By Maurice Beaulieu, special to the St. Augustine Catholic
St. Augustine’s annual March for Life parade on Jan. 16 may have been different this year because of pandemic setbacks, but pro-life supporters still came out in droves to celebrate the event’s theme—Life: The First Human Right. With a panel full of experienced presenters, a Mass dedicated to the importance of life, and a decorated caravan of enthusiastic advocates, the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche was a hub of Catholic promoters for life.
The brisk day began with a morning Mass helmed by St. Augustine’s own Bishop Felipe Estévez. He reminded the hundreds of pro-life supporters of their importance to the human rights movement. “We welcome all of you who have come from different parts of our state…who have come to affirm the dignity of human life from the beginning to the end, honoring God’s plan over the human person. Each one of you as you stand, you are proclaiming the gospel of life. You are saying ‘yes’ to the beauty of human life.”
Bishop Estévez expressed his joy at the large numbers of youth there as pro-life supporters. “It is good to see this crowd and to see so many young people, so many teens, so many young adults here present,” he said to immediate applause from the sea of families. “It is at the beginning and the end of human life where advocacy is most urgently needed due to the current dictatorships of moral relativism regarding values and ethics in our society. How illogical would it be for pro-lifers denouncing the violence of the child in the womb or the throw-away culture on the vulnerable elders? Our best tools are prayer and fasting, dialogue and persuasion.”
The event was orchestrated by May Oliver, director of Human Life and Dignity in the Diocese of St. Augustine. “I am so grateful, and thanks be to God that He just surrounds us with the love because you in this family reunion are bringing the love to women and men in unplanned pregnancy. We need your message to carry forth and God gives us the warmth of His Son…to give us the power to be able to deliver that message. Today’s message is hope and mercy and peace and the love of Christ. That is what our movement shares. That is what our movement does.” With the Washington D.C. pro-life march going virtual only, Oliver was proud of the Diocese of St. Augustine to still hold the event in person. “It was very important that we held the March in person today,” she said. “The theme of the march was Life: The First Human Right. We did not wish to forfeit the opportunity to stand for freedom, to gather today and protect the freedom to assemble, the freedom of speech, religious freedom, and most importantly the protection of all life, born and those yet to be born. Today was a witness to a culture that proclaims the everlasting love and truth that all human life is sacred. We are joyfully the culture of life.”
One of the two keynote speakers, Pam Stenzel, the senior regional clinic coordinator for Community Pregnancy Clinics across southern Florida, provided a message of chastity as a means to deter unwanted pregnancies. “The only way we can eventually end the demand for abortion is to have young people make better choices and not get themselves into a position where that is even an option.” Stenzel’s presence at the event was special—her mother had been raped and had decided not to have an abortion but chose to give Stenzel up for adoption. “My biological father is a rapist. I don’t know my ethnicity, but I am still a human being and I still have value. And I don’t believe my life is worth less than yours because of the way I was conceived.” Stenzel’s hero is her mother (whom she has never met) because she knows that what her mother “needed in her time of crisis was not to have me ripped from her womb—to meet violence with violence—what she needed was someone to love her, to walk alongside her, to give her help and hope. That’s what we try to do every day.”
Ending the wonderful presentations was pro-life activist, Patricia Sandoval. Her backstory is what fuels her present, having had three abortions, working at Planned Parenthood, and becoming homeless for several years. It was “God’s grace and mercy that forgave me so much and I am here to share my story to repair the damage that I’ve done.” While presenting at the event, Sandoval was also promoting her book, “Transfigured” a “biography of my life, talks about my childhood, what brought me to the abortion clinic on three occasions, behind the doors of Planned Parenthood and how God’s mercy is great. He can forgive anything, any sin. He can take you out of misery and turn it something for great for His glory.”
The entire event was filled with singing and dancing, prayer and mingling with others there to support and celebrate life. The afternoon ended with the same positive and hopeful vibe of the day, as a caravan of decorated vehicles left the shrine, honking and waving, shouting, and smiling at passerby’s reminding them to be pro-life.
Maurice Beaulieu is a staff writer for the Florida Catholic.