Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Weekend With Teens in Washington

It’s hard to be pessimistic about the future when you spend three days with 28,000+ teenagers as I did this weekend in Washington, D.C. for the "March for Life".

I had the opportunity to chaperone 65 of our students and 20 more or so from Our Lady of the Lake parish for the trip. Deacon Brian Edwards, chaplain of JPII, Melissa Vaughn, JPII's Christian Service Coordinator, and I boarded one bus, whereas Patti Defendall of OLOL and parent volunteers boarded another. We left at 7 a.m. on Saturday, arrived in D.C. around 10 p.m. at St. Martin’s parish and hit the ground running. Students led each other in the rosary on the bus trip up, attended Mass together at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Sunday morning, took a tour of the N.C.C.B. offices where we met two impressive women dedicated to the pro-life cause (see below), spent a couple of hours at a nearby Boys’ Club so as to shower (our only opportunity all weekend!), then attended a lively Youth Rally at a local high school, headlined by the performance of Tony Melendez, an internationally famous musician without any arms, who plays guitar with his feet (!). On Sunday we were out the door at 6 a.m. to get a seat at the Verizon Center, seated by 8 a.m., participated in another concert, then celebrated Mass, ate lunch in our seats after wards, marched first to the Mall and then joined with the larger group at the Washington Mall for the march to the Supreme Court. Despite cold, rainy weather, there were no fewer than 100,000 hearty souls participating in the march, full of cheer and enthusiasm. We ate dinner that evening at Union Station with thousands of others, then loaded the buses at 8 p.m. for the long trek home, arriving at 5 a.m. Yes, I was tired.

There were three highlights of the trip for me:

1) First, the youth Mass on Sunday morning. It’s a rare thing to pray with 3 cardinals, 14 bishops, 200+ priests and over 20,000 teenagers in a venue as large as the Verizon Center (see pic above). But even that venue was too small, as organizers had to simulcast the event to the DC Armory at another part of town to another 8,000 teenagers. The music was excellent, the sermon was powerful, the kids sang and responded enthusiastically. But for me, the most touching part was as each bishop in attendance was introduced, the kids from that diocese cheered wildly, proud of their bishop, proud of their diocese, proud of their Church.

2) Second, the visit with Dr. Therese Notare and Dr. Helen Alvare in the National Catholic Conference of Bishops' offices on Sunday afternoon. I will admit I was not looking forward to that tour (“What? Some offices?"), but when Alvare showed up by chance as a friend of Dr. Notare, I became instantly enthused. Dr. Alvare, now a professor of law at George Mason University, represented the pro-life movement in the Catholic Church for over a decade in the 1990’s, and as such was ubiquitous, appearing on CSPAN before congressional sub-committees, on Night Line, as a regular commentator for network news, as a participant in PBS debates and as a guest on Sunday morning talk shows. She was brilliant and persuasive in her role, as this six minute clip off Youtube from several years back indicates:
I was pleased that our girls, in particular, found this articulate, pro-life feminist so compelling a figure, and they flocked to talk with her after her general remarks to the group.

3) Finally, spending all that time with our students. Our kids were SPECTACULAR—full of joy, conviction, spirit and life. Yes, as they jabbered on throughout the night on the bus trip home I might have had less complimentary thoughts, but I’ve had a chance to rest up! During the march, our kids led cheers, danced, sang songs, challenged other groups to respond to their cheers and brought many smiles to passers-by. They exhibited state pride by singing “Rocky Top” (a few hundred times) but changed the lyrics to fit the occasion (“Rocky Top, You’ll Always Be--A Pro-Life State to Me”). I was able to tease with the guys as we slept on cafeteria floors at night about the various smells emanating from certain quarters (remember, only one bath all weekend), and joke with the girls about how lovely they looked stumbling out of the bus at 3 a.m. at the rest stops for bathroom breaks. Two junior girls with agile, active minds sat in the seats just behind the adults and kept us entertained for hours with tales of misadventure and their “what if?” imaginations.

How blessed I am to work with smart, committed, faithful kids at JPII! They’re going to make a big difference in this world one day. I caught a glimpse of that future beginning to unfold this weekend.

1 comment:

Mr. Flaherty said...

Our school was at the Youth Rally at the Verizon too - so powerful, you're right. It was the highlight of the trip for us.