Despite the warning of a blizzard bearing down on Washington, D.C., thousands of pro-life young people gathered for the annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington, on Jan. 22 at the Verizon Center.

“I started coming in high school. It’s so wonderful seeing the energy and passion in young people fighting for life, spreading God’s love and selflessly promoting truly one of the most important causes in the world,” said Natalie Dagher, a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, adding that she was overwhelmed at the impressive turnout in spite of the dire weather forecast.  “They are even willing to sacrifice a little bit of safety to be here today.”

Held prior to the 43rd annual March for Life, the event regularly draws defenders of life from all regions of the Archdiocese of Washington and the United States. However, with predictions of more than two feet of snow arriving during the evening hours and throughout the next day, local Catholic schools were closed Friday, thus canceling most school-sponsored trips. Yet, nearly 7,000 mostly young pro-lifers still arrived in large or small groups, filling the sports arena’s entire lower level and main floor.

Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the main celebrant of the Mass, said he was particularly moved to see such enthusiastic crowds defy the looming winter storm to attend the Rally and Mass for Life, an example of evangelizing the Gospel that Pope Francis has consistently asked of Catholics.

The cardinal told the Catholic Standard, the main message of the day is, “In season and out of season, the Gospel of Life is proclaimed. These young people braving a storm want to be here, and they are here to proclaim the Gospel of Life. God is good. Life is good, and we are disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, several U.S. bishops, and dozens of archdiocesan priests and deacons joined Cardinal Wuerl in concelebrating the Mass.

In thanking the attendees for “speaking out for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Archbishop Vigano said they are making a “solid contribution to the renewal of American society.”

He also read a letter from Pope Francis, assuring participants of the pontiff’s closeness in prayer and recalling his September papal address to Congress in which he urged the protection and defense of human life at every stage of development.

In the homily, Father Chris Seith, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mercy, Potomac, said today’s culture as a result of the legalization of abortion is one based on the principle that one’s worth is determined by the standards society gives human life. 

“It’s a culture which Pope Francis has called a ‘throwaway’ culture.  We’ve diminished the value of our existence to very base standards.  If the elderly have no more to contribute to society or to their families, they’re hidden away in institutions or encouraged to end their lives,” he said. “...Or the unborn child who is an inconvenience to the parents – all of this because we have set the standards of what justifies human existence. (By) legalizing abortion, we have diminished the value of our lives.”

Father Seith said the Year of Mercy should “give a new vision of our dignity (and) awaken us to the reality that in Christ nothing can separate us from the love of God!  Following Christ gives us a new, much richer vision of ourselves.”

Although the world because of abortion is darkened by shadows, he encouraged the young people to always look to Jesus Christ.  “Look to Him who enlightens the darkness of this day and reveals the infinite worth of every human life,” he said.

“And as you receive that light into yourselves in the Eucharist, bring Him everywhere you go,” Father Seith said. “Let the star that once descended in Mary’s womb descend once more into your heart so that you may enlighten the world with the love of God.”

During the youth rally, Steve Angrisano, a musician and youth leader, and the PJ Anderson Band, led the energetic gathering in song, prayer and pro-life testimonials.

Many in the arena wore brightly-colored hats, scarves and T-shirts, with pro-life messages, such as “Adoption is the Loving Option.” Participants were encouraged to “Be a Witness” and tweet about attending the #Mass4Life. During the rally, youth and young adults there held up signs reading #iStand4Life, and many used their phones and mobile devices to join that social media campaign. 

The jubilant crowd was made up mostly of high-school and college-age students, including women religious, seminarians and Catholic youth and young adult leaders from near and far – including the Archdiocese of Washington and many dioceses stretching from Portland, Oregon, to St. Petersburg, Florida.

“What a great witness to life that despite the weather, these people persevered to the end,” said Sister Mary Sarah of the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, who accompanied a group of students from Aquinas College in Nashville.

Undaunted by the approaching blizzard, Jennifer Kennedy traveled from Mount Vernon, Ohio, with her husband and eight children to participate in her first March for Life.

“I chose life 20 years ago,” she said, explaining how she gave a daughter up for adoption before she met her husband. “God had a plan for me. Adoption was not easy, but I don’t have the torment (of abortion)...It might not be the most convenient, but it’s worth it. “ 

Daisy Ramos, 18, a member of St. Bernardine of Siena Parish, Suitland, attending her fourth March for Life, said, “Bad weather would not stop me. Being here brings me all happiness and peace. When I come (to the March for Life), I know who I am.”

Mary Cardoza, a youth group leader from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Takoma Park, led a group of 30 students from the parish to the rally and Mass for Life. “It’s always a challenge, but we have faith in the Lord and His beautiful plan for us. We try to instill that in the kids,” she said. “Some had exams or work, but they all are very excited to be here and bring their energy and enthusiasm.”

“We are all here for one reason – to stop abortion. All lives matter. That baby could have been a doctor or cured cancer or that girl could have been the best writer or artist,” said Oscar Callejas, 18, a parishioner of Our Lady of Sorrows. “Everyone deserves an opportunity to live and have a chance. We are the voice of the voiceless.”

When 18-year-old Ana Perez’s mother was pregnant with her at age 43, doctors tried to convince her mom to have an abortion. “If not for her faith, I wouldn’t be here,” said Perez, also a parishioner of Our Lady of Sorrows. “This is why I come – to stand up for people who have gone through the same thing as my mom.”

Several young people with disabilities, accompanied by family members, brought the gifts up during the Offertory procession.

Before the final blessing, Cardinal Wuerl thanked all those who participated in and planned the liturgy and urged the attendees to get home safely. “It’s going to be a bad day weather-wise, but up until now, it’s been a great day!” he said.