In many ways, the 2018 version of Weekend for Life, hosted by the diocesan Catholic Youth Ministry, was a new verse of a familiar song. Catholic teens from across Arkansas sang, danced and prayed, listened to speakers and watched skits reinforcing the Church’s teaching regarding the sanctity of life.
But anyone who attended this event in the past might have noticed something profoundly different about this year’s event, held Jan. 20 at the Doubletree Hotel in Little Rock. Once almost exclusively on Anglo teens, this year’s attendees represented the wide cultural diversity indicative of the Diocese of Little Rock itself.
It was a sight Liz Tingquist, director of the Office of Youth and Campus Ministry, had long waited to see.
“I think it’s probably one of the most exciting developments with youth ministry in the diocese,” she said. “We’re now seeing even with our cultural differences that we want to come together and be a unified Church. Where in the past maybe the youth programming was a little separate, now what we’re seeing is that they want to come together and be part of this large Church.”
This year’s event, which attracted about 600 teens, was also influenced by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor’s Jan. 17 announcement he would not attend Jan. 21’s March for Life and rally because of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s selection as keynote speaker. The bishop made that decision based on Rutledge’s work to block diocesan efforts to gain clemency for four death row inmates last year.
Several young people and Catholic youth leaders alike said the bishop’s remarks provided an important teaching moment on the true definition of pro-life.
“We discussed all that in our meeting at youth group,” said Deacon Mike Johns of St. John the Baptist Church in Hot Springs. “Our discussion focused on, as a Catholic, we cannot in good conscience say ‘I’m against abortion so that’s good. I’m fine. But I’m going to vote for politicians who are terrible on immigration or who threaten to separate families or support the death penalty.’ For us, you’ve got to take the whole bag; that’s part of our sense of social justice.”
“I think the average teenager usually focuses more on the abortion part of it, but the goal this weekend is to make every situation known,” said Evelyn Nick, 17, a member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock and the diocesan Youth Advisory Council (YAC) that helps put on the event. “We speak for every situation in life, not just about abortion.”
Another YAC member, Nadia Gardner of St. John Church in Russellville, said being involved with diocesan youth events not only helped shape her understanding of pro-life issues but gave her the confidence to speak to others.
“(YAC) teaches a lot of leadership skills early on,” she said. “It’s important to have youth leaders, because they’re more relatable (to other teens).”
This year’s theme, “Faith Conquers Death,” featured Texas native Claire Culwell as keynote speaker. Culwell shared her experiences as an adopted child who, through reconnecting with her birth mother, discovered at age 21 she’d also survived the abortion that claimed the life of her twin.
Sam Stengel, YAC member from St. Joseph Church in Paris, said he hoped the messages shared at Weekend for Life would translate into action among his peers.
“I think this event (shows) young people how pro-life is not solely one issue,” he said. “I would like them to go forth and spread the news not only by their words, but by their example by giving respect to people of all shapes and sizes, whatever color, gender or nationality they are.”
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