By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published January 29, 2004
On the eve of the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, hundreds of teenagers gathered at the Cathedral of Christ the King with a mission.
As they attended Mass and listened to pro-life speakers, the teens took the opportunity to show that they could make a difference in the fight to end abortion, despite their age.
This was the second annual pro-life lock-in for high school students, and the crowd was double the size of last year.
“Rise Up for Life Georgia” began with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop John F. Donoghue at 8 p.m. on Jan. 21. The Mass was concelebrated by several archdiocesan priests, including Father Kevin Peek, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, who organized the event.
Before the Mass began, Father Peek welcomed all in attendance, especially the youth, and reminded them of the biblical story of David and Goliath.
“Hopefully soon youth will be gathering, remembering how we helped bring down the Goliath of abortion and all disrespect for human life,” he said.
In his homily the archbishop spoke of the vigil that Christ made the night before he died and compared it to the vigil the young people were making on the eve of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
“Tonight, we gather here in this garden of spiritual peace, this holy Cathedral of our Archdiocese, to keep our own vigil. For tomorrow marks a day of terrible crime,” he said. “Perhaps not as great a crime, as the sum of all sin which brought judgment and death on our Lord—but a crime beyond our comprehension altogether: the loss, over the last 32 years, of millions of children, yet unborn, put to death in the womb of their own mothers.”
“We keep vigil, to remember these children, and to pray for their souls,” he continued. “For though we do not know the will of God for those who die without Baptism, we can consider, that because they died innocently, His mercy will have flowed out greatly upon their souls.”
But the vigil cannot end until a victory for the unborn is won, he said.
“Tomorrow, as our vigil ends, we will gather again in the mother church of this Archdiocese, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and we will gather again upon the monumental grounds of our state Capitol—and the sun will rise on the good and the bad, and if it rains, it will be upon the heads of the just and the unjust, and our purpose will be to show, in public, and before the face of this nation, that we wish our government—our lawmakers and our courts—to change the course of human events in this country, and to restore the rights of the unborn, so that not one infant will ever again, in this state or any other, go down to death, because an unfeeling or unthinking mother and father have seen fit to turn their child over to the killing hands of a dispassionate doctor,” Archbishop Donoghue said. “We will show our strength, our will, our determination, as we rise up for life in this year of our Lord, 2004.”
Following the Mass, the young people gathered in the Hyland Center for an evening of prayer and education. Christopher Vigil led the teens in praise and worship music, and Father Peek explained the reason the event began.
“I couldn’t take my youth up to D.C. last year (for the national March for Life), but I heard God’s voice say, ‘You’ve been to D.C. for 15 years, not much has changed there.’ We’ve gotta bring it home,” he said. “This is twice the size of what we had last year. And I’m not even going to look ahead toward next year because this year it’s on, it’s here, it’s happening. People might say that we can’t turn around 31 years of legislation in 12 months, but you never know.”
Martin Smith, a staff member for U.S. Rep. Mac Collins (R-District 8), encouraged the teens to stay involved in politics and to fight for what they believe.
“It’s wonderful that you all are here. Father Peek was right. You have to send a message,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to stay involved. Your participation is what they need. They represent you—your ideas.”
Former state senator Joe Burton also spoke to the teens.
His daughter was born mentally disabled, and doctors told him and his wife to send her away to an institution.
“They said, ‘She’ll never be the same as other children,’” he said. “God gives you a lot of challenges, but he gives you ways to face them.”
As a senator, the Georgia Tech graduate and World War II and Korean War veteran began a program in Georgia in which all teachers must take a course to learn to teach children with learning disabilities.
But the senator’s advocacy for children continued with his consistent pro-life and pro-family voting record. He was one of the first to introduce pro-life legislation on the floor of the House.
“Boy did I raise a ruckus,” Burton said. “We’ve had a long, hard fight, and we still have a long way to go.”
Next to address the teens was Ricardo Davis, Georgia state chairman of the Constitution Party, which is dedicated to restoring government to its proper constitutional role and restraining it to its constitutional limits.
Davis applauded the teens’ commitment to life and said that the problem with morality in the United States is “at its root a spiritual problem.”
“We have forgotten God and have chosen to go our own way,” he said.
But he said teens should deal with their lives at home and then “do what we need to do to get in the great adventure.”
“You need to take inventory of what God has blessed you with,” he said. “You may think it’s just older guys and gals who are good for the fight, but I beg to differ. Every one of you can do something. You can serve.”
With a laid-back, friendly attitude, Davis roused the teens and encouraged them to become advocates for the unborn.
“Your adventure awaits,” he told them. “There are so many ways to serve. Get in there.”
In a brief hiatus from speakers, teens and their leaders grabbed some pizza and sodas before returning to the final, and perhaps most powerful, speaker.
A small woman with a soft voice and gentle spirit, Amy Seltzer, coordinator of religious education at St. George Church in Newnan, courageously shared her own story with the teens.
The room was silent as Seltzer spoke candidly about her own abortion as a 16-year-old. With heart-wrenching details, Seltzer shared the pain of her experience and the beauty of God’s grace that she found through the sacrament of reconciliation years later.
Many teens were especially moved by Seltzer’s talk.
Anthony Mercer, a freshman from St. Pius X Church in Conyers, said that it was Seltzer’s talk that touched him the most and inspired him to try to make a difference.
“I can talk to others at school and tell them that abortion is not the way to go,” he said.
Teens spent the night at the church and awoke the following morning to Mass celebrated by Father Jack Durkin, pastor of Christ Our Hope Church, Lithonia.
Many groups then went to the Capitol to speak to their legislators about abortion.
Inspired by the evening’s events and talks, many of the teens feel further compelled to share with others their views on abortion.
Darius Robinson, a sophomore from Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, said it was important for him to come to the lock-in as an African-American teen who wants to express his pro-life views, particularly to other African-American teens.
“I want to see an end to abortion,” he said, adding that he’s not shy about sharing his views with his friends. “I tell them. I’m not afraid. I tell them not to have an abortion.”
Stephanie Mangan, a sophomore from St. Brigid’s Church in Alpharetta, believes that despite her age, she can make a difference.
“If I try and teach others about my experiences here today, then maybe they will learn as well,” she said.
For Mangan, attending the lock-in was personal.
“I wanted to stand up for the women,” she said. “I have a good friend who had an abortion. I came for her.”