ST. FRANCIS — Despite the cold and the snow, about 650 people from all over Wisconsin – the majority of them high school students – came to the Cousins Center for the first Ignite! Youth Rally for Life, Friday, Jan. 20.
Sponsored by the archdiocesan Nazareth Project and Respect for Life ministry, the rally was a send-off for those who were on their way to protest abortion at the March for Life in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a blessing and a send-off for everyone,” said Lydia LoCoco, diector of the Nazareth Project. “The idea is the whole state comes together.”
The rally encouraged a sense of fellowship and common purpose in those preparing for the journey to Washington. The name of the rally, said LoCoco, comes from Luke 12:49: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
“We felt the Spirit the minute we walked in the door,” said Joan Moroder, a chaperone with the contingent from Dominican High School, Whitefish Bay. “This event is true to its word – ignite.”
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki celebrated Mass for the gathering and Bishop Donald J. Hying led eucharistic adoration. Afterward, attendees took part in a lasagna dinner and a rally headlined by Minnesota Christian music group Sonar and Vicki Thorn, executive director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing.
The energy was high in the auditorium during the performance by Sonar. The crowd was on its feet with hands in the air, singing along to songs of praise that included “Hold Us Together” and “You Are My Joy.”
Brian Magliocco, youth minister at St. Mary Visitation Parish, Elm Grove, addressed the gathering.
“It’s a tragic day that we have to have an event like this,” he said. “But we can bring about a culture of life – in our schools, parishes and families.”
He thanked the crowd for making it out despite the weather.
“God is bigger than the storm,” he told them.
After his remarks, a video by Catholics4Life was shown, detailing the rapid week-by-week development of a child in the womb.
Caroline Metzinger, lead singer of Sonar, took the stage to describe the effect abortion almost had on her own life. Holding her infant daughter Sienna, she shared the story of her mother, who during her pregnancy with Metzinger was strongly advised to undergo an abortion.
“My parents were frightened, but very faithful,” she said.
Despite the odds of survival for mother and child being only 50 percent, Metzinger’s mother refused an abortion.
“You don’t know the impact of the life you carry in your womb,” said Metzinger.
Thorn stressed the importance of compliance with God’s plan and emphasized the individual’s capacity to effect change in the world. The first Respect Life director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said she was proud to address “the most pro-life generation since Roe v. Wade.”
Thorn reflected on the tragedy of the “missing people” in families due to abortion, but her message was infused with optimism.
“People in the pro-life movement are always wondering what’s going to happen. I know what’s going to happen. You guys are going to change it all. When God has something to be done, it’s often the young he calls,” she said.
Thorn testified to the providence of God in the fight against abortion.
“God has plans for all of you,” she said. “He doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
Parishes from the archdiocese participate in the March for Life in Washington D.C. every year, as do parishes from dioceses around the state. The march (held annually since 1973) draws around 400,000 participants every year, including dozens of bishops and priests from across the nation. About 400 of the rally participants went on to Washington D.C. for Monday’s demonstration.
“It’s been the custom that the participants will pull their bus up to get a blessing from the bishop of their diocese before going to Washington,” said LoCoco. “So we thought since we’re the metropolitan district of the state and they’ll all come through Milwaukee anyway, we’ll invite all our neighbors and do a rally.”
Catholics 4 Life underwrote the cost for the T-shirts worn by attendees at the Mass, dinner and rally.
“They’ve been a huge support for the Nazareth Project with this event,” said LoCoco.
She said that the archbishop was so enthused by the response of the Milwaukee youth to the March for Life that next year he wants to travel with them to Washington, D.C.
Archbishop Listecki spoke glowingly of the Ignite! Rally and the sense of fellowship it encouraged among the state’s young Catholics.
“We see young people who have gotten the message,” he said. “They are willing to stand up and witness and they do it out of love of Christ, not from an ideological standpoint.”
Genevieve Hoang, a senior at Dominican High School, participated in the March for Life two years ago with her friend, Amelia Callan, and was intensely affected by the experience.
“We kept talking to the administration (at Dominican) about how we wanted to go back,” she said. “I think we basically annoyed them to the point of letting us go!”
Deacon Ryan Pruess, who will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee this year, said that it was great to see the sense of unity the night encouraged.
“It’s a fabulous experience to see so many young people from all parts of the state come together, support life, and go out and evangelize,” he said.