"Nobody will be there."
This thought haunts me the night before our annual Youth Rally for Life in January 22, 2016.
We have sent out hundreds of emails about this event celebrating human beings and promoting respect for all human life from when we first begin at conception until we die a natural death. Already five individuals and groups who participated in last year's Rally said they are unable to attend this year. Some have gone to Washington, D.C., for the big Life March. Others have other conflicts.
We had composed a special message this year aimed at reaching everyone with our message of life and love. Here was our message attached to a flyer for the Youth Rally for Life
For 43 years we have celebrated all human lives on January 22nd. We have also prayed for all the human lives lost through permissive abortion.
Of course, we understand that "abortion" is a hard subject to discuss. Some people on the prolife side and some on the prochoice side too often are unwilling to listen to their sisters and brothers who are on the other side. We hope that we remain open to dialogue.
That is one reason why we sponsor our Annual Youth Rally for Life. This is a time when those on the prol0life side publicly and courteously express their prolife views. These young people take a consistent prolife stance that every human life is of ultimate value. Every human being has a right to life which must be respected and protected from when each of us first began at conception in our mother's womb until we die a natural death.
The list of vulnerable human lives is unfortunately very extensive. This includes not only unborn babies, but babies "born with various defects," severely challenged and handicapped individuals, the elderly, the poor, depressed human beings and others suffering debilitating mental health conditions, those with incurable diseases, those contemplating suicide, war victims, migrants forced to leave their homes because of war or poverty or disease, those on death row and those in prison, the unemployed-the list continues.
That is why we will all gather on Friday, January 22nd, 2016, at noon at the FREE STAMP beside Cleveland City Hall at East 601 Lakeside Avenue.
We invite all of you to attend. (The accompanying flyer provided the details for attending.) See Flyer below for more details.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! More than 58 million lives of unborn children have been lost in the past 43 years!
It is the morning of our Rally scheduled at noon. I am so worried that very few will come. So I attend the Prolife Mass sponsored at the Catholic Cathedral at 10 AM. Maybe I can recruit here. The pews are all filled and a great sermon is provided by a priest who has been on the front line in fighting against the abortion clinics. After the Mass I race to the front door and down the Cathedral steps to pass out flyers as people exit and encourage them to come to the Youth Rally just down East 9th Street at the huge Free Stamp Art work.
At the same time while I loudly speak our Rally message, the Bishop exits the rear door of the Cathedral and also stands at the bottom of the stairs to greet those who have come to the Mass. So while he is shaking hands with all, I am there with my loud plea, "Please join us at the Free Stamp at Noon for the Rally for Life."
I urge each person departing the church to attend the Youth Rally and I hand each one a bright blue flyer with information about the Rally. How strange this must all appear to the Bishop that I was standing near him with my loudspeaker voice while he quietly welcomes everyone. Some people coming from the Church including some youth say they will come to the Youth Rally. Or at least-in my heart--I wanted to hear them saying that.
About ten students from St. Ignatius were there. At first, they said they will come, but then it turned out they had to be back at Ignatius by 12:30. Just one more hour of leave and they could have attended the Youth Rally and spoken out publicly based on their Ignatius ideals!.
So it is eleven thirty and I must drive from my parking space on Rockwell Avenue over to Lakeside and then down by City Hall. God is good, or really St. Anthony who finds me an empty parking space near the rally site.
I see the indomitable Reverend Ken there and one companion with him. They have signs. No one else has shown up. At least I will not be alone. Christ sent His apostles out two-by-two. We should be grateful since at least there will be three of us. A few minutes later Director Molly Smith of Right to Life shows up. Then there is a yellow school bus slowing in order to park on Lakeside Avenue. Who are these students? I start praying. Are they here for the Youth Rally? That would be marvelous!
Then more people show up. There is another bus and so many young people join us. The reinforcements are here!
Poor ever-loyal Rob Netgen. He arrives late but finally gets here and hurries to set up the sound equipment and public microphone by the dark red snow fence on the grass. I pass out prolife signs and posters for everyone to hold. We line up by the street in single file and show our signs to those in cars who pass by. Virginia does her usual "mother hen duties" of rounding up the speakers and getting their names. We shall also have a choir from Padre Pio School as well as Reverend Ken to say the prayers.
