Promoting a culture of life begins at home. And it starts with us, said Danielle Harrison, who kicked off Generation Life in St. Louis.
Through speakers, prayer and spending time together in community, teens and adults who attended the daylong pro-life event Jan. 20 will “understand how God is calling us individually to live out this culture of life,” said Harrison, who got the crowd pumped up. “Life begins in the womb. But it doesn’t stop there. Life continues on and on and on, all the way to natural death. When God says I need you to show my people that life is so important, we have to take up the mantle. It starts with us, and then it grows.”
“Generation Life, are you ready?” she shouted.
“Yes!” the teens resoundingly responded.
About 1,000 eighth-grade and high school teens and adults from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, were represented at the event, held at Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University and organized by the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry.
In past years, the Youth Ministry Office has hosted a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., to the national March for Life in observance of the January 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. After the Supreme Court’s historic Dobbs decision in June overturning Roe vs. Wade, the office shifted gears to a local event focusing on abortion and extending to other life issues.
The day included Mass with Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski; speakers who touched on the dignity of life from conception to natural death, with topics including the death penalty, immigration and care for the poor; and opportunities to connect with religious communities and organizations and offices that promote a variety of life-related issues.
The morning’s focus on abortion included speaker Krista Corbello, a pro-life speaker and founder of Even This Way, an outreach for individuals whose parents were vulnerable to abortion or who lost a sibling to abortion. Corbello’s mother was pressured to abort her; she later discovered in adulthood that she also had a half sibling by by her biological father who was aborted.
Abortion isn’t a biological argument, but rather one that is philosophical, she said. Human life is intrinsic, meaning “in and of itself.” Our value and dignity of human beings comes from within, she said. That means none of the external issues, such as our size, level of development, environment or degree of dependency, should matter.
“Abortion is an act of violence,” which hurts people and families, she said. “We have to rise up to the occasion and do something about it.”
In his homily, Archbishop Rozanski said that despite the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the fight for life must continue. Comparing it to a runner that slows the pace after completing a marathon, he said that we cannot slow down our efforts to promote a culture of life.
“We have to be the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus in our world,” he said. “So that we can reach out to those who may be contemplating an abortion, and witness to them the greatest gift that they have is the gift that God has given to them in the womb — the gift of life.”
The archbishop also spoke about the ripple effect that abortion has on other facets of life. “Ever since that decision of Roe vs. Wade, we have seen such an increase, not only of abortions, but an increase of violence … of a disdain for life in so many ways,” he said. “Once life is not fully respected in the womb, then life is not respected in any of its forms. That is why we witness to the Gospel of Life and continue to reach out to potential parents contemplating a decision to abort.”
In the afternoon, teens heard from several speakers who touched on other life issues, such as the death penalty, immigration and care for the poor.
Chapin Ibendahl, a senior at Vianney High School and member of the youth group at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in St. Louis, spoke about his experience attending the Solidarity at the Border pilgrimage in November, which brought teens from the archdiocese to the U.S./Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, for the annual Mass at the Border.
The Mass marked the 25th time that the border cities of El Paso, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, have gathered to pray for those who have died trying to reach the U.S. The pilgrimage also included visits with a migrant woman’s cooperative, the Border Patrol, Sacred Heart Parish in El Paso and Annunciation House, which offers shelter and hospitality to recently arrived migrants in the El Paso-Juarez border community.
Seeing the personal belongings of people who had made it to the border, and the crosses planted there in memory of those who lost their lives trying to come to the United States helped Chapin realize just how real the issue is.
“I was able to see firsthand how people with so little gave up so much to come into this country,” he said. “The wall seemed to strip people of all they had left.”
Jesuit Father Matthew Baugh and Dr. Hank Clever both spoke on the death penalty as a life issue. Father Baugh shared how the Church teaches that the death penalty is “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2267).
Clever shared a personal testimony of his first wife, Rhonda, who was murdered in 1987. Three years later, after her body was discovered and the man who murdered her was identified, Clever told the prosecution not to seek the death penalty, and instead opt for life in prison without parole.
“God loves him every bit as much as He loves me,” Clever said.
Participants had a short opportunity in the afternoon to reflect on several questions, including how they will build a culture of life in their own communities. Audrey Sherman, a student at Cor Jesu Academy, noted the importance of pro-life resources available to women to help them make life-affirming decisions for their babies.
“It’s kind of hard for us to realize pro-life isn’t just about being against the ending of life,” she said. “But after those babies are born, we need to help them live.”
David Portman, a senior at Chaminade College Preparatory School, has previously attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Hearing talks on a variety of life issues, he said, has inspired him to show other people at his school about the dignity of human life.
“There’s a lot of intrinsic (life) issues that we have,” he said. “This helped show that it’s one thing to talk about the beginning and end of life, but it’s through the middle — with the poor and the dignity and suffering of different people. It’s the whole life, no matter what stage of life you’re in.”