February 2, 2024

Teens at Indiana March for Life youth rally reminded that ‘God is pro-your-life’

Sister of Life Mary Immaculee gives a reflection to some 1,500 teens from across the state on Jan. 22 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during a pro-life youth rally that was part of the Indiana March for Life events. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Sister of Life Mary Immaculee gives a reflection to some 1,500 teens from across the state on Jan. 22 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during a pro-life youth rally that was part of the Indiana March for Life events. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Sister of Life Ann Immaculee, dressed in her religious community’s distinctive blue and white habit, looked out on the crowd of some 1,500 teenagers from across the state gathered on Jan. 22 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.

They had come to the city, some of them departing from their homes long before sunrise, to take part in a youth rally before the Indiana March for Life on the 51st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion across the country.

(Related story: Sisters of Life tell record Indiana March for Life crowd ‘you are a hope to this nation’)

Sister Ann Immaculee, with a smile on her face, quietly told them that “to be pro-life starts in our own hearts.

“God is pro-your-life,” she said. “And he wants you to know that you are a gift to be protected and treasured.”

Two other members of the Sisters of Life gave reflections during the rally, as well as Jill Clark, who serves on the board of directors of a home in Carmel, Ind., for single pregnant homeless women; and Eric Dessauers, a pro-life activist and student at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

Catholic singer and songwriter Sarah Kroger provided music for the event.

Several priests were on hand to share God’s mercy with rally attendees in the sacrament of penance.

‘To be pro-life starts in our own hearts’

Sister Ann Immaculee began the rally by talking about “two fundamental truths”: “God wants you to exist, and there is mercy waiting for you.”

“Before God created anything—the Earth, the stars, the oceans, the trees, the platypus—God created you, and he thought of you,” Sister Ann Immaculee said. “From all eternity before anything was, the Father dreamt of you, everything about you: your personality, your heart, the way you would love, the way you would laugh, your weaknesses, and he said, ‘I want you, I choose you.’

“Do we know that God desires us to exist? Do you know this?”

Sharing with the students a message about mercy, Sister Ann Immaculee said that “to be pro-life is to be full of hope. There is nothing in your life, nothing in anyone’s life that is too big for God’s mercy to heal and to transform.”

Sister of Life Catherine Joy Marie followed, reflecting on how people “are made for communion.”

To illustrate the power of communion among people, Sister Catherine shared a story about a woman helped by her community’s pro-life ministry. The pregnant woman had seen another woman praying the rosary by an abortion center as she entered it for the procedure.

Three years later, finding herself pregnant again, the woman, knowing the hardship her first abortion had caused in her life, remembered the praying woman when wondering where she could find help.

“She approached the woman and said, ‘You don’t know me, but three years ago I saw you here, and I went in, and I had the abortion. I’m pregnant again. Will you help me?’ ” said Sister Catherine as she narrated the story. “That’s the power of one person standing for another in need. That woman had been faithfully praying outside the clinic for years, and most of the time didn’t think her presence really made a difference, but she still showed up.

“Her presence had touched this woman so much that three years later she still remembered,” she continued, “and knew that this was someone who’d be willing to stand with her and support her in giving life to her child.

“You have a great gift to give to your family, your friends, your neighbors, your classmates, to women who are pregnant and in need—the gift of you, your presence. With Christ, you have the capacity to love and listen someone back into life.”

Sister of Life Mary Veritas shared with the young listeners seven “practicals” for them to make the way they live each day more pro-life: pray; have a positive self-image based on God’s love; affirm the being of other people; show forgiveness and mercy; enter into dialogue with others, especially on difficult topics like abortion; find ways to celebrate; and give of yourself.

“Ask God how he wants you to make a gift of yourself for the cause of human life,” Sister Mary Veritas said. “Ask him how he’s calling you specifically in your particular unique mission to love the people in your life, to proclaim the goodness of every human life.”

‘It’s really amazing to see the solidarity’

Eric Dessauers felt a call to share the Gospel of life first as a student at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis and later at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville, where he is currently a senior. At both schools, he’s led pro-life student groups.

He shared how he also has taken part in peaceful pro-life protests and in defending the dignity of life in social media—often receiving in both instances sharp criticism, sometimes tied to his life as a person with dwarfism.

Despite the hurtful insults hurled at him in a protest or in comments on his pro-life Instagram posts, Eric has remained firm in his pro-life principles, convinced “that God was with me through this, that God was proud of me for fighting for what I believed in, that God saw my worth … .”

Eric later posed a challenge to his listeners.

“Start a pro-life club at your school if there’s not one already,” he said. “It may start off slowly. But trust that people will start to join once they realize that they are not the only ones in school who want to be more vocal about the pro-life movement.

“ … Even something as simple as leading a rosary for life with a couple of friends during the week can be extremely powerful. The power of prayer to our everlasting Father is endless.”

After Eric’s reflection, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in northern Indiana took the stage to offer a prayer to conclude the rally.

But before doing so, he recalled how he was a sophomore at a Catholic high school when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion across the country in its Roe v. Wade ruling issued on Jan. 22, 1973—a day that is stuck in his memory.

He spoke in gratitude for the high court’s 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that returned abortion regulation to the states. And he noted his joy that Indiana has passed strong pro-life legislation.

But Bishop Rhoades said the struggle is far from over.

“What we need to change is the pro-death culture,” he said. “Even though [abortion regulations] have been returned to the states, there is a culture that is growing that is against life. So, we need you, the young generation, to stand up for life as you are doing today.

“As a bishop, you give me so much hope, and I’m very proud of you.”

Marci Hackert, director of youth and family ministries at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, enjoyed listening to the speakers at the rally with the 40 youths from her faith community who came to it.

Hackert, 36, also attended the event with her 1-month-old daughter Helen.

“It’s good to be able to share my own experience and have the baby around the youth,” said Hackert, a mother of six children. “It’s good for them to see her and to love on her. It’s so poetic to have an infant here.”

She also appreciated having the youths of her parish be around so many other pro-life teens.

“It’s beautiful to have them see other people practicing their faith,” Hackert said. “They don’t necessarily see every day such a large number of people being pro-life, loving God and having that energy.”

This year’s Indiana March for Life was the third attended by Ellie Ryan, a senior at the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg.

She was amazed to see the growth in the event.

“It’s really awesome to see all these kids here,” said Ellie, a member of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Aurora. “It’s inspiring. It makes me feel like maybe that there are a lot more people of similar mind. It’s really amazing to see the solidarity that we all have together.” †

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