So Virginia and Rob start, sharing the Master/Mistress of Ceremony duties. Rob's microphone system is working beautifully. A young person comes up and sings out the Star Spangled Banner of "Oh say can you see…" and we all unite in. Then another person comes forward to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Again everyone joins in.
Even more people have arrived and we shall rejoice in our numbers of almost two hundred people, most of them young people. Virginia and me, even Rob are the past, these are the future.
Rob begins with his traditional great cheer.
"Give me an 'L.'"
The crowd shouts back "L."
Then there is an "I", and an "F" and lastly the "E."
"What's it spell?" Rob queries the crowd. "Life!" they respond.
"What are we here for?" Rob asks. "Life !" they answer loudly.
"Louder," Rob urges. "LIFE !" the youth happily thunder.
"I am getting older," Rob begins his introduction. "I was first here over thirty years ago. Then I was a youth of twenty two. Now I am reaching a half century. But it still is so inspiring to see all of you gathered here in the snow and the cold to speak out for the right to life of the unborn and appealing for help to pregnant mothers."
Rob then introduces the first speaker, a young man. "Thou shalt not kill." He starts. "That is the commandment. Abortion is a killing. A new human being is killed. There is no need to kill the child. This is wrong." A short message to the point.
Then another young person speaks out, "We must not lose hope. We must keep our faith in God. This really inspires us. Even if few hear our calls, we should not get discouraged. The path to victory is a long one, but our generation I believe will see the end of abortion."
Next is Attorney Bob Lynch, speaking at the edge of the crowd from his wheel chair. "I have a quiz for all of you. It is important that all of us know these facts when we discuss this issue with others especially those who oppose us. Here is Question One, 'When can we detect a beating heart of the new unborn child'
He waits, then answers his own question, "At eighteen days."
"Question two: 'When can we detect brain waves?' He replies, "This is at about 5 weeks."
Now the third summation question, "When are all the systems present in the baby?" He gives this answer: "At about 12 weeks.
"These are medical facts. Know them whenever you discuss the issue, especially with those opposing us. These are scientific questions with scientific answers."
A young woman now speaks: "You would not notice me as anything special in a big crowd. Nobody would see anything particular about me. But my mother was a single young woman who found herself pregnant. I thank her so much that she continued my life. I was adopted by a wonderful family. This was an open adoption and now it is 15 years later and I have known all involved with me. I have two brothers who also were adopted.
"I believe in open adoption. I work with an agency for adoptions and I believe open adoptions are best for everyone. The young mother knows that her child is with a loving family. She does not have to worry about that. As for the adopting family, they also know about the child and the background. So does the child know."
Another speaker steps forward. "We do not have to choose," she declares, "We can love the mother and love the child."
This is followed by our youthful female choir who will sing a song of love and hope for us.
Even later Rev Ken Sundermeier presents his strong message about respecting all human lives. He will also play his guitar. Beside him stands a youth holding up the lyrics so we can all sing together. "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white they are precious in His site. Jesus loves the little children of the world."
But Reverend Ken has a new verse which he encourages us to sing in unison: "Jesus loves the unborn children, all the unborn children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His site, Jesus loves the unborn children of the world."
Half way through our Youth Rally we get a depressing radio message that the Washington March has been called off. There are blizzards and harsh storms everywhere, all over the east coast and including Washington, DC. The Washington authorities have requested that the March be called off. Of course, we are not in Washington and do not know the full extent of the storm. But this bleak news does sadden us all.
Now Virginia calls out my name. "This is our final speech of the Rally. Just like at our past rallies. I have known Joseph for many years. He was one of those who started this Youth Rally for Life.
So I hobble slowly through the snow up to the microphone. I turn back to the audience and I see all of these smiling young faces. I feel my own spirits start to soar. The doubts from this morning that I might be standing here alone have long departed.
"Let us begin with another cheer," I exhort. This is partly to warm us up, but also to emphasize what we are all about. "Give me an 'L!'" "L"
"Give me an 'O!'" "O"
"Give me a 'V!'" "V"
"What's it spell?" "Love !"
"What do we practice to those on the other side?" "Love," the audience shouts back.
So I begin my remarks: "I want to provide three points for your consideration
"First, I want to recall some history for all of you. Sometimes we forget those who have gone before us. The general public media often 'forget' our heroes.
