Boston youth join thousands at the youth Mass and rally at Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center on the morning of the March for Life. Pilot photo/ Christine Williams
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WASHINGTON — Full of vibrant enthusiasm, more than 100 Boston youth and their chaperones traveled to the nation’s capital acting as witnesses to hope on their trip to the March for Life Jan. 22.
In a personal greeting delivered to the youth at the rally and Mass prior to the march, Pope Benedict XVI called the young people’s witness “a radiant sign of hope for the future.” His message was read by apostolic nuncio Piero Sambi.
In addition to being hope for the future of the Church, youth are hope for the Church right now, said Father Matt Williams, director of the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults. The newly created office folds into one the Youth Ministry and Young Adult Ministry offices. It also includes CYO, Scouting, high school priest chaplaincy and high school campus ministry.
Young people need to experience the fullness of life in the Catholic Church and know that the Church is counting on them, especially in matters of life and death like the pro-life movement, Father Williams said.
The archdiocese’s Youth Ministry, Pro-Life and Vocations offices have sponsored the March for Life trip for high schoolers for the past three years. The first trip, planned for 2005, was cancelled due to a blizzard. In 2006 and 2007, those attending filled two buses. This year, the marchers filled three buses, representing 10 Catholic schools and one parish.
Many other Massachusetts residents, including groups of college students and seminarians from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, planned their own trips.
Father Williams said that the new office will redouble the already great efforts to coordinate the trip next year, hoping to attract twice as many youth.
The high schoolers and their chaperones began their pilgrimage experience in the early morning of Jan. 20 with a Mass at Bishop Peterson Hall at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton.
Father Michael Harrington, associate director of the Vocations Office, said in his homily, “We begin and end with Christ because he is the beginning and the end,” exhorting the young people to follow Christ who gives his followers strength.
After the Mass, participants boarded the buses. On the nine-hour trips to and from the nation’s capital, students passed the time praying the rosary, following the New England Patriot’s game via cell phone, studying for midterms, watching movies and playing “Would You Rather?” — a game where one participant asks the others to choose between two absurd dilemmas.
Arriving in the evening, the pilgrims made their way to a rally at Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va. Young people from all over Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Bishop O’Connell students spent a few hours singing, praising the Lord and praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley spoke to the youth, saying “The Patriots had another victory today, but they’re not the only champions in New England. You are champions in my book.”
Father Williams told the crowd that life is sacred even though young people in society have been taught that it is disposable. That mentality leads to abortion and also the violence that plagues the streets of Boston’s neighborhoods, he said.
He encouraged the students to attend Mass every Sunday and get “soaked up in grace” so that they will be able to tell the lies from the truth.
Allaphia Richards, a student at Cathedral High School, said God worked through Father Williams to speak to her about the violence on Boston’s streets. The day before the pilgrimage, she attended the funeral of her cousin who was shot to death as a result of gang violence, she said.
Father Williams’ comments caused Allaphia to realize that the pro-life issue is about appreciating everyone, not only the unborn.
At the various events, Allaphia realized that she has a Catholic family that believes in protecting life, a view that some of her own family members do not share, she said.
She said her own father supports abortion and disagreeing with him, a man she looks up to, is difficult.
“To be pro-life means a lot,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m a part of something, like I’m a part of God.”
On Jan. 21, the archdiocesan group had a chance for some sightseeing. They saw the changing of the guards at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, they walked down Washington Mall, visiting the war memorials and Lincoln Monument.
Rebecca Farnhan, a student at Presentation of Mary Academy, said she saw a connection between the tourism and the march the following day. While at the Lincoln Monument, she reflected on the words of the Emancipation Proclamation. She realized that God helped end slavery in the United States even though some people may have thought it was impossible, she said.
“That gives a lot of hope for the whole abortion issue,” she said
In the afternoon, the archdiocesan group arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception four hours before the start of the Mass in order to save floor space, the pews had already been taken by participants who arrived even earlier.
Many of the young people were impressed by the vast number of other Catholics, especially youth, at that Mass, and the rally and Mass at the Verizon Center the following morning. The center holds 17,000, and thousands of young Catholics are turned away each year once the building is filled to capacity.
As they exited the arena, the hundreds of youth from Boston joined tens of thousands of marchers on the streets of Washington, singing the words from the Mass’ closing song, “Go make a difference. We can make a difference. Go make a difference in the world.”
Before the march began on the cold, drizzly day, the young marchers spoke with youth from around the country. They sang songs, alternating between Boston favorites like “Sweet Caroline” and “We Are the Light of the World.” Some held signs; one read “The answer to a crisis pregnancy is to eliminate the crisis, not the child.”
Jaqui Rossignoli, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception in Marlborough, said that the Holy Spirit moved her to come to the March for Life. The whole experience has helped her to learn that many others are pro-life too, she added.
In her public school, Jaqui said the majority of the students support abortion and are critical of her pro-life views.
“You start to question your beliefs and think, ‘Why do I have them if everyone is against them?’” she said.
Through her trip to the march, Jaqui said she has learned that it is important to keep her values.
Ricky Serino, a student at Malden Catholic High School, said it is necessary for Christians to stand up in support of life and defend the unborn children who cannot speak for themselves.
“It’s a human life, and we need to speak for it,” he said.
On the way home, students on the different buses were invited to take a microphone and reflect on the experience of the past three days. They recounted stories of friends who had abortions and became “completely different” people. One girl shared that her mother had been advised by family members and friends to abort her and another talked about her nephew who turned her sister’s life around after she decided not to abort him.
A third woman thanked all the men who came on the trip, saying “It makes us feel like you really care about us.” The abortion issue affects both mothers and fathers, she added.
Reflecting on the fact that it was her birthday, the young woman said she realized that on her birthday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that many children would never have birthdays. Some of those children would have been born on her birthday if they had not been aborted, she added.
“It’s not just ‘happy birthday’ to me. It’s ‘happy birthday’ to all those babies who don’t get to share it,” she said.