Rock-4-Life attracts teens, blasts out a pro-life message

MAULDIN — The recipe is simple: entice teenagers to come with rock bands, then use speakers and games to spread the message. The message was pro-life, and the occasion was the all-day Rock-4-Life LifeFest held May 1 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.

Valerie Baronkin, pro-life coordinator for the Piedmont Deanery, came away with the idea after a brainstorming session with parish pro-life people last year. Rock-4-Life is a national organization with a record of success. The founder, Bryan Kemper, and the rest of the principals sound like evangelists but look like motorcycle gangsters, with their black shirts, silver ear jewelry and doo rags. The three bands signed up for the day were hard rockers whose Christian subject matter was lost in lyrics unintelligible to adult ears. But the kids in attendance loved the energy and the theme.

“We really need to bring that energy and message to our Catholic youth,” Baronkin said. “We’d like to see more emphasis on youth in the pro-life movement.”

She was encouraged by the numbers of young people who turned out for the annual March For Life in Washington, D.C., this year. One of them was Mary Blake, who became an organizer for the Piedmont Deanery LifeFest. The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton teen said that respect for life has become a central issue in society for today’s youth.

“You have an abortion and you could be killing the scientist who will discover a cure for AIDS,” Blake said. “You don’t know what a person could aspire to.”

The main speaker at the LifeFest was Kemper himself, a Presbyterian who sounds Catholic when he talks about contraception foiling the will of God. His big themes, though, were chastity and respect for life.

“Sex is a beautiful gift from God, and our children are his heritage. When you see a woman who’s pregnant, don’t laugh at her condition. She’s more blessed than we’ll ever be,” Kemper said.

He told the audience to write letters to MTV, a favorite music site for teens, to urge the network to end its strong support for Planned Parenthood, a nationwide purveyor of abortion rights.

The young people were attracted to the conference by bands like Flatline, a group that rarely lets its high energy simmer and whose members jumped and ran as they played their amplified instruments. It was typical of the three bands that played during the LifeFest (the others were Eleventy Seven and Farewell Tonight). Master of Ceremonies Robert Lober of St. Mary’s parish said the music was technically good, especially for the young who are devoted to the pro-life cause.

“The music provides the vehicle to pique their interest,” he said. “There are young people in the pipeline who are willing to sacrifice their time, so I see a lot of hope for the future.”

One of those teens, 17-year-old James Norris of the host parish, agreed with Lober. Norris said that pro-life youth will be in the vanguard of the movement in the decades to come.

“My friends are mostly Catholic who are strong in their faith, and they’re for life. It’s been instilled in us,” Norris said.

The teens had the opportunity to participate in Mass and observe a May Crowning. Other speakers were Judy Tancibok (“They told us to get an abortion, but we said: ‘No.’ ”), Amy Alvarado (“Emotional and Medical Problems After an Abortion”) and Rebecca Riley (post-abortion testimony).