There have been any number of stories about the groups who, having attended this year’s March for Life, got stuck going home on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The most popular story concerns an altar made out of snow, upon which Mass was celebrated, right there, on the side of the highway.
But the one I found most poignant was about the group that was on it’s way back home to St. John Cantius parish in Chicago. I’ll pick up their tale mid-way through:
Three hours outside of D.C. on Friday evening, the Crusaders hoped they had outpaced the storm. They were making good time. Suddenly, all traffic stopped. There was an accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, causing miles of backup. 500 vehicles were stranded, including over 40 March for Life Buses from many different states.
The Crusaders were fortunate. They pulled off the road and packed into motel rooms for the night. This was certainly a better fate than spending 36 hours in stranded buses on the Turnpike, as hundreds of other experienced. Snowed in their hotel in Breezewood, PA, they made best of it—for three days.
Fathers Joshua and Nathan Caswell celebrated a sung Mass in the motel bar and heard confessions under a “Bud Light” sign. The Mass was attended by other stranded pro-life students from Pittsburgh and Ann Arbor, MI, as well as two Dominican Sisters. A local Catholic couple risked driving from a parish seven miles away to bring supplies for Mass. Every effort was made to beautify the space, clear the bar counter, and accommodate over 200 people.
Hotel staff and local residents marveled at the devotion as students knelt in every possible space singing “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” from the Missa de Angelis.
Then there was a spectacular talent show on Saturday night with more than 25 competing acts and songs. This festive event was attended by hotel patrons, stranded pro-lifers, and visitors. There was fun in the snow, and a winter hike. The Crusaders prayed morning, evening, and night. They encountered inconveniences, discomfort, and made sacrifices. They also encountered generosity.
Where would they get food? Almost every restaurant had been closed by the storm. But the people of Breezewood came through. An order of 250 hamburgers at the local Hardees was no problem for the two employees who made it to work that day. And then there were the Econolodge employees who volunteered to do laundry for 150 people! The brothers and priests would do whatever it took to make sure no one went hungry, or uncared for.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Catholicism lived; it is the Catholicism of the Gospels, of the Great Commission.
Thank God for these priests, who not only made the best of a bad situation, but used it as an opportunity to shine the light of our beautiful faith into the darkness of the world.
And the effect it had on the young people in attendance was no less profound:
That evening at Mass, Fr. Nathan Caswell, SJC preached a sermon that hit home. “We all want to go home, but heaven is our real home. And this is something that we can only do together.” Suddenly homesickness became a spiritual longing. That was it. In that moment, everything was offered.
Robert White, a young student from Rockford, reflected on this lesson, “When I was stuck in Pennsylvania, all my thoughts were on home until that last sermon on Sunday. It did something to me; it awakened some other part of me I have never seen before, the realization that we are all in this fight together, the fight for life. If we try to look after ourselves, we will never find life, we will only find death. To find life you have to go out of yourself.”
Kate Brown wrote “It was nice to see how people offered it up when they remembered the whole reason for the trip. If it takes being stranded in Pennsylvania to raise awareness for the pro-life movement, then it will all have been worth it.”
Angelica Kowara wrote, “It was hard being optimistic the whole time, and to be honest, I wasn’t. I doubted God’s plan. I was mad. I wanted to go home. But I realized, heaven is the real home I am trying to reach and being with the Crusaders for so long brought me one step closer.”
These are the moments, the stories, that give me hope.
Fathers Joshua and Nathan Caswell. For your priesthood, for your example, for your faithfulness to Our Lord.