The teens of Generation Life were electrified on the eve of the 46th annual March for Life, as their pilgrimage of the same name kicked off Jan. 17 in Washington, D.C. They heard the call to be joyful witnesses and a light in the darkness — in the words of St. John Paul II — in proclaiming the Gospel of Life.
The 2,400 eighth graders and high school teens on this year’s trip makes it the largest contingent in the history of Generation Life, a pilgrimage offered by the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry and which commemorates the Jan. 22 Roe vs. Wade decision that effectively rendered abortion legal.
Generation Life began its first evening of programming with praise and worship music from To The Heights, as well as a few on-stage games, hosted by emcees Paul Masek of the REAP Team and Sister M. Karolyn Nunes, FSGM.
The heart of the evening began with a trip down memory lane, as the teens watched video footage from Pope John Paul II’s pastoral visit to St. Louis 20 years ago this month.
None of these teens were alive when the pope visited during his whirlwind 30-hour trip on Jan. 26-27, 1999, but as Masek noted: “his message had a huge impact on every single one of us who were there. And I believe that his message can resonate with you.”
At the youth rally at then-Kiel Center (now Enterprise Center) the Holy Father told young people to rely on prayer and to look toward the the truth that is Jesus. “Each of you has a special mission in life, and you are each called to be a disciple of Christ,” he said. ”In the days and weeks and years ahead, for as long as you remember this evening, remember that the pope came to the United States, to the city of St. Louis, to call the young people of America to Christ, to invite you to follow Him. He came to challenge you to be the light of the world!”
Later in the evening, Generation Life teens heard from Liz Miller, a youth minister at St. Justin Martyr in Sunset Hills. Miller was 17 when she attended the youth rally at the Kiel Center, and she said that when the pope spoke, “you could hear a pin drop.”
“God gifted you with abilities and gifts and talents that you can use to further this pro-life movement, to bring joy into this world,” Miller said. “To recognize those gifts, a person must pray and seek good wisdom from trustworthy people. ... God just wants more love in this world, and you are the vessel that is going to deliver it — you.”
The pope told the crowd that he believed in them and expected great things from them. “I’m a 17-year-old girl sitting there ... like the Church needs me? The pope’s calling me? I’m not too young? It was a powerful moment where I knew God was asking me to reap the fruits of the Spirit, one of which is generosity.”
Miller shared the story of her son, Ezekiel (Zeke), who was born at 27 weeks; and two other friends, one of whom had twins prematurely, and another friend who has a child with Down syndrome and a rare heart condition. Both friends chose life for their children, even though their doctors were pessimistic about the quality of life once born.
While these situations had positive outcomes, not every child with a dire prenatal diagnosis will make it, Miller acknowledged. But the main point is that no matter the circumstance, abortion — the forceful killing of a child in the womb — should not be the way to go.
“It’s infuriating to me that doctors think they can tell parents to kill their children,” Miller said. “We are pro-life, that’s why we’re here. That means we respect the honor and dignity of every human person from conception until natural death. This goes far beyond babies in the womb. This means we reach out to the poor. This means we reach out to immigrants. This means we reach out to anyone in need. It means we care for the elderly.”
“All of those stories I shared with you tonight did not come without struggle and hardship, but the fruit of all of that was joy,” she said. ”You my friends have the power to be joyful witnesses to our faith, to this pro-life movement. So that when you go out into the world, people will see that joy and want that happiness for themselves.”