Keeler exhorts March for Life crowd

January 24, 1995|By Frank P. L. Somerville and Richard O'Mara | Frank P. L. Somerville and Richard O'Mara,Sun Staff Writers Nelson Schwartz of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Baltimore's cardinal archbishop brought 3,000 whistling, cheering teen-agers to their feet yesterday when he said their anti-abortion activism represents the majority view in the United States and ultimately "will prevail."

At a Roman Catholic Mass that was part of a youth rally in Constitution Hall, Cardinal William H. Keeler also condemned the recent shootings at abortion clinics.

"These random acts have been deplored and must continue to be deplored by all right-thinking people everywhere," he said, generating a burst of applause. "As people of faith committed to the cause of life and opposed to violence, we raise our voice against such actions, and pray for the families and friends of those who have died."

The violence that has erupted within the anti-abortion movement was on the minds of many involved in yesterday's March for Life. This was the movement's 22nd annual march held to express opposition to the Jan. 22, 1973, Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman's right to abortion.

"The murder of an abortionist is a sin," said Bruce Stahl, who came with a delegation from the Stratford Orthodox Presbyterian Church in New Jersey.

Paul Conklin of Montgomery County said that he felt the violence at abortion clinics "is not the way to get things done in America. Action happens at the voting booth, not with violence."

"We're about life, not about killing people," added Betsy Cragon of Ashtabula, Ohio, as she stood with other marchers in front of the Supreme Court.

The violence also was condemned in speeches from the platform. "You cannot fight evil with evil," said California Republican Rep. Robert K. Dornan.

The trappings of yesterday's assembly were similar to those of ++ past marches. There were the same red banners waving as the protesters headed up Independence Avenue behind a rank of police cars to lobby Congress and protest in front of the Supreme Court. And there was the same profusion of huge photographs of aborted fetuses.

The U.S. Park Police estimated 45,000 people marched, about 10,000 more than last year.

Thom O'Conner, a New York talk show host who was attending his 13th straight March for Life, said he detected less enthusiasm in the crowd: "A lot of people have lost interest because of the lack of response from politicians."

Still, he keeps returning each year, he said, "because you never can tell what will happen. The odds of winning the abortion issue are astronomical, but look what happened in Russia."

But not everyone thought the prospects of the anti-abortion cause were so poor.

Western Maryland Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett said he was pleased at the arrival in Washington of so many new conservative congressman. "Thank you, America, for all these reinforcements," he told the crowd that gathered on the ellipse south of the White House for the march.

Cardinal Keeler did not specifically mention Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's recent plea for a temporary halt to anti-abortion demonstrations near clinics. But the Baltimore churchman backed continued "speech about abortion and peaceful protest against it," declaring, "We must be clear -- truth does not kill, and tragically abortion does."

He also said, "We denounce any violence taking place outside abortion clinics, but we cannot blink away the violence taking place inside the clinics."

Cardinal Keeler recalled that Pope John Paul II had "invited youth from around the world to celebrate life and help create a new culture of life in the midst of a culture of death" at World Youth Day appearances in Denver in August 1993.

"This culture of death shows itself in so many painful ways -- violent language and deeds, often related to the sale and the abuse of drugs, with many, even children, dying in the streets of this and other cities of our land," he said.

He called last summer's 25th anniversary effort to duplicate the Woodstock rock concerts a celebration that was "often illegal," and said "twice as many people" had turned out for the pope in Denver.

"Look around you," the cardinal told the young anti-abortion demonstrators who nearly filled Constitution Hall. "In fact, you are not in the minority. You are the church of tomorrow, and you are the church of today. And because God is using you, you will prevail."

These concluding words brought a prolonged standing ovation.

Later, the protesters dispersed and surged into the Senate and House office buildings to lobby members of their delegations.

Marie Fernandez Jones of Riverdale came with her husband and two of her children to Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office in the Hart Senate Building, even though she knew of the senator's strong backing of abortion rights.

"I am frustrated, but you work with the representative you have," said Mrs. Jones.

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