COLUMBIA — Most high school students probably wanted to stay home in their warm beds as a blast of Arctic air moved through South Carolina on Jan. 17.
Not so, however, for an estimated 600 Catholic youth from the Diocese of Charles ton who converged in Columbia for the first Catholic Youth Rally for Life.
The event, sponsored by the diocesan offices of youth ministry and family life, was meant to give Catholic young people a chance to stand up publicly for the sanctity of human life, and was held in conjunction with the annual Stand up for Life Rally and March at the State House. (See March for Life on page 8)
Youth groups from around the state arrived by car and bus and packed into the parish life center at St. Peter Church in Columbia for a 9 a.m. rally that was moved inside because of the harsh weather.
The rally featured music by contemporary band Wannabe Stephen, group prayer, and guest speakers.
Father Jeffrey Kirby, paroch ial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, started his speech with a story about an unusual looking woman he and his classmates used to see around campus when he was in college. He said they would make fun of the woman’s looks among themselves until one day they saw her with a young child who obviously adored her.
“It was then I realized the importance of that woman we had mercilessly made fun of,” he said. “That helped me understand that every human person has dignity and needs to be respected.”
Father Kirby told the young people that every letter in the word “Right” stands for something to remember as they work to promote pro-life values.
“R stands for ‘respect life always.’ It tells us to ‘intercede for life.’ G is for ‘guard.’ H is for ‘help life.’ And ‘T’ is the thanks we give for those who struggle to make every life count,” he said.
Father Kirby led the young people in loud pro-life chants, and reminded them that they are the future of the movement within the church.
“Pope John Paul II said that you are the gatekeepers of the new millennium. You are going to spread our faith out and propagate it,” he said. “You are guarding our faith and by being here today you are guarding life.”
After the rally, young people packed St. Peter Church so full that many people had to stand and kneel in the back and entranceway.
Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, celebrated Mass dedicated to the pro-life message.
Msgr. Laughlin’s homily focused on the special purpose that God has for every individual, and the need for people to open their hearts and minds to hear God’s message.
“Only one thing can satisfy this unique individual that we are, and that is the imminent love of God,” he said. “You’re more of a person the day you can freely say ‘I love God. I’m not perfect but I know I want to love him. I see the power and wisdom of God on the cross.’ ”
Msgr. Laughlin encouraged the young people to spend time in prayer and meditation, to read Scripture and take time to discern God’s plan for their lives.
After Mass, youth groups and their adult leaders marched from St. Peter on Assembly Street up to Main Street and the steps of the State House. Many carried signs and banners, and the crowd called out pro-life chants as they moved slowly through the streets, escorted by City of Columbia police officers.
At the State House, the youth joined other marchers coming from the Russell House at the University of South Carolina, and filed onto the State House steps. There were so many present that they took up whole sections of the wide staircase.
Steven Wright, 15, a member of St. Theresa the Little Flower Church in Summerville, said the rally galvanized his commitment to work for an end to abortion.
“It really brought my spirit up and showed me why we’re here,” he said. “We need to step from behind the curtain and stand up for life.”
Ryan Ferguson, a member of the youth group from Jesus, Our Risen Savior in Spartanburg, held a large yellow banner with the rally’s slogan, “Lifeguard on Duty,” while standing near the top of the steps during the rally. He looked around and pointed out the dozens of other Catholic youth who stood near him.
“I think it’s really great that there are this many young people who care about this issue,” he said.
“I’ve learned today that you should take all the chances you get to tell people about the pro-life cause and affect how they feel,” said Sarah Catone, 14, also a member of Jesus, Our Risen Savior. “By doing that, we can help people make the right choices … and choose life.”