March for Life: ‘We Have No Choice’
By Kevin Kelly
January 29, 2010
Blue Springs — They hadn’t even boarded the buses and
already sleep was scarce.
“One or two hours is very important,” said Vickie Kempf,
of St. James Parish in St. Joseph, who rose at 1 a.m. to attend
a 2:30 a.m. Mass Jan. 21 at her parish before boarding a bus to
Washington, D.C., and the annual March for Life on the 37th anniversary
of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton U.S. Supreme Court decisions
“We have no choice but to go to support unborn babies who
can’t speak for themselves,” Kempf said.
|Catholics gathered for Mass at 4
a.m. Jan. 21 at St. John LaLande Parish before they boarded
buses that would take them to Washington, D.C., for the annual
March for Life. Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Kempf was among 160 people who boarded three buses chartered for
the nation’s capital by the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocesan
Respect Life Office.
Kempf and one busload that began their pilgrimage in St. Joseph
met two more busloads that began their journey with a 4 a.m. Mass
at St. John LaLande Parish in Blue Springs.
The 160 pilgrims included the young — elementary school children
and a contingent from every diocesan Catholic high school —
and the not-so-young including Msgr. Ralph Kaiser, 81, pastor of
Church of the Santa Fe in Buckner who concelebrated the pre-dawn
Mass with St. John LaLande pastor, Father Ron Elliott.
Msgr. Kaiser said he rose at 2:30 a.m. to make the short drive
to Blue Springs, about three and a half hours earlier than his normal
rise-and-shine hour of 6 a.m.
This was his third trip to the annual March, and his second in
a row by bus — a 24-hour, one-way ride.
“It is something that should be dear to all Christians, the
dignity of all unborn life,” Msgr. Kaiser told The Catholic
Key after Mass as he and the other pilgrims awaited the buses after
“Abortion is an absolute threat to the dignity of life, no
question about it,” he said. “It will take all we can
do to overcome it.”
Though Msgr. Kaiser had a few years on Amelia Ernstmann, a junior
at Archbishop O’Hara High School, she outranked the priest
as a March for Life veteran. Ernstmann was joining the diocesan
pilgrimage for the fourth straight year.
“I strongly believe that abortion is wrong,” she said.
“It is important to keep going because abortion is still going
on. I want to help make an impression that it is wrong until it
“I’ve been looking forward to going for a long time,”
said Rosie Swingle, a junior at Blue Springs South High School and
a member of St. John LaLande Parish. “I strongly believe in
the sanctity of life, and I want to make a statement with a large
group of people.”
Annually, about 200,000 people gather on the Washington, D.C.,
mall to make their stand for life on or near the anniversary of
the Jan. 22, 1973, decisions that wiped out laws prohibiting abortions
in every state.
The size of the crowd last year spurred Anthony Cherian, a freshman
at St. Pius X High School, to go again this year.
“When you stepped off the bus, there was just this massive
number of people,” Cherian said. “There was even a guy
holding a sign that said, ‘Anarchists for Life.’ I thought
that was interesting.”
But the trip isn’t just a lark and a couple of days out of
school, he said.
“Under no circumstances can abortion be excused,” he
said. “It’s our job to stand up for what we believe.”
Kevin Gordon, a junior at St. Mary High School in Independence,
was also making his second pilgrimage in a row, and looking forward
to every moment.
“People talk about how hard the bus ride is, but that was
one of the most fun parts,” he said. “You meet new people,
and you find out what it really means to be pro-life.”
Gordon’s classmate, Tyler Graef, said he had to go because
he is Catholic.
“This is what I have been taught my whole life, that everybody
has a right to life,” he said.
A dozen Rockhurst University students were also among the diocesan
Justin Langfield said the proximity of the date of the annual March
and the national holiday celebrating the life of civil rights leader
the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fitting.
“He saw injustice being done and he voiced his opinion,”
Langfield said. “Hopefully, our voices can be heard and we
can make a change for the better.”
Fellow Rockhurst University student April Jecha said her thoughts
and prayers were of the 50 million members of her generation who
have been aborted since 1973, and those, yet to be conceived, who
may be aborted in the very near future.
“It’s not like we have a choice,” Jecha said.
“One-third of our generation is in danger. It’s our
responsibility to take care of them.”
In his homily at the St. John LaLande Mass, also concelebrated
with Father Shawn Ratigan, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas
City, Father Elliott told the pilgrims that they were beginning
this year’s journey on the Feast of St. Agnes, a fourth-century
Roman martyr who chose death, at age 13, over renouncing her vow
of purity to God.
“She was martyred for taking a moral stand,” Father
“We also applaud you,” he said. “You are taking
a stand for life at great price. This is a tough trip.”
Father Elliott noted that the pilgrimage will be a long bus ride
to D.C., a long march to the national mall, and a long bus ride
home all within a span of about 60 hours.
But he told the pilgrims that “the first treasure God gives
us is our being, our existence” and that they are defending
“When one day you appear before our Lord, he’ll ask
you what you did to defend life,” Father Elliott said.
“You can say, ‘I took a long trip for the dignity of
life,’ and that’s going to count for a lot,” he