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'Life Empowers' is the theme of opening night at Generation Life pilgrimage

2,400 high school teens and eighth graders participated in eucharistic adoration and heard pro-life speakers the night before March for Life

Life empowers.

That’s the message that than 2,400 high school teens and eighth-graders learned on the opening night of the annual Generation Life pilgrimage to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. The pilgrimage, sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, commemorates the Jan. 22 Roe vs. Wade decision that effectively rendered abortion legal.

On the eve of the march, the youths listened to speakers and participated in eucharistic adoration Jan. 23. “The fact you’re sitting in this room, you’re empowered to serve God and be His adopted son, to be His adopted daughter,” said Bob Perron, executive director of JMJ Pregnancy Center in Orlando, Florida, who hosted the high school sessions.

He shared the story of a client, Eva, who recently had twin girls. She first came to the center for a pregnancy test. She told the staff that she couldn’t handle another pregnancy. She had given birth to five other children, including one conceived in rape, and twins who were placed in an adoptive home.

When an ultrasound revealed she was pregnant with twins, a counselor told her, “this isn’t your worst day. Maybe this is your opportunity to raise these twins. We saw her more and more filled with joy as we helped her find the resources she needed.”

Sister Josephine Garrett
Sister Josephine Garrett, a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, from Tyler, Texas, told the teens that power “is the ability to act, the ability to do something. Empower means you are handed over power.“

She shared her own pursuit of power. She sought popularity in high school and college and to gain power in her career. She worked as a vice president of a bank, overseeing hundreds of employees in her 20s. But in reality, “I was dying,” she told them. A smoking habit and overeating resulted in a weight gain of nearly 400 pounds. God eventually broke into her life, helping her to see what true empowerment was.

”With the power of the (Holy) Spirit, God can do abundantly more than you could ever think,” she said. “Do you believe your life empowers? Do you believe that you have been filled with the Spirit to do something far more abundant than you could ever think?”

Madison Burkot was part of a group of eighth-graders attending from St. Monica School in Creve Coeur. Madison, who was born a micro-preemie, weighing 1 pound, six ounces at birth, has a unique perspective of the dignity of life from the moment of conception.

A first time March for Life participant, Madison said, this “is our time to show others that you can make a difference — it doesn’t matter how big or small you are. I am looking forward to seeing people (at the march) supporting each other and coming together.”

Bringing the message home

Cindy Haehnel
Cindy Haehnel has been to the March for Life plenty of times with her sons who are now adults, but this is the first time in her capacity as the new director of the archdiocesan Office of Respect Life, Family and Social Responsibility.

“How exciting is it to have all these young people who are witnessing for life, who weren’t even born when Roe vs. Wade was decided?” she said. “They don’t take this lightly. They really do want to change things to build a culture of life.”

Haehnel said the Respect Life Apostolate is promoting the monthly Helpers of God’s Precious Infants Mass and Rosary procession to Planned Parenthood as an option to “help them carry this enthusiasm when they return home.” The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity at Our Lady of Guadalupe Convent, located across the street from Planned Parenthood, also are expanding availability to accommodate school groups that would like to come for Mass or eucharistic adoration and prayer outside of the abortion facility, she said.

With the news last October that Planned Parenthood opened a new facility in Fairview Heights, Ill., Haehnel said the office is strategizing to expand its post-abortion services. Project Rachel and Project Joseph and the Catholic Renewal Center both offer spiritual healing for those who have experienced an abortion. This November, the office is hosting its first Rachel’s Vineyard retreat for men and women who have been involved with an abortion. The weekend retreat offers participants a way to “express, release and reconcile painful post-abortive emotions to begin the process of restoration, renewal and healing,” according to Rachel Vineyard’s website. Follow-up sessions also are offered.

Even with the new facility in Fairview Heights, abortions continue Planned Parenthood in St. Louis. Last year, the Missouri legislature passed a sweeping measure (HB 126, also known as the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act”) that includes numerous pro-life provisions protecting the lives of the unborn and the health and safety of mothers. Several provisions of the law currently are being challenged in the courts. Additionally, the clinic was granted a preliminary injunction, allowing it to continue to perform abortions as the fate of its abortion facility license is still being decided by a state commission, no earlier than February.

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