Forty-two teenagers, along with seminarians and adults, went in depth on a variety of pro-life subjects during the first Leaders for Life youth conference July 13-14.
The conference at St. John Center in Little Rock, hosted by the diocesan Respect Life Office, immediately followed Catholic Charities Summer Institute.
“Having a consistent ethic of life means respecting the dignity of every human person from the moment of conception to natural death so that also encompasses other issues besides abortion,” said Respect Life Office director Catherine Phillips ahead of the conference. “We want to talk about adoption; we want to talk about the need for post-abortion reconciliation because it has been so prevalent in our society. We also want to talk about other end of life issues like care for the sick and dying; we want to talk about the death penalty.”
Youth heard from more than 10 speakers: Maria Moldonado discussed praying in front of the abortion clinic and helped the youth role-play through interactions they may encounter; a registered nurse discussed abortion, contraception and chastity; Patrick Gallaher, executive director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, spoke about the death penalty; Jennifer Verkamp, director of Catholic Charities Immigration Services - Little Rock, discussed immigration and her recent trip to the U.S./Mexico border; Sheila Pursell, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Catholic Respect Life Council nonprofit, spoke about end-of-life ministry; and Sister Mary Clare Bezner, OSB, diocesan minister for religious, discussed God’s mercy.
There were exhibits including Life Runners, Pax Christi Little Rock, Project Rachel, the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and crisis pregnancy centers “so people know how to get involved in different ministries,” Phillips said. Teens also toured a mobile medical unit from Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center in Little Rock.
Garrett Locknar, 16, of St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith, said he is personally “very opposed to abortion,” but by attending the conference, “I’m just becoming more educated on the effects of them.”
“It has opened my eyes … to the extreme emotional trauma,” that many women go through, he added.
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