By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
BLUE SPRINGS — There are three kinds of travelers, Msgr. Ralph Kaiser told a rather unique and special congregation before dawn on Jan. 21.
There are commuters who are making a living or running errands for their families. There are tourists who travel for recreation and perhaps education.
And then there are pilgrims.
“Pilgrims are defined as those who are going somewhere for a spiritual purpose, going somewhere for inspiration,” Msgr. Kaiser said. “We are pilgrims.”
Just short of 200 “pilgrims” attended a Mass at 5:30 a.m. Jan. 21 at St. John LaLande Parish in Blue Springs.
Then they joined another bus load of pilgrims who attended a 4 a.m. Mass at St. James Parish in St. Joseph before they all — some 220 of them including the 83-year-old Msgr. Kaiser — boarded four buses for a caravan to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions that legalized abortion.
The journey ahead of them wouldn’t be easy, said Msgr. Kaiser, a former Navy chaplain.
“Twenty hours on a bus is like a month at sea,” said the priest, a veteran of several annual pilgrimages to raise his voice with thousands seeking to protect the lives of the unborn.
But it is a pilgrimage that young and old were looking forward to making together.
Amelia Ernstmann, 18, and a 2011 graduate of Archbishop O’Hara High School, has been going since she was 13 years old.
“It’s always a good experience,” she said. “It’s important to stand up and show that we respect life.”
Carol Madden, a member of St. Peter’s Parish in Stanberry, was among those who rose from bed in the middle of the night to begin her pilgrimage in St. Joseph.
“It’s my passion and I’ve been doing it for years,” she said. A registered nurse, she remembered working in New Mexico where one hospital performed 100 abortions a day.
“I never thought abortion would last this long,” she said. “It is my life’s goal, and I hope I can see the end of abortion before I die.”
Annie Stark, a student at St. Mary High School in Independence, was making her first pilgrimage to the March for Life, not so much to change minds as to change hearts.
“Peoples’ hearts are hard,” she said. “People focus too much on their own self-interests and don’t think about anybody else.”
Brothers Steven and Matthew Gordon, also students at St. Mary, were making their second trip to D.C.
“We’re going to have some fun, but we are going to save lives,” Matthew said.
“I love life,” Steven added.
For St. Pius X High School students Jackson Johannes and Zach Faust, it was a matter of speaking for the unborn who have no voice.
“I’m here to see that everyone gets some chance at life,” Jackson said. “These are babies inside their mothers’ wombs and they can’t do anything to defend themselves.”
“Abortion should be illegal,” Zach said. “Infants haven’t had a chance to live, and to grow up to do great things.”
That is exactly why the pilgrimage is necessary, said Msgr. Kaiser, the principal celebrant at the Mass, con-celebrated with Father Stephen Hansen and Father Philip Luebbert.
“God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him in this life and to celebrate with him forever in heaven,” Msgr. Kaiser told the congregation in his homily.
“In his goodness, God made every last one of us for something bigger and better than we can find here,” he said.
He also noted that this particular pilgrimage which would take them halfway across the North American continent was beginning on the feast day of fourth century martyr St. Agnes, who chose chastity and a life in God, and was martyred during the one of the final Roman persecutions because of it.
“She was not moved by the instruments of torture or threats of imprisonoment,” Msgr. Kaiser said. “She was a child herself, 13 years old, who had the freedom of choice, and she chose our Lord and Savior.”
The unborn in their mother’s wombs don’t have the choice even St. Agnes had, he said.
“We speak for them to bring some sort of pressure on those who make the laws of our land,” Msgr. Kaiser said.
“We have work to do, even among our neighbors and friends,” he said. “We must do our very best to persuade them that our peace, our prosperity rely on the Christian principles on which our nation was founded,” he said.
“Let us go forth in peace.”