“Dear young people, please, do not be bystanders in life. Get involved! Jesus was not a bystander. He got involved. Don’t stand aloof, but immerse yourselves in the reality of life, as Jesus did.”
Those words, written by Pope Francis in “Christ is Alive,” his post-synodal apostolic exhortation to young people and all people of God, were shared by Bishop Nelson Perez with 400 high school students representing Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice. CSPJ is a network of students and educators from Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Cleveland that is supported by the diocesan Social Action Office and is rooted in Catholic social teaching.
The students hailed from 14 of the 20 Catholic high schools in the eight-county diocese. They gathered on Oct. 1 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist for the annual CSPJ respect life Mass, which was followed by the annual march to Public Square and respect life rally. Bishop Perez celebrated Mass and then joined students as they walked to Public Square in the record-breaking, 91-degree heat chanting pro-life sayings and carrying signs and banners urging people to respect life. He also listened as several students gave witness, sharing thoughts on various pro-life themes.
“All we have is a gift from God,” the bishop told the students at Mass. He said we really have nothing to do with the fact that we received the gift of life. “You get 23 chromosomes from mom and 23 from dad. That’s it.” He told the students that the gift of life is being assaulted in many ways today.
“Imagine if you were never given a chance. You’re here today because you were given a chance – the gift of life,” the bishop said.
He mentioned the first moon landing in 1969, recalling how he watched the iconic event on a small, black-and-white TV. But over time, space shuttle voyages became commonplace – something that we began to take for granted. The bishop said we need to be cautious and to remember that we are here to celebrate the gift of life, “the gift of your life. The world is being handed on to you.”
As he shared Pope Francis’ words from “Christ is Alive,” Bishop Perez told the students that Christ is alive and he is our hope. “Everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life,” he said, quoting from the pope’s exhortation. “He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. No matter how far you may wander, he is always there – the risen one. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start all over,” the Holy Father wrote.
The bishop said Pope Francis’ words could have been meant for the CSPJ students today because he talked about how young people are taking to the streets to express their desire for a better world. Young people are called to be witnesses of the Gospel, the pope said – being the light. The pontiff is urging young people not to leave the task to others. “You are the ones,” he told them, encouraging them to work for a more loving, more respectful world.
“Continue to fight apathy. Offer a Christian response to the social and political troubles that are surfacing. Build a future,” Pope Francis said to young people.
Both the bishop and the Holy Father mentioned St. Therese of the Child Jesus (St. Therese of Lisieux) – one of the young saints. Her feast day is celebrated on Oct. 1. The young French woman entered the Carmelite convent at age 15 and although she lived a short life, she put her faith in Jesus. She wanted to be a missionary, but due to poor health, she never left France. Despite that, she is the patron saint of missionaries.
Bishop Perez said after Mass, the young people will take to the street and give a public witness for life.
They converged on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral after the liturgy, lined up by school. With an escort of police cars and motorcycles, they walked north on East Ninth Street to Lakeside Avenue, west on Lakeside to Ontario Street and south on Ontario to Public Square where they gathered in front of the stage for the rally.
After an opening prayer, several students addressed the group on various respect life themes, including domestic violence, suicide, abortion, gun violence, capital punishment and euthanasia.
Music for the liturgy was coordinated by St. Joseph Academy this year, with the Academy Chorale of St. Joseph Academy, under the direction of Kathleen Cooper.
Augie Pacetti, director of campus ministry at St. Ignatius High School, told those assembled for the CSPJ events that their belief in the dignity of all life and their public witness would help build a culture of life.
Bishop Perez stayed with the young people throughout the rally, marching with them to Public Square, chatting with students and encouraging them to live their faith and follow the Holy Father’s advice about being involved.
See photo gallery.