LIFE TOUR 2017
A Tour of Life Through the Heart of America
As many citizens rejoiced at the inauguration of President Trump on January 20th and many grieved in protest against him on January 21st, there was in the midst of this turmoil something else: a distinct display of pro-life and pro-women passion happening right in the heart of America.
The Crusaders for Life, a group of pro-life youth, traveled to Chicago, Springfield, St. Louis, and Indianapolis, on a three-day “Life Tour.”
Normally seen at the Washington D.C. March for Life, this year the Crusaders decided to do something different. They elected to invest their time and efforts into what they were founded to do: catalyze local pro-life movements that spread the joy and beauty of life. “This trip allowed us to go back to who we are,” said Nathalie Corbett, a member of the organization, “Starting the day with Mass, and then venturing into the streets of an unfamiliar city to help other pro-life groups get their message across that life is beautiful.”
Annie Streeter, President of the Chicago Chapter of the Crusaders for Life, stated, “In our 10th year, the Crusaders for Life believe that a local emphasis in America's heartland will allow for the greatest utilization of our resources.” As the country congregated around the Capitol, 150 teenagers traveled to four central cities in the Midwest. They danced, sang, marched, and prayed side by side with other pro-life members of those communities, advocating for the right to life every person deserves.
In the moments leading up to this “Life Tour,” Fr. Nathan Caswell, SJC prepared the youth just before they would board double-decker buses (these adorned in bright yellow balloons and a 35 ft. banner reading “Life is Beautiful”) to interrupt downtown Chicago with their exuberant joy and lead the city’s March for Life. He emphasized, "What we're doing here, by giving everything, is becoming intercessors. Through all of our cheers, through our drumming, our dancing, and our praying, we are interceding. We are bringing God to the people and bringing the people to God; by showing joy. People may not be able to put a finger on exactly why you are joyful, but it's because you have God in you – and that changes everything."
The Tour Begins!
The following Friday morning when the students left for Springfield, the intensity grew as they prayed Lauds and prepared for Mass. “Mass allowed us to truly bring forth our personal intentions for the upcoming 3 days of marching for life,” said chaperone Ethan Avina. “We always begin where it counts... Life Himself.” “How can we spread joy...when we are not putting Jesus Christ first, before everything we do?” Faye Chapello, 15, reflected.
Departing from the doors of Sacred Heart Church, the group marched, cheered, and danced to the capitol building, along with others from the Springfield area.
At the capitol, the Crusaders surrounded the statue of Abraham Lincoln with yellow LIFE balloons and had what can only be described as a dance party with other pro-lifers, catching drivers and pedestrians alike off-guard. Media and others gathered to get a closer look at the energetic youth.
“The Crusaders for Life have something to say! Life is Beautiful! Life is a gift from God!” President Annie Streeter announced in a public statement. “Each life is unique, precious and unrepeatable! Every life is worth living!”
“We care about mourning the children that have been lost, and we also believe that showing people our joy is one of the most beautiful things we can share with them,” said Brianna Palmore, one of the young adults with the group. The celebratory spirit that pervades the Crusader’s message converged with their desire to lament the lives lost to abortion as, after their “Life Party” at Lincoln’s feet, they knelt and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet together, and were then permitted to gather inside the antechamber of the capitol building to sing the Coventry Carol.
Fr. Joshua Caswell, SJC said, “They’ve made a pilgrimage to the state capitol to send a message to the new president, Donald Trump, and to send a message to lawmakers in Illinois and to congressmen that life matters, life is beautiful, life is precious, life is unique and it needs to be preserved. They want to make sure our new president hears them. They want to make sure our lawmakers hear them, because for too long, there has been a de-valuing of human life.”
Becoming Who We Really Are
That night, the Crusaders were off to St. Louis to get a few hours of sleep before their second day would begin. That morning, Father Nathan reminded the youth, “When we pray, we become who we really are.” With this in mind, the Crusaders walked to the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. A solemn Rose procession preceded the memorial Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Carlson. Here, the group began to sense that this day would be different. The Crusaders sat in silence as forty-four men, women, and children walked by with roses, one for each year that abortion has been legal in our country. After the service, the Crusaders and hundreds of local parishioners and pro-lifers made a rosary procession to the nearby Planned Parenthood to pray.
