By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Fueled with passion to stop the harrowing toll that legalized abortion has inflicted on their generation as well as future generations, hundreds of youth from the Diocese of Baton Rouge joined thousands of their peers in converging on the nation’s Capitol to demand the overturning of Roe V. Wade during March for Life January 24. 

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Evangeline “Evie” Love Pearl, who has Downs Syndrome, is the daughter of Tammy and Wayne Pearl of Baton Rouge, who were instrumental in passing Evie’s Law, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities regarding organ transplants. The family went to Washington for March for Life.  Photo provided by Albert Blount  

 

The journey to their destination was a faith-filled experience. The students visited the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Motherhouse in Nashville, Tennessee. While in Nashville, they celebrated Mass with the sisters, who accompanied them for the rest of the pilgrimage. 

There were also several diocesan priests, seminarians and religious who journeyed alongside the youth as they developed their pro-life view and faith.  

“It is hard to pick one particular highlight of the trip; there were many. I loved adoration, the bus games, the bus competitions, the march itself and basically the rest of the entire trip,” said Sarah Degeyter, 16, a junior at St. Michael the Archangel High School in Baton Rouge. “However, there is one thing that I couldn’t deny was my favorite part of the trip. We had sisters from two different convents join us for the pilgrimage.  

“First, the Hospitaler Sisters (who serve the Metanoia House in Zachary, which works with victims of sex trafficking), and second, the Dominican sisters from Nashville. I became very good friends with a Hospitaler, and I am still keeping in touch with her even after the trip. It is obvious that being around women who have dedicated themselves to God would change the atmosphere of the trip, but it was also the constant reaffirmation that this was a loving, joyful trip that they carried with them.”  

Once in Washington, D.C., the youth had a whirlwind schedule that included visiting Arlington National Cemetery, the Bible Museum, Union Station, the Smithsonian Museum and the National Holocaust Museum. </span id=”6″>

The pilgrims also participated in a rosary walk at a Planned Parenthood Clinic and the White House.  

“The events on the schedule all have a way of relating to abortion. I’ve been able to relate the genocide of the Holocaust to the genocide of abortion because now I have that experience; I’ve prayed at Planned Parenthood and I’ve been to the Holocaust museum,” said Degeyter. “It’s not just something I’m passing down from other people.”  

The teens attended Mass at the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception and St. Matthew Cathedral.  

Degeyter found the trip educational, and it increased her confidence in talking with people who are pro-choice.  

“One thing that I’m sure everyone on the March for Life can agree upon is the education,” she said. “No matter which bus you are on … it is clear that you are prepared to be a warrior for life. There is an educated mentor, seminarian and priest on every bus. The mentors teach us about what happens during abortions, statistics, how it degrades women, how someone should react, and how someone could counter a disagreement about abortion. They played some sections of documentaries on the bus to show us the world of women who have had abortions. It was absolutely eye-opening.”  

Like Degeyter, Kathy Vu, 16, also a junior at St. Michael, found her faith had increased as well as her knowledge.  

“This year was my first year attending the March for Life. I was inspired to go on this pilgrimage because of the stories I have heard from people who went the previous year. I was told of everyone finding God through the improvement of each person’s faith,” said Vu.  

She said her highlights were the march and attending adoration.  

“Before going on this trip I had struggled with prayer and my relationship with God, but now I feel closer to God than I ever was before,” Vu said. “This trip inspired me to help people understand that the meaning of pro-life is more than fighting for the life of the unborn babies but also for the babies who didn’t have a chance at life. The most important thing I learned is that sometimes we may not feel like God is listening to us, but he is, we just have to trust in his timing.”  

The zeal of the pilgrims inspired adults who were with them at the Capitol.  

</span id=”17″>The March for Life was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives,” said Tammy Pearl of Baton Rouge. She and her husband, Wayne, are the parents of Evangeline “Evie” Love Pearl, 3, who has Downs Syndrome. The Pearls were instrumental in the passage of “Evie’s Law” in 2019. The law prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities who need an organ transplant. The Pearls talked to the youth during the pilgrimage.  

Tammy Pearl, who attended the March with Evie, was touched by her encounters with the youth and the march.  

“We went to D.C. hoping to share our story and change at least one life,” said Tammy Pearl. “But instead, we’re the ones who left changed. This whole experience will stay close to our hearts forever.”   

Michael Parker, a permanent diaconate candidate studying at Notre Dame seminary in New Orleans, is confident of the youth’s ability to lead the church and evangelize others, especially on the dignity of life.  

“It was with great joy to see the future of our church impassioned and inquisitive to the teachings of the church during a week of prayer and sacrifice to prepare us for the March for Life,” said Parker. “The entire trip from start to finish was predestined to guide the pilgrims on a spiritual journey with consistent reflection on biblical figures and constant prayer opening the entire group to graces for understanding the precious gift of life. 

“Through fellowship and community, all in attendance were able to bond and unite as members of the body of Christ to proclaim the good news, The Gospel is life. Our youth hungers for the truth that our church has the sustenance to fulfill. I highly recommend that if it’s possible for any teenager to attend this diocesan pilgrimage, they do so with expectations of falling deeper in love with their faith.”