Spending two-thirds of a 24-hour stretch on a bus is tough enough. Throw in ice-cold temperatures when walking outside, and the challenge becomes even greater.
Weather conditions were so severe for the March for Life Jan. 22 that some groups from the Diocese of Rochester had to cancel their trips to Washington, D.C. However, Southern Tier contingents from Ithaca and Horseheads did make it to the march, leaving shortly before midnight on Jan. 21 and returning home late the following night.
Many of the Horseheads pilgrims were rewarded for their perseverance by getting to meet Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, the recently installed Bishop of Rochester. They spent a few moments with him on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, following a morning Mass that preceded the early afternoon march.
"We love him. He has a great sense of humor and wit, and is holy -- a good mix for a bishop. That has made us very upbeat for our church," commented Dr. Steve Spaulding, who organized the group that departed from St. Mary Our Mother Church.
Carolann Darling, an organizer of the 51-person bus from Ithaca, was impressed with the overall atmosphere at the March for Life, which has been held annually for 41 straight years in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.
"The view of marchers is purely breathtaking. It must be the largest peaceful presence to descend upon our nation's capital. Our passengers were truly amazed at the number of youth and young adults present; proudly displaying their school or college banners," Darling said, also noting that "we had three signs that said 'Ithaca, NY Loves Life,' and it was exciting to hear people around me comment, 'Oh look, Ithaca, NY, is here.'"
"We had an amazing time together," Darling added regarding the ecumenical group representing faith communities in Tompkins, Cayuga and Cortland counties. She said the bus -- the first to travel to the March for Life from Ithaca in many years -- was the vision of Mary Anne Tissot, a parishioner of Good Shepherd Parish in Cayuga County. Tissot has led the 40 Days for Life campaigns in Ithaca the past four years.
Meanwhile, Cornell University student Brandon Pierotti said a personal highlight from the march was crossing paths with Mother Elizabeth Castro, HMSP, a good friend from his home parish in Nashua, N.H.
"There was no planning involved in running into her. The only way that I can explain it is that it was the divine providence of the Holy Spirit," Pierotti remarked.
Other activities while in Washington included the Ithaca group attending a morning Mass and service at Constitution Hall with Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, and Horseheads marchers visiting the office of Congressman Tom Reed who represents New York's 23rd District.
"He has voted 100 percent pro-life so far, so we thanked him and discussed a few legislative issues," Spaulding explained.
The sun shone brightly during the actual march, although pilgrims had to contend with wind chills approaching 0 degrees and the aftereffects of a major snowstorm one day earlier that had pelted Washington and many areas en route to the nation's capital.
"It's the coldest one I've been to, by far, in my 20 years of going -- the second-snowiest, too," said Spaulding, noting that only 42 of a planned 128 people made the trip from Horseheads.
Pierotti said his group of six from Cornell Catholic Community had planned to journey to the March for Life in two cars, but when one driver bowed out -- in part due to the bad weather -- he ended up catching a ride with the Ithaca bus and hooked back up with his group upon reaching Washington.
"There was so much salt used on the roads that our bus driver had to pull over on the highway when we were 10 miles away from the Capitol so he could wipe the salt spray off his windshield because he couldn't see," Pierotti said.
By and large, however, the Cornell group was focused more on the cause at hand than the weather. Ali Barger said she sought to attend the March for Life to foster awareness about the pro-life movement, encourage people to write to senators about why we should protect life and create a sense of solidarity.
Cornell's Tia Dickhut was among those who experienced that strong feeling of inclusion.
"I feel like I walked away with a sense of hope and belonging that I haven't felt in a while," Dickhut said. "It feels amazing to have supported an issue that I feel so strongly about, and it's really helped me realize that I can stop apologizing for my views and it's OK to not support popular opinion."