"I offer two women for us to remember.
"Who knows about Nellie Grey?" Some in the audience cheer.
"Who knows about Dr. Mildred Jefferson?" More respond in the affirmative.
"Nellie was the one who started the great annual March for Life in Washington. Millions of people have been attracted to the prolife event she established.
"Dr. Jefferson was one of the initial leaders of the National Right to Life movement and organization in the 1970's.
"Unfortunately both of these great women passed away a few years ago. Do you know how much notice these women received in any obituaries? Practically nothing. Others including the so called pro-choice dead get remembered and even celebrated. But those who stood up for the right to life of every human life and defended the right of even the tiniest and smallest of us received hardly any mention-p-and no thank-you's-- in the general public media. I know their reward is great in heaven. But we also must always remember these heroic people whom God gave to lead us.
"Here is my second point. It is so good to see all of you here. I had worried this morning that there might only be Virginia, Rob, and Molly with me today. But look how many of you there are. Furthermore there are even more here than you may think. In Cleveland and Northern Ohio some 500,000 unborn children have been slaughtered in permissive abortion from 1973 up to the present.
"I do not believe that anyone is ever lost in this vast universe. If the God who created everything including the vastness of space and the great stars and galaxies can worry about a tiny sparrow who falls from the tree to earth, how much more does God care for each of us who are made in His image and likeness?
"We one day shall again meet all the 500,000 who were killed here. We shall know them and greet them as our brothers and sisters who were robbed of their lives. And so shall the abortionists meet all of them and meet their Mothers and Fathers as well. I believe that all 500,000 of these unborn children are right here, right now, and singing along with us.
"So let us remember all and pray for them as well as for their families.
"Third, we are blessed with many great pregnancy help centers throughout our region who provide assistance for pregnant mothers and their families so they do not have to abort their children. These organizations have great staff and volunteers and they donate much effort and prove their dedication time after time. But they all have a need.
"What is that need for?"
"Money," a number of people intone.
"That's right. They need money to keep their doors open and to provide the aid for the women and unborn babies.
"So as always with past Youth Rallies for life we will take up a collection today.
"Please give whatever you can, coins and dollar. If you have a check book, write out a check for as much as you can donate."
(I stuff my check into the bag Virginia is carrying.)
"Virginia who has been with us since the very beginning of these rallies in 1973 will walk among you and you can donate. Sometimes I joke about Virginia and say she is so ancient that she is not allowed to have birthdays anymore. But that is just a sad joke of mine and what I really mean to say is how wonderful and faithful she has been for so many decades of prolife labor. Rob Netgen is another wonderful worker for life. Sometimes we give bouquets of flowers to honor our people. Today, however, we are giving something a little more endurable.
"I have written a book [I hold up my Book] about fifty years of law practice. It is entitled 'LEGAL WARRIORS.' It is not about lawyers. It is about all the clients I have been privileged to serve, and about their struggles for justice and their endeavors to protect their rights. "In the book are many items about prolife. "So, Virginia, here is your copy of this book. And Ned, here is your copy.
"Now to close, please give another cheer. "Give me an 'M,'" I urge.
Then an "O," "T," "H", "E", and an "R." In order I state the letters and they reply back loud and strong.
"What's it spell?" "MOTHER!" The audience answers.
We do the same with "Father." "What's it spell?"
"FATHER," they respond again.
Now I ask, "Who do we thank for giving us life?"
"Mother and Father!"
Of course, besides thanking our parents, we do thank God for the gift of life
And then comes the latest heaven-sent news alert. The March in Washington has not been called off! There is a window in the sky of some two hours of decent weather. So the crowds can march and sing and rejoice. Nature, I am thinking, has not aborted our March. May God watch over all these great people and protect them on their long journeys home. May God bless all of us.
We are ending. Molly shouts to all, "Go over and get some hot soup and hot drinks!"
She points to the food truck sponsored by Susy's Soups which is parked in the City Hall driveway.
We slowly walk in small groups to line up and enjoy the delicious soups and drinks.
As we relax for a few minutes, the five young ladies from Padre Pio school come forward and sing their beautiful hymns in Latin.
Silently, I murmur my final prayer. Thank you, Lord, for blessing another Youth Rally for Life. Thank you for sending so many young people. Please, take care of them all.
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