By Josephine von Dohlen Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — As the sun rose on the nation’s capital Jan. 24, about 18,000 teens and young adults gathered in joyful praise and worship, celebrating the sanctity of all human life at the Capital One Arena in Washington at the Youth Rally and Mass for Life, the largest annual event sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington.
Two sisters, Caitlin and Ciara Baltazar, who are in the 11th and seventh grades at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, arrived just as the doors opened at 6:15 a.m. to save seats in the front of the arena for nearly 30 of their March for Life club members.
Caitlin Baltazar said it was her family’s faith that rooted her passion for the pro-life cause, adding that as young women, “it’s important for us to be involved,” she said.
The annual event, which takes place prior to the national March to Life, gathers young people from throughout the Washington area, from across the country and from around the world to begin the day in prayer for the protection of all human life. Participants came from as near as Catholic schools and parishes in Washington and Maryland and from as far away as Australia.
“This Mass is an invitation for all of us to leave everything, to abandon our life totally to the Lord, to be witness to the fact that a life spent to do the will of God is the greatest life possible,” said Father Daniele Rebeggiani, a Washington archdiocesan priest who is a secretary at the apostolic nunciature, in his homily at the Mass.
Joining nearly 160 priests and bishops from throughout the country, Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory concelebrated the Mass for Life for the first time since being installed as archbishop of Washington May 21, 2019. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the retired archbishop of Washington, concelebrated the Mass, along with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States. Other bishops and dozens of priests also concelebrated the Mass.
Seeing so many young people at the rally, Archbishop Gregory said their presence at this event shows that the Church’s “witness to the dignity of life is youthful and has a future.”
“The whole world is ahead of them,” the archbishop said as he met with media before the Mass. “The fact that they have taken such an enthusiastic position is an indication that our future in our young people is right. They have the right focus, the right intention. They have the energy to pull it off.”
Archbishop Pierre brought a message of gratitude for the “eloquent witness” of the young people from Pope Francis, also imparting his apostolic blessing.
“We don’t fight for an idea, we fight for the human being,” Archbishop Pierre said. “Abortion is never the answer that families are looking for.”
A group of 50 people from Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac, Maryland, including the school’s eighth grade class, left their church before 5:30 a.m. to travel to the Rally and Mass for Life.
Becca Hadley, the youth minister at Our Lady of Mercy Church, said participating in the March for Life is a great way to participate in the unity of the pro-life movement.
“Especially in a culture when the dignity of the human person is in question,” she said, “it’s important that we come together as a community to show that (the unborn child) has dignity.”
Jorge Alfaro, an eighth grader at Our Lady of Mercy, said he was participating in the rally and then the national march later in the day because “we think life is very important,” he said. “Every kid should have the opportunity for life because God gave it to them.”
He was joined by his classmate, James Van Eperem, who said, “Taking the life of a child is taking the life of someone who can do something good.”
Students from the Washington School for Girls also attended the Rally and Mass for Life. In their religion class, they have been learning about the history of abortion in the United States, namely the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, and they also have been studying the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life in all its stages.
“Everybody deserves a shot at life,” Taylor Goines, an eighth grader at the Washington School for Girls, told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper.
During the rally, which included speakers as well as praise and worship, Sister Maria Juan, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, who was one of the emcees for the rally, shared with the young people the importance of being ready to stand up for life at all moments.
“It is good for us to be prepared to guide someone in our own lives,” she said. “No pregnancy is unplanned to God.”
Melissa Ohden, one speaker at the rally, who herself is a survivor of a failed abortion attempt, shared her story with the young people, expressing gratitude for their witness for life.
“It is important that we stand up as witnesses in this world, that every life matters,” Ohden said. “We live in a culture that has sold us a lie, that abortion empowers women, that abortion isn’t anyone’s business, … that innocent lives in the womb have no value.”
Sarah Owens and Erin Madruga, sophomores at Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Maryland, who were joined by other members of their pro-life club wearing purple and white striped hats, said this wasn’t their first time at the Youth Rally and Mass for Life or at the national March for Life.
“We go to a Catholic school, and we believe life starts at conception, which is a huge part of our faith,” Owens said. “All life is valuable.”
Madruga added that all human life has purpose, sometimes beyond human understanding. “That person is supposed to be born for a reason,” she said.
Raymond Tetschner, a young man with Down syndrome, met with Archbishop Gregory along with several others in the special needs community who brought the gifts to the altar during the Mass.
“All babies are important,” he said.
Joined by his mother, Michelle Tetschner, this was Raymond Tetschner’s first time at the Youth Rally and Mass for Life.
“It is super important for us to be here,” Michelle Tetschner said, adding that the pro-life movement has so much meaning to her family, especially as Raymond is adopted.
More than 100 young men from Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore traveled to Washington for the Rally and Mass for Life, including Brett Townsley.
“I believe that every human being should be given a chance to live,” Townsley said when asked why chose to participate in the day’s events.
The Rally and Mass for Life also was attended by many deacons, consecrated religious women and seminarians. Archbishop Gregory encouraged all young people who may feel a call to religious life, to listen to God and say, “yes.”
“Our church is so in need of joyful, holy and happy young men and women,” the archbishop said.
Addressing the many young people from across the United States, as well as the group that had traveled from Australia, Father Rebeggiani emphasized to the teens and young adults that they are not alone in the pro-life movement and that they have one another. He added, to “be witnesses to the gospel of life, we have to give back our lives to the one to whom it belongs, to God.”
The Archdiocese of Washington also hosted a Rally and Cathedral Mass for Life at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, where Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville celebrated a Mass.