by Bob walters
Sun contributing writer

Editor’s note: Walters is the diocesan director of the Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministry.

Jan. 22 will mark the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion — Roe vs. Wade. Since that day over 40 million children have lost their lives at the “choice” of others. When I was in college I understood that the pro-life cause was important and that abortion was wrong, however, I was apathetic about the whole thing. “This stuff just doesn’t concern me enough to get involved,” I thought.

Things changed dramatically for me, however, when a classmate invited me to go to Washington DC and join him, along with hundreds of thousands of others in the annual “March for Life”. It was my first trip to Washington and it completely changed my life. That was 15 years ago.

This year will be the fifth year in a row that the Diocesan Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministry will be taking over 100 youth and their chaperones to proclaim the gospel of life in our nation’s capitol. The youth and adults who will attend this three-day pilgrimage will first take part in the National Prayer Vigil and Mass on the evening before the march. With so many seminarians, deacons, priests and bishops participating, it takes over 30 minutes just for the entrance procession. They will sit in uncomfortable crowded spaces on the floor, any place they can find, to pray for the end of abortion along with thousands of others from across the country. The largest group among this crowd will be youth. Last year at the vigil a teenage girl from our diocese said the experience was unlike anything she had ever taken part of before in her life – she felt the presence of the Holy Spirit touch her heart – and she began to pray deeply. I have witnessed this happen to countless youth each year.

Waking up at 5 a.m., after very little sleep, those same teens will attend the largest gathering of Catholic youth in the country at the Verizon Sports Arena. There are over 20,000 in attendance and thousands more in overflow spaces across the city for the “Rally for Life.” This rally was initially put together because the prayer vigil held the night before could not contain them. The largest Catholic church in the country is incapable of containing the enormous crowds of youth that descend upon Washington to defend the right to life each year. A right that is the right that all other rights are built upon. At the close of the rally they will be given a police escort through the streets of our nation’s capitol to the main body of marchers, over 300,000 of them will be gathering to continue their march for life to the steps of the Supreme Court. On the march they will pray with others who have also traveled across the country in busses and sacrificed their time to be with them on the cold streets of D.C. on behalf of the unborn.

These teens have never known a world without legalized abortion. They are fully aware that the choice of their parents allowed for their very existence to continue. They are also aware that they have siblings and peers that were not “chosen” to live out their lives. Some of the female teens who have experienced first hand the sorrow of abortion, are living with, what is for them, the haunting reality that life does begin at conception. Teens know the truth and they know when they have been lied to. Here they will find healing and hope. They will also find purpose in overcoming the greatest social justice issue of our time.

People have asked me if anything may be different this year since we currently have the most pro-abortion administration in our nation’s history. Things are very different this year. People have e-mailed me to say, “I have sat on the sidelines far too long – sign me up.” Small groups that first attended the march on the diocesan pilgrimage are now filling entire busses on their own! Yes things are very different – “change” is happening.

Over the past 15 years of participating in the “March for Life,” it is easy to see that the number of youth participating gets larger each year – so much so that the crowd is primarily composed of youth and young adults. Some of the youth will be participating for the first time this year. Like myself 15 years ago, they will witness the upbeat hope and sheer magnitude of the crowd with its prayerful force for change. Like myself, they will know that the unborn do have a voice. Lives will be changed.

After taking hundreds of youth on this pilgrimage, I am convinced that it is one of the most important things the Office of Youth Ministry can offer them. Teens experience the faith like never before, and they experience it with hundreds of thousands of their peers alongside of them. Talk about positive peer pressure! They understand the need to have an ownership of their faith, an ownership that empowers them to stand for the rights of others, especially the unborn, and to remove the injustices of this world. They come home with a committed faith that will effect this change. In a few years these same pro-life youth will be voting Catholic citizens.

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