Second Life Fest features powerful stories of choosing life through love

(OSV News) -- "I was almost dying," Raisa, a singer from the Dominican Republic and mother of identical twin daughters, recalled of her high-risk pregnancy.

The doctors advised her that abortion was her best option, but she told OSV News that she refused abortion -- because she knew her pregnancy was a "blessing" from God.On the morning of Jan. 19, Raisa stood on a stage at the D.C. Armory, singing her own song "Madre" and speaking to over 6,000 young people at the Life Fest rally hosted by the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus just prior to the 51st annual March for Life. She was accompanied by two Sisters of Life, each holding one of her baby twins, Deborah and Sephora.Raisa told OSV News before her performance that throughout her pregnancy with the twins, the Sisters of Life made her feel loved and supported.

"I really thank the Lord for them," she said. She stayed with the community for part of her pregnancy and they accompanied her to doctor's appointments."I am a new person now since I had my twins," she added, as they played contentedly near her with two Sisters of Life and looked curiously out at the crowd. "I am more blessed than before."The second annual Life Fest rally was all about the blessing of life and offering women the loving support they need to embrace new life even in the most difficult circumstances.

The morning featured prayer, Eucharistic adoration and testimonies, including one from a post-abortive mother who became a Catholic after experiencing kindness and love from the Sisters of Life. Sister of Life Faustina Maria Pia told OSV News the morning event was meant to give a witness to Jesus Christ's love because "his love is really the answer that our culture needs."

She said that when the culture deems some lives to be not worth living, "Love is the answer -- and that will change hearts because that has a power to it; it's God's power."Sister of Life Mary Gabriel told OSV News that Life Fest was an "amazing" opportunity for young people to hear "testimonies of the goodness and the truth of their own life and the lives of every human person, whatever their circumstance."She hoped that each person in attendance or watching the rally would "come to recognize how infinitely loved" and "irreplaceable" they are.She said the work the sisters do in providing homes and resources for women in crisis pregnancies is part of a "web of grace" that includes generous donations of time and talent from lay people.Among the young people in attendance was Clare Podczerwinski, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

"I'm just here to support babies and women," she told OSV News, adding that she wanted women to see that they are "stronger" than abortion.Sabrina Landa, a senior at the University of Central Florida, told OSV News that she is passionate about making sure women facing crisis pregnancies know that they have other options besides abortion.

"Pregnancy shouldn't be a death sentence to our careers, to our studies," she said. "It's sad that women have been placed in the position to feel that way. So, I'm here to march for them and for all the little children."As snow steadily fell throughout the event, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston celebrated Mass and told those gathered that "the snow is a special blessing."

"It gives us an opportunity to give an even more striking witness to our commitment to life," he said.The cardinal reminded the thousands who had turned out for Life Fest in the freezing winter weather that "we are all former embryos.""Dismantling unjust laws is only the beginning," he said. "We still have the arduous task of creating a pro-life culture, of changing people's minds and hearts."Cardinal O'Malley warned against the pro-life movement coming across as "judgmental or self-righteous."

"People will believe us only when they are convinced that we care about them; people will believe us only when they are convinced that we love them," he said. "Our task isn't to judge others but to try and bring healing."

- - - Lauretta Brown is culture editor for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @LaurettaBrown6.