By Becky Aubut
EASTON, Mass. — The Diocese of Fall River Pro-Life Apostolate hosted its fifth annual Pro-Life Boot Camp at Stonehill College in Easton. More than 50 young people and adults participated in the weekend event that included a visit from Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V, listening to local and national speakers, and many activities that also saw the group bring prayer shawls to residents at two nursing homes in Attleboro.
“Fifty seems to be the magic number,” said Marian Desrosiers, director of the Pro-Life Apostolate. “We have had a few more but we have found a strong community of faith forms amongst the youth. They never want to leave and they want to gather during the year. If we were to expand the numbers too much, we might become just another program. The Pro-Life Boot Camp is about transforming our hearts and minds to the Will of God so that we can bring hope and joy to those we meet each and everyday.”
Bishop da Cunha not only spoke to the youth, he also accepted a challenge from the campers and staffers to take part in a soccer shootout with him covering the net as goalie, then reversed his role to take some shots against them.
“President [Father John] Denning and others from Stonehill and Holy Cross Family Ministries came out to greet him and watch the great soccer challenge,” said Desrosiers. “The youth loved it! We are so grateful to him. He can certainly play soccer.”
Priests who participated during the weekend were Fathers Riley Williams, Jack Schrader, Chris Peschel, Kevin Cook, Gabriel Mary, FFI and Leo Polselli, CSC. Other speakers, sponsored by the Massachusetts State Council of the Knights of Columbus, included local laity, Dr. Steven Smith of Florida; Loretta Fleming of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment in Washington, D.C.; and Katherine Beck, a recent graduate of the University of South Florida and who has been volunteering at pregnancy centers since she was 17 years old.
“All the speakers were incredible,” said Desrosiers. “We added a witnessing piece to this year’s Boot Camp. Before most of the talks, we had individuals come and share their personal stories relating to the workshop that would follow. This made the teachings a ‘lived’ reality. It showed them that our faith in its fullness, even if in difficult times, could be lived with hope and great joy. Christ asks each of us to become a living witness to these truths in our daily lives.
“Haley Katsche spoke on Theology of the Body. Her presentation was extremely well done, like many of the other speakers, but she is our first Pro-Life Boot Camp alumni who now has come back to teach. This was always our goal to try and keep our campers involved by having a three-tier system: camper, junior staff, chaperone and/or presenter. Now in our fifth year, we have truly experienced the fruits of our labor; past alumni served as chaperones and a nursing assistant.”
One of the most powerful moments came when the youth visited two Attleboro nursing homes and distributed prayer shawls donated by St. Bernard Parish in Assonet, and lap blankets made by Elaine Wilcox of Holy Name Parish in Fall River.
“It is so encouraging to witness the connection between our youth and this generation of seniors,” said Desrosiers. “The joy on the faces of the youth and elderly was just precious. They immediately began to talk and interact. They were divided between both [nursing homes] because of the size of the group. One group did bowling, helping everyone to throw the ball from their wheelchairs, followed by loud cheers and high fives. Some who volunteered visited the very ill holding their hands, praying and talking to them softly. Another group did crafts and then sang to them, which was received with great applause.
“The youth were incredibly moved by this experience and grateful to have had the opportunity to bring the love of Christ to this community. Yet, they came away in awe at the love and gratitude they experienced. When we returned to Stonehill, Dr. Smith did a presentation on physician-assisted suicide. The message was so much more powerful after having spent the afternoon with the very people who could be the victims of this grave action, the sick, the poor and the elderly. Having prayed at the abortion clinic that morning, and then visiting the nursing homes in the afternoon, reinforced in a tangible way for them the Sacredness and value of all human life from conception until natural death. They want to rebuild a Culture of Life and love. They do not want to be the ‘throwaway’ culture that Pope Francis warns us that many have become.”
This is the next generation of Pro-Life leaders rising up helping promote the New Evangelization. As young people become more willing to commit his or her life to Christ to build a better tomorrow, said Desrosiers, they will transform our culture.
“At the end of the camp, parents joined us for 45 minutes and the young people broke into four teams to play Family Feud,” said Desrosiers. “They created the questions themselves based on the experiences and teachings which took place over the course of the weekend. They had a great time, but it also allowed the rest of us to have a glimpse at the learning and experiences they would take home to their families and peers. It made me so proud of everyone of them. We can have great hope that they will carry in their hearts the faith and live the Gospel of life and love. We are all so lucky and so blessed to have shared this time with them!”