Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020

Almost 20 years ago, a small group of Jesuit High School students, accompanied by a few faculty members and a couple of Jesuit priests, traveled from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life. They traveled by plane, slept on a gym floor, experienced winter weather and stood for the right to human life with thousands of others.
I was an awkward, 14-year-old freshman, still striving to figure out who I was and who I was called to be. I participated in the first March for Life pilgrimage sponsored by my high school campus ministry. I still have memories of that first pilgrimage — an experience that helped shape who I am and what I now do in ministry.
Some of the logistics would change year to year, but while some details changed, the big picture remained: we traveled on a pilgrimage to stand for human dignity, to prayerfully and peacefully protest the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the United States, and to draw attention to all issues that threaten human life. Those purposes remain for Jesuit High School, which still brings a group to the March for Life today. One of the Jesuits who spearheaded that first pilgrimage now brings students from Jesuit High School in Tampa to the March for Life. That purpose inspired the Archdiocese of New Orleans to bring youth from other schools and parishes to the March for Life, and I was fortunate to participate in their pilgrimages as a group leader several times.
There is a similar story in our diocese. Many years ago, a small group of McGill-Toolen Catholic High School students, accompanied by faculty and clergy, traveled from Mobile to Washington for the annual March for Life. That trip has continued and inspired other pilgrimages organized by Montgomery Catholic High School, St. Michael Catholic High School and the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
While we mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for our March for Life pilgrimage, this continues to frame our preparations: how can young people most effectively, fruitfully, and successfully build a culture of life on the national and local level? How can we stand for human dignity in Washington and in southern Alabama? Whether we are able to march in Washington or not, I believe these questions deserve reflection and action.
First, our young people can recognize that the first life to respect is their own. How can a young person be “pro” their own lives? Society, technology and the rise of anxiety and depression make this a more challenging proposition, but not an insurmountable one. Young people can be so hard on themselves, not seeing that they are made in the image of God; when they tear themselves down with negative thoughts, or even self-harm, it damages the culture of life.
Encouragement from their parents and trusteed adults to participate in the life of faith and in the Church is a good start. We are called to affirm our young people in turning away from their sin and turning towards Christ. Conversion is a way to be “pro” your own life.
Second, young people can recognize that there are many political and social issues that can be considered life issues. Yes, we march against abortion, but we also march FOR all life. Other life issues include euthanasia, medically assisted suicide,and capital punishment.
However, there are also issues that may not seem to be life issues, but when we investigate further, they are life issues. Immigration is a life issue. Just wages and fair trade are life issues. Health care is a life issue. Incarceration is a life issue. Racism and discrimination are life issues. Disabilities, both mental and physical, are life issues.
Young people can be given the tools to research, to study, and to discern their positions on these other life issues. Building a culture of life includes these and many others across the political spectrum. We are Catholic — we stand for all life at all stages.
Most importantly, young people can recognize that there is power in the name of Jesus Christ and in prayer. Our God is a God of life!
Mary and Joseph experienced an unexpected pregnancy. In His public ministry, Jesus upheld the dignity of those on the margins of society. Jesus was put to death and crucified, the death penalty of first century Judea.
Prayer and a sacramental life build up the culture of life. Our individual prayer helps us to be “pro” of our own lives, but our communal prayer can be that all human life will be respected because all human life is sacred.
Building a culture of life cannot be accomplished in a day, but I hope that there are some strategies to implement with our young people and their families. I did not know as a 14-year-old that I would be part of a legacy in building the culture of life, nor did I expect to still be marching as a pilgrimage leader of other young people. Building a culture of life takes one action at a time. Let us march together, one step at a time.
— Adam Ganucheau is the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile. He may be emailed at aganucheau@mobarch.org
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By Editor

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