Forecasts predicting afternoon snow and temperatures in the 20s forced Catholic high schools Bishop Guilfoyle and Bishop McCort in Johnstown to cancel their trips to Washington, D.C., but five other buses, filled with diocese members from eight counties, rolled out early this morning en route to the 40th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Among those scheduled to attend are Altoona Central Catholic's 33 eighth-graders.
To aid and bless those he called "God's pilgrims" on their journey, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak delivered a sermon at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, telling worshippers to follow God's plan no matter how hard it may be.
"Men are slower to recognize blessings than misfortunes," he said, adding that people may sometimes feel unworthy of God's love and, therefore, ill-prepared to do what God asks.
The church was nearly empty, with about 50 in attendance, but despite their slim numbers, the parishioners raised their voices to the cathedral's high ceiling, singing "Holy Is His Name" and "Christ, Be Our Light."
Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said the prayer service wasn't for just those people planning to march.
Many church members won't be able to go because of work, health issues or other commitments but still could take the opportunity to "gather with their fellow Catholics" in prayer and unity against abortion, he said.
Annie Foster, 17, a Bishop Guilfoyle student, managed to get a spot on another group's bus after she learned her school had canceled. She's participated in the march every year since seventh grade, she said.
"I just think it's very important [to go]."
She added that she didn't go to get out of school; she felt that braving the cold to speak on behalf of unborn children was the least she could offer up.
Her 13-year-old brother, Matthew, is going as well.
"I'd like to show my support for all the people that need help" and so they can know about abortion alternatives, like adoption, he said.
March for Life participants have descended on the nation's capital every year in continued opposition to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion.
The march usually is held Jan. 22, the decision's anniversary. It was delayed this year because of the presidential inauguration.
According to the march
forlife.org website, the ruling's 40th anniversary sparked a need for awareness among anti-abortion activists, and march organizers have included a theme equation "40=55M" to mark the occasion.
The equation meaning is over the course of 40 years, 55 million fetuses have been aborted.
"Fifty-five million is nearly the population of California and New York combined," the website said.
Those who attended the church service but could not attend the march said they will be there in spirit. Because of the school trip cancellations, Bartchak now is among them. He was to travel with Bishop McCort Catholic High School.
Despite the news, his message to the congregation was firm and unwavering.
"It is because God chose us, that we must always choose life."
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.