Several hundred students from the 20 Catholic high schools throughout the Diocese of Cleveland gathered on Oct. 26 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland for the annual Mass and Rally for Life. The events were organized by Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice, a group that includes representatives from each high school in the diocese. Bishop Nelson Perez celebrated the Mass, which was streamed live on the diocesan website.
After Mass, the students, joined by the bishop, marched from the cathedral north on East Ninth Street to Lakeside Avenue east to Ontario Street and south to Public Square for a pro-life rally.
?Thank you for sharing part of your day with me,? Bishop Perez told the students at Mass. And playing off one of his favorite sayings, ?Cleveland
rocks,? he told the students, ?When I say life, you say ?rocks.?? The students were happy to oblige.
The bishop has been visiting high schools in the diocese and mentioned that during his time at Cleveland Central Catholic High School a few days ago, one of the students said we should ?do the right thing.?
?He said you should do what?s right, which is not necessarily what?s popular. There are challenges in life,? he said, adding that some impact the dignity of life.
He asked the students what some of their goals are. Their answers included: going to college, being successful and making a difference.
?I hope together we can make a change in the world,? he said. ?To do what?s right has challenges.?
He shared a story from about 15 years ago when he was a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He worked with young people and a woman about 20 years old came to him and said she was pregnant. Her family was angry and threw her out of the house.
?Her world was beginning to crumble and the guy wanted nothing to do with her,? he said, so Bishop
Perez promised to provide support for her, even accompanying her to doctor?s appointments.
?I got lots of looks,? he said, adding that things got more challenging as the pregnancy progressed. ?I wanted to say, ?It?s not mine.?? But despite the awkwardness and the challenges, Bishop Perez said he continued to offer support. Shortly before the baby?s birth, the woman?s family welcomed her back. The woman also asked then-Father Perez to be the baby?s godfather.
?That child was this far from not happening,? he said, gesturing with his thumb and forefinger, and referring to a possible abortion. ?I walked the walk with her and that shows that there is another possibility,? he said, ?because life . . .?
?Rocks,? answered the students.
The bishop also shared another story about respect for life that involved a woman from the Cleveland Diocese who recently became a living organ donor. She donated a portion of her liver to save the life of a critically ill newborn.
?Why?? asked the bishop. ?She didn?t know these people. This was major surgery; she had risks and a recovery period to deal with. But now that baby will have a part of her inside,? he said adding, ?we are blessed and privileged to gather here today because life . . .?
?Rocks,? the students answered.
The Prayers of the Faithful included petitions for the unborn, the sick and that those who are dying have a peaceful journey. Bishop Perez also requested prayers for the family of a young pupil who was killed in a car accident at his school earlier in the week as his family members deal with the tragedy.
After Mass, Augie Pacetti, a St. Ignatius High School teacher who works with CSPJ, Patrick Gareau, executive director of Catholic Charities, and Frank O?Linn, associate superintendent of Catholic schools, made brief remarks before the group began its march to Public Square. Sister Kathleen Ryan, who heads the diocesan Social Action Office, was thanked for her support of the CSPJ endeavors.
?CSPJ is more than a club,? O?Linn said. ?It?s a movement and it?s growing, thanks to you.?
Bishop Perez joined the students as they marched with banners and drums and chanted pro-life slogans while heading to Public Square on the bright, sunny fall day.
Once gathered on the Square, representatives from various high schools offered testimonials about life and what respect life means to them. They also offered a prayer for life.
?All life is sacred and precious and we hope to create a culture for life,? said one of the student speakers.
The pro-life Mass and rally traditionally takes place during the last week of October.
For more information on CSPJ, visit cspj.net.
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