March for Life began bright and early at 7:30 a.m. for Tyler Lomnitzer, the Knights of Columbus’ program manager for pro-life activities. He spent the morning unloading signs for marchers from a U-Haul, and organizing the volunteers who would help disperse those signs.
“We successfully distributed 10,000 ‘Love Life, Choose Life’ Knights of Columbus signs,” Lomnitzer told CNA. In addition to signs, the Knights of Columbus distributed drawstring bags, fleece headbands, and beanies emblazoned with their logo.
Lomnitzer said he got involved in the Knights of Columbus when he was a freshman at CUA. When he was in school, he thought the Knights were “an amazing group of faithful and dedicated young men, helping one another grow in holiness.” Like McGuire, he too served as a volunteer at the Vigil Mass when he was in school.
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“It left such an impression on me that I now oversee the pro-life activities of the Knights of Columbus on a global level,” said Lomnitzer.
On the March
Making sure that throngs of marchers begin and end the march in a safe and orderly way is a tough job, but one the Knights of Columbus have handled for years. Members of councils from around Virginia served as marshalls, and were present on street corners, around the front of the stage, and near the media and speaker areas.
Santiago Garcia, a Knight from Manassas, VA, has been in the Knights of Columbus for about two and a half years. He told CNA that he prayed to the Blessed Mother for her to “find something for me to do in the Church,” and then inquired about the Knights of Columbus. This is the second March for Life at which he has volunteered.
Garcia, along with Chris Sozio, an eight-year Knight but a first-time March for Life volunteer, was posted at the street corner by the Natural History Museum. The two worked to make sure that the sidewalks would stay open and free from loiterers before the march began, and then would walk ahead of the crowd of marchers to make sure nobody jumps ahead.