The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock
All photos by Katie Zakrzewski.
Liz Tingquist, director of Catholic Youth Ministry and youth leaders led Weekend for Life attendees through a series of dances, icebreakers and pro-life skits in between hearing from speakers in Little Rock Jan. 20-21. Youth leaders led Weekend for Life attendees through a series of dances, icebreakers and pro-life skits in between hearing from speakers in Little Rock Jan. 20-21. Weekend for Life attendees heard from Cheryl Ward Kaiser, an advocate against the death penalty Jan. 20. Kaiser survived a home invasion that resulted in her husband’s murder, and requested that the judge spare her attackers from the death penalty.

Teens learn adoption, death penalty at Weekend for Life

More than 300 youth heard about holistic pro-life perspectives at Weekend for Life

Published: January 25, 2024      
Katie Zakrzewski
Youth leaders led Weekend for Life attendees through a series of dances, icebreakers and pro-life skits in between hearing from speakers in Little Rock Jan. 20-21.

Teens from across the state filed into the DoubleTree Hotel in Little Rock Jan. 20-21, eager to grow in knowledge and companionship as pro-life Catholics. 

But even in a post-Roe v. Wade world, in one of the most pro-life states in the country, there is still work to be done. 

This year’s two-day Weekend for Life, led by student leaders, had a more holistic pro-life focus, looking at adoption and the ethical and moral issues surrounding the death penalty. 

“All our kids in leadership do everything — they write all the prayer services, they write the skits, and so the conference deals with womb-to-tomb issues and right-to-life issues,” said Liz Tingquist, director of Catholic Youth Ministry. 

In addition to praise and worship music, prayers, dances and skits, this year’s event featured two keynote speakers. 


Cheryl Ward Kaiser

National speaker Cheryl Ward Kaiser, a proponent for adoption and against the death penalty, shared her harrowing experience. As a teenage mother in the early 1960s, she conceived her first son out of wedlock. After being kicked out of her house by her parents, Kaiser resisted the push for an abortion and put her son up for adoption. 

“My pro-life stance in life is really simple: God gives life, God takes life. We don’t get to mess with in between,” Kaiser said. “There is no such thing as an accidental life. We may be doing things we have no business doing, but if it creates a life, God’s hand was in it.”  

Kaiser, a Catholic convert, reconnected with her son 25 years later, but before her son could meet his father, Kaiser’s husband Jamie, tragedy struck. Kaiser’s Monterey County, Calif., home was invaded by five people in the early morning hours June 14, 1991. The five intruders murdered her husband and raped her daughter with a shotgun in front of Kaiser. 

One of the five intruders, who was acting as a lookout outside, forced the criminals to leave after becoming spooked, sparing Kaiser and her daughter.

Kaiser testified at the hearing and pleaded with the jury to spare her attackers from receiving the death penalty. She began to write letters to her imprisoned attackers and developed a relationship with four of the five. 

Kaiser is now an advocate against the death penalty and advocates for allowing victims to be able to meet with the criminals who have altered their lives.  

“I’m as pro-life as probably anybody is ever going to get, because I don’t believe in the death penalty and I’ve had a serious crime happen to me,” Kaiser said in an interview with Arkansas Catholic. “They wanted to ask for the death penalty for two (of the intruders) and, of course, I was against it… I told them if they put (the attackers) on death row, I will fight that all the way. I will stand outside of San Quentin (Rehabilitation Center) and make sure that doesn’t happen.”


Jennifer Briselden

Arkansas native Jennifer Briselden, who currently resides in Atlanta, also addressed the teens about adoption. When Briselden lived in Hot Springs, she was very involved as a volunteer in her youth group. After she moved to Fort Smith, she became the youth minister at Christ the King Church and served as the campus minister at UA Fort Smith. Even though Briselden’s father was a deacon, she fell away from the Church as an adult.

Briselden eventually became pregnant out of wedlock by two different men. The first child, Monica, is now a successful engineer, whom Briselden kept and raised. When Briselden became pregnant a second time, she realized she was financially unable to raise another child. Briselden put her second child up for adoption through Catholic Adoption Services. 

Years later, Briselden was attending a Catholic youth conference in Steubenville, Ohio, and heard that her son would be attending. Even though it was an open adoption, Briselden had never met her son. The two met for the first time at a Steubenville Catholic Youth conference. 

“So here, after 13 years of trusting in God, I was able to meet my son again, alongside my daughter, at a Steubenville retreat that’s all based around the Eucharist,” Briselden said. “His victory happened. My son got his life. My daughter got her life. And I’ve been able to get mine through Christ.”


Giving youth the tools to succeed

Tricia Gentry, Catholic Youth Ministry program coordinator for the Diocese of Little Rock, said it’s important to have youths focusing holistically on right-to-life issues to help them in the long run.

“Anytime you can give youth tools and information at this age, it helps them in their journey,” Gentry said. “Abortion is not a contraceptive method. This is a human rights issue. This is where things come together — Catholic social teaching and our doctrine.’”

Tingquist said changing convention topics annually gives attendees a fuller perspective of the Church’s stance on right-to-life issues. 

“What we’re trying to do by switching up our topics every year is teaching (attendees) a consistent ethic of life, and it’s not just abortion, which is very important because that’s innocent life — but you could make an argument about capital punishment,” Tingquist said. “Who is it that gives life and takes life? It’s God. So it’s important for young people to hear. When the death penalty is given out with a verdict, it’s because there’s been a heinous crime. 


Attendees weigh in

Convention attendees said the convention topic opened their eyes. 

“I was excited about this event because it’s different from the rallies and it’s different from the state convention,” said Brianna McCoy from Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton. “We’re all here doing one movement with all these great speakers, and it’s always impactful every single year.”

“We really need to lift each other up in Christ, and it’s so important for us to show our love for Christ and to show that to other people,” said Hannah Ehlinger from St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home. “Some people don’t get to see Christ in their day, so you have to be there.”

Isabel Vacca from St. Agnes Church in Mena was hopeful for the future with the rise of pro-life social media.

“Some websites like LiveAction and similar platforms show people our age and this generation, where social media plays such a big role in our lives, that we can see events like this and other marches and get information on what really happens during abortions and the lives that abortion affects,” Vacca said.

Annaliese Cartaya from Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton agreed.

“It’s important that people our age come to these events and see the pro-life side, because it’s not something that’s super popular everywhere,” Cartaya said. “I know that on social media, which is really popular for kids our age, you see a lot of the pro-choice side. And I think it’s important to come here to see the pro-life side.” 

Madeline Corballis, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock, has a personal connection to the pro-life movement.

“I always feel so good about (Weekend for Life) because I was adopted, so I have the feeling of being connected with the pro-life movement,” Corballis said. “When I hear things about adoption, it opens my eyes, and it opens a lot of peoples’ eyes to what choices there are. Yes, people do things that they don’t necessarily need to be doing, but there are ways to deal with it besides abortion. I think it’s really important for people to see that.”

Abby Liebhaber, a member of St. Paul Church in Pocahontas, found inspiration in the presence of strong, pro-life women.

“I always find myself feeling really alive after coming to events like this,” she said. “It’s hard to feel any kind of sadness when you’re around kids your age that have the same beliefs as you, and especially as a young woman seeing these strong women going on stage and speaking, it’s just a really good thing to be a part of.”

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