Jan.26- Feb. 1, 2006
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Diocesan Youth’s to Attend March for Life Convention in Washington, D.C.
John Frederick, a member of the youth group at St. James Church in Johnson City was counting the days until Jan. 22. On that night he traveled with other high school students from the diocese to Washington, D.C. to participate in the 33rd annual March for Life Rally and Convention. This year’s theme is “Roe v. Wade Violates the American Way.”
“I’ve attended the March for Life several times before this,” commented John. “I like supporting the right-to-life cause. I want to go so that I can explain the importance of right-to-life to my peers. Just last week a girl at school came up to me to talk about her pregnancy. I felt I could talk more easily with her about abortion because of my past attendance at the marches.”
John has a personal interest in the right-to-life cause. His two older brothers are adopted. “It wouldn’t be fun without them in my life,” remarked John. “I look up to them and they help me a lot.”
Father Joseph O’Connor, parochial vicar at St. James Church in Johnson City, planned to accompany John and two other high school students from the parish. “It’s very important to give our young people exposure to the national effort,” said Father O’Connor. “They’ll be participating with 15,000 other high school students.” The convention ended on January 23, and included a rally at noon at Seventh Street and a march along Constitution Avenue to the Capitol and Supreme Court. President George Bush had been invited to speak at the rally. Participants at the convention heard about the pain and suffering of post-abortion men and women, plus some of the effects felt by the U.S.
Bob Walters, diocesan director of youth ministry, arranged for a bus to take those attending from the Syracuse Diocese to Washington, D.C. for the convention. Walters expected that close to 60 people from the diocese would attend the convention. “The bus was filled to capacity and we also arranged for two minivans which were filled with additional people to follow the bus,” explained Walters. Various youth ministers from throughout the diocese, chaperones, and Mary Margaret Van Damme, director of the diocesan Deaf Community Office attended with a group of teens. In addition to Father Joseph O’Connor, Father Richard Prior, pastor of Holy Family Church in Syracuse, also planned to accompany the youth on the trip. This year marks the first time that a bus had been chartered to take the youth to the conference. “I arranged bus transportation because traveling on the bus provides a formative time for the teens to build relationships and to network with each other,” explained Walters.
The idea for the trip came when Bishop Moynihan, after being asked to concelebrate the Pro-Life Vigil Mass at the convention, contacted Walters. “The bishop asked me to put something together,” said Walters. “I said I would. The bishop was very excited about it and it was close to his heart.” Walters thought the trip to Washington, D.C., would bring the different groups of youths throughout the diocese together for a common cause. “It’s very inspiring for them to look around and see thousands and thousands of young people from all over the country at the convention,” said Walters. “That alone was worth making the trip.”
Kristin McDermott, youth minister at St. Mary’s Church in Minoa and St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bridgeport, thought the convention would be a positive experience and was looking forward to it. “I’m definitely excited,” said McDermott. “I’ve been twice, and every time I come away with a reason and a purpose — the dignity of life and the meaning of discipleship. Jesus told us to love one another. The Roe vs. Wade mentality has desensitized people. I hope the youth will be excited and bring back what they learn to share with others.”
Shannon Gates is a member of the youth group that attended the convention with McDermott. “When I first heard about the trip, I thought it would be fun to go,” said Shannon. “I’ve never been to the convention and I expected to meet some new people.”
Walters believed the experience in Washington would be invaluable for the teens. “Abortion is one of the greatest tragedies of our time,” remarked Walters. “It affects thousands and thousands of families and innocent children. It’s an issue that we can’t ignore. The trip to Washington was a chance for the teens to go out and see it first-hand. They realized that they have to be the voice for the individuals that can’t speak. When they saw it, they understood why it is important.”