“As hundreds walked the streets of St. Louis, this was where I witnessed our youth being challenged,” said Avina. “As the Crusaders for Life, we are known for our high energy and joyful attitudes we bring to the streets...but this was a silent, prayerful march to pray for the unborn. Watching our youth lose themselves and suppress the loudness and percussive dance beats, to join the city of St. Louis in 3 full rosaries was amazing. We were there, truly there and being present with them. While there was an emptiness in the air with the lack of the drumline and cheers, it made way for a solemn interior prayer in each of us, and as a whole community, as the Crusaders, to dig deep in our souls for the desire to bring change to the world we live and to prove to all that every life is a life worth living.”
Brianna Palmore reflected further that, “The beautiful thing about the Crusaders is the secret —- or perhaps the veiled reality — of their crusade. It is true that they march and offer their joy for Life. They offer themselves as a public witness to their lawmakers and communities, don bright yellow sweatshirts and march with balloons, they raise their voices for the sake of the unborn, offering encouragement and hope to women facing unplanned pregnancies. But at the core of their crusade for life is the illuminated reality they each carry within themselves — their genuine wonder at the grandeur of every soul.”
Where does this belief in such a grandeur come from in adolescents? The Crusaders themselves will tell you that it is the remarkable fruit of their faith. Before every march, they pray the rosary, the Divine Office, attend Mass, worship and receive the sacrament of communion. Last weekend they lived the liturgy in one constant river of life — they marched down the streets of each city with the same spirit they had praying in the pews during Mass. The beauty of the liturgy exalting God and ennobling man truly strengthens the belief that life is a gift from a loving Father, that we are each immeasurably valuable to Him. This is the foundation of who the Crusaders for Life are.
Pulling Together and Giving Everything
Sunday morning Mass began at Our Lady of Victories Church in St. Louis, a lovely church surrounded by abandoned buildings, the expressway, and industrial ruins. “We were now ready for anything. Receiving the Sunday Eucharist, we were all ready to give everything we had left for our last march in Indianapolis,” said Joseph Waltz, 13.
When they arrived in Indianapolis, the Crusaders were ready to give all that they had left. “Although everyone was tired, everyone just let out every last bit that they had,” wrote Faye Chapello. They formed their balloon lines and the drumline assembled. As they attended the pro-life prayer service in the war monument, the anticipation grew. After the benediction from Fr. Nathan, the Crusaders burst out of the tomb dedicated to those who had died in defense of our country. They arose resurrected; ready to let the joy and light of Christ shine once more. After praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy, led the pro-life gathering through downtown Indianapolis. The Crusaders cheered, danced, jumped, and shouted their hearts out in this last march of the tour.
“On this final day of our pilgrimage, I felt the group really pull together,” said Avina. “After losing themselves and giving everything they had, the Crusaders were truly showing the world what we are all about.” In a complete manifestation of joy, the group offered all they had for Jesus, for those in the womb, for those affected by abortions, and for each other. “In this trip, we experienced true joy. We each had the time, stretched between three full-throttle days of marching for life, to lose ourselves and all our own selfishness for the sake of Jesus and for others in our world, to bring forth joy and celebrate all life,” said Chapello.
Through exhaustion, moments of pain, and the occasional frustrations of a trip of this magnitude, the Crusaders for Life were brought to this renewed gift of sincere joy. “Every moment counted. Every moment we had, every cheer we said, every song we sang, was done for the babies, their mothers, fathers, and families. We fought every breath for them. It didn’t matter if some of us were drained, sick, tired, or hungry, but we pushed through the 3 days, showing our joy to all who saw us,” wrote Chapello. It is the Crusader’s goal to share this joy with the world we live in today, to see change in our culture. Hope and delight is possible in every life, with every beating heart, in every mother's womb.
When asked why they gave up their weekend to March for Life, the Crusaders resoundingly responded that they have felt the absence of their terminated brothers and sisters in this generation — that they desire to mourn — to remember the lives their nation’s legal authorities refuse to recognize as lives at all. All are welcome to this mourning. All are welcome to their joy, to their resilient life and energy they continue to offer to their citizens — most of whom can’t help but smile when the Crusaders march past. Even when others turn away, disregard, or respond in anger to their demonstrations, the Crusaders continue with their important work — continuing to offer the beauty of themselves.
Witnessing or marching in the midst of the Crusaders’ vivacity has helped many to see that life is beautiful. All life. Their joy brings those around them to encounter a beauty to be fought for, guarded, honored, mourned, and loved. “As a human being professing Life Himself, I have no choice but to offer all of myself toward this crusade,” said one of the participants on the trip. “I am grateful for the unbreakable connection between the worth of my own life and the worth of every life that the Crusaders have so beautifully illuminated to me.”