By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published February 6, 2014
ATLANTA—Eighth-grade students from the Dioceses of Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn., took a road trip to join their peers from St. Catherine of Siena School, Kennesaw, on Jan. 22 for Stand for Life in Atlanta.
St. Catherine of Siena, a Dominican-led archdiocesan school, participates every year in the Mass for the Unborn and other public events on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion.
This year the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville also decided to bring students from St. Joseph’s in Madison, Tenn., The Overbrook School in Nashville, and St. Mary’s School in Oak Ridge.
“All three schools left early in the morning and joined us in Atlanta and then returned home the same day,” said Sister Mary Patrick, principal of St. Catherine of Siena.
The Tennessee groups stopped in Kennesaw before heading to the Cathedral of Christ the King for the Mass and Stand for Life along Peachtree Road in Buckhead. The public witness is a new initiative of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
“Since this is the first time we have done this, we were going into the event with great flexibility,” said Sister Mary Patrick. “Next year we hope to get more of our schools to join us and have double the number of eighth-graders ‘Standing for Life.’”
Sister Mary Patrick said the students enthusiastically participated and also benefited from being a part of the public demonstration following Mass.
“They proudly held their signs and were joyful witnesses for life,” said the sister.
The students waved, cheered, and kept track of the number of drivers who honked or waved back in support.
“I think the eighth-graders also got to experience a certain solidarity in being with other people their age who were witnessing to life,” she added. “They saw that this is bigger than what the sisters teach them in their religion classes at their individual schools. Although the students know that the Church is big, they do not typically experience being part of it with so many others outside of their school and parish experiences.”
While all generations were well represented at the Mass for the Unborn at the Cathedral, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory gave special words of encouragement to the youth in attendance.
In the reading for the Mass from 1 Samuel, young David puts aside the armor and shield offered by Saul to defeat the giant Goliath with just a slingshot and stones.
“You young people are the Davids of our generation confronting the Goliath of death that urges us to waste the most precious gift of our human dignity,” said Archbishop Gregory.
The archbishop acknowledged that those who fight for life might feel the deck is stacked against them.
“However, the Lord will work with you, accompany you, and bring victory through you,” he said.
Catholic school students from across the archdiocese, families, professionals, and parish groups filled the pews and overflowed into the cathedral’s Kenny Hall for prayers and Mass.
Mary Boyert, director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Ministry, estimated that 1,000 people participated in the annual Mass and rosary for life and that more than 800 people took part afterward in Stand for Life.
“Having the Stand for Life on Peachtree Road gave us a lot of visibility,” said Boyert. “People on a two-mile stretch of road from the Cathedral to Lenox Square definitely got the message.”
The events marked the 1973 Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion in the United States and remembered the lives lost. According to National Right to Life, more than 56 million babies have been aborted in the United States in the 41 years of legalized abortion.
Archbishop Gregory noted in his homily that people have “gone green” in becoming more aware of the preciousness of earth and its resources.
“All of these concerns are important and wonderful, but what about the human race itself? We who inhabit this shared planet and are entrusted with its care are also a part of nature—an indispensable part of God’s creation,” said Archbishop Gregory.
The archbishop added that this more heightened awareness of preserving nature has strangely not resulted in stopping the destruction of human life at its beginning, its end, or at vulnerable moments in between.
“Human life, as Pope Francis has said, is too often treated as a mere throwaway commodity,” said the archbishop.
Catholics throughout the archdiocese were also encouraged to join others in performing works of penance for the acts of abortion, including prayer, works of mercy, service of neighbors, voluntary self-denial, and sacrifices.
More than 20 priests concelebrated the Mass, which also included a commissioning of parish Respect Life ministry leaders.
“It was beautiful,” said Leslie Willis, who brought her daughter, Cami, and friend, Maddie Cohen, both 10, to the Mass.
The girls are students at St. John Bosco Academy in Suwanee and parishioners at Mary Our Queen in Norcross and All Saints in Dunwoody.
“I love that we’re standing up for life,” said Cami Willis.
Leslie Willis’ 17-year-old son was united in their pro-life efforts Jan. 22, having hitched a ride with a group of friends going to Washington, D.C., for the national March for Life. Hundreds of Atlanta-area Catholics traveled to the nation’s capital for the march.
Willis said she believes it’s important to stand for “whatever you feel strongly about” and to make your children aware of the dignity of life early.
“Be aware of it as you grow up,” said Willis.
The trio also bundled up to participate in Stand for Life, holding signs in front of the Cathedral after Mass.
The first group of the Federation of North American Explorers in the archdiocese also attended the rosary and Mass. The boys, ages 7 to 14, and their leaders were preparing to take their pre-assigned corner along Peachtree Road.
The Explorers is a scouting program sanctioned by the Holy See. The group is based at St. Monica Church in Duluth and is led by Dan Minter, Brian Lane and Joe Lenze.
“Our purpose is to bring our young men closer to God,” said Lenze.
The boys, dressed in Explorer uniforms, stayed after Mass to kneel in prayer for the unborn before heading outside.
Participants in the 17-block demonstration held placards that read “Stand for Life, Atlanta” and “Jesus Heals and Forgives” while some included phone numbers for crisis pregnancy centers.
Parishioners from Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Norcross and St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek walked from the Cathedral to take up their assigned positions with both homemade and pre-printed signs.
“We’re pulling from several different areas,” said Santa Ho, who brought her 5-year-old niece, Felicita Tran, along.
Despite the chilly temperatures, the participants were enthusiastic about working to implore others that life is sacred.
Jean Larson of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Woodstock joined a group from her former parish, Holy Trinity in Peachtree City. She has been participating in the Jan. 22 events for about eight years.
One of Larson’s sisters has seven adopted children and the other has two adopted children. She believes strongly in the promotion of adoption to women considering an abortion.
“There are so many families out there who can’t conceive,” she emphasized.
The Tennessee and St. Catherine’s students ended their day by passing out prayer cards to evangelize others about the dignity of human life.
The St. Joseph’s students made a YouTube video about their Georgia trip. They had given up cell phones during the trip as a sacrifice and instead spent time getting to know their classmates better.
On the video, one eighth-grade girl said the evangelization portion of the day was more difficult than she thought it would be.
“You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone,” she said.
Other Catholic schools bringing groups to the day’s events included Pinecrest Academy, Cumming, St. Joseph, Marietta, and St. Jude the Apostle, Atlanta. The eighth-grade class of Christ the King School served as ushers and student ambassadors.
Boyert thanked everyone for the “time, effort and sacrifice” in making the Stand for Life events part of their day and for “keeping the intention” in their hearts.
“We need these times of prayer and action, to give us strength to continue in our efforts to bring about a culture which values every human life, from natural conception until natural death,” she said.
For more information on the Respect Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, visit www.archatl.com/ministries/respectlife.