Detroit-area students set out for Washington on a mission to make their voices heard, many for the first time

WASHINGTON — Every January, Washington, D.C., becomes one of the biggest classrooms in the world.

The March for Life is an annual ritual for pro-life clubs and parish youth groups throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit. Even still, every year brings a new group of first-time marchers, amazed by the sheer volume of hundreds of thousands of people marching from all over the country.

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“This is my first time at the march; when I heard about it and how fun it was, I knew I had to go,” said Anela Panlasigue, a senior at Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Riverview. “The bus ride was a little uncomfortable, (leaving) at 6 p.m. (Thursday) and getting to D.C. at 6 a.m. (Friday). But our campus ministry director told us this a great opportunity for us to learn why Catholics are so committed to life.”

High school students hold a sign reading “Human Rights Begin in the Womb” during the 47th March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24.

Catholic schools have long taught the Church's position on the sanctity of life, but students who attend the march for the first time see just how many others are committed to the pro-life cause.

Luke Walker, a freshman and first-time marcher from Everest Collegiate High School in Clarkston, was one of 50 students from the school of 130 to attend the march this year.

“At Everest, they explain to us what’s going on, and on the way here we watched the movie ‘Unplanned,’” Walker said. “When you hear the testimony of the survivors of abortion attempts, it’s just so powerful. 

“(Abortion-rights supporters) don’t want you to hear their stories; they want them in the dark, but then the truth is brought to the light,” Walker continued. “Being here shows that when one says, ‘Oh, I can’t make a difference,’ you see there wouldn’t be a March for Life if people just kept thinking they couldn’t make a difference.”  

For adult chaperones accompanying the youngsters, every year is a chance to see a new group of students boldly standing up for life.

Students from Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Riverview cheer during the Youth Rally for Life at Capital One Arena before the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve gone to many Catholic youth conferences and national events, but you don’t see numbers like this speaking out for the unborn, for those who can’t speak for themselves,” said Josh Kugler, a youth minister from St. Edith Parish in Livonia who brought six young people to the march. “It speaks volumes.”

While abortion draws much of the attention at the March for Life — it is schedule to coincide with the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — Kugler points out to his group that the March for Life advocates for a society that values everyone, from the disabled and poor to migrants and indigenous peoples.

“In my youth ministry, I’ve talked to my kids about the importance of speaking up for those who are in trouble,” Kugler said. “The homeless population in Detroit in particular I have a soft spot in my heart for. ... We need to treat them like human beings, not an obstacle to get around on the streets.”

Chole Kilano, a junior at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, was attending her third March for Life, this time as president of the school’s pro-life club. 

Morgan Thayer Zolma, Amelia Deren and Bryce Blayock of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth stand atop Capitol Hill during the March for Life. March for Life is an annual tradition for Catholic students from across the Archdiocese of Detroit, who learn the value of making their voices heard.

Kilano said it's critical for the pro-life movement to feature strong, empowered young women speaking up for life in a world that often deems access to abortion a women's rights issue.

“A lot of times, abortion is portrayed as something that is empowering women; that is something the feminists hold on to so dearly,” Kilano said. “So being an all-girls school here at the March for Life, we are showing that (to be) pro-life is (to be) pro-woman, that abortion disempowers women, that it’s not good for us. It’s very significant that we are here.

“Abortion tells women that they cannot have children and achieve their dreams simultaneously,” Kilano added. “It’s telling them they are not capable of achieving their full potential. We’re here to show women are more powerful than that — that we have the right to achieve what we set out to do without having to go through the pain and the damage abortion causes.”

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An earlier version of this story misidentified Grace Kowalski in a photo caption.