Young adults help make March for Life happen

When Nancy Keenan stepped down from her post in 2012 as president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the abortion-rights advocacy group, she cited a long list of reasons why. But Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, thinks that young adults are partly, if not mostly, to blame.

“She came out around the time of the March for Life ... on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade and was overwhelmed by the seas and throngs of young people,” said Mancini. “It was a total life-changing moment for her, in that she decided to resign from her job because they were not recruiting young people like she believed they should be.” Keenan noted that the pro-choice movement was “not marketing to young people the way that we need to,” Mancini said. “I would argue that her product is flawed, not actually the marketing procedures or strategies.”

And Mancini firmly believes it’s going to be the young people who keep this fight going. “It’s so encouraging because the work is exhausting. When you look out and see those bright smiling energetic faces, you just want to pass the torch and let them take it and just run with it,” she said.

Vital support

One of those bright, energetic faces belongs to Alisa Zacharia. The senior at the University of Maryland is just under 5 feet tall, but the 21-year-old pro-lifer is a powerhouse nonetheless.

The Maryland native has been going to the March for Life for years, starting in seventh grade, but during college her commitment to the pro-life cause really began to blossom.

Zacharia is the chairwoman of the Catholic Terps pro-life committee. It’s a role she does not take lightly; one she balances with the huge workload that is her double major in economics and English.

One of those duties with co-chair Noah Israel is to help out as ushers at the Youth Rally and Mass for Life on Jan. 19 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. The annual event, put on by the Archdiocese of Washington, explained Israel, brings thousands of high school students from across the country together in advance of the March for Life.

“The goal for participation in the rally is to help everyone focus on the goal of promoting the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “It reminds us of our purpose of coming together for the March for Life, because later, when we are marching, we are doing so as loving Christians.”

“There’s such hope,” said Zacharia. “It is refreshing. It’s so promising.”

Mary Forr, the director of the pro-life office at the Archdiocese of Washington, says that the help the Catholic Terps provide is invaluable.

“[They] truly witness to the Gospel of life by their commitment to fostering a culture of respect for every person from conception to natural death,” she said. “Their participation in the youth rally not only helps make the event a huge success, but also serves as an example of taking the message given at the youth rally and putting it into practice long after the rally is finished.”

Movers of a movement

As Zacharia says, “Going to the Rally for Life is a great way to get the conversation started, but it shouldn’t be just one day. Young people need to hear this message in a different setting, maybe a place where they can ask questions in a more intimate way.”

This advice isn’t given lightly. Last semester she and one of her longtime friends both went to a pro-life interest meeting at the Catholic Student Center on campus.

Elaina Dixon and Noah Ishmael outside an abortion clinic. Courtesy photo

As they listened, they both realized that they wished people had talked to them in middle school about pro-life issues. So they decided to reach out to teachers they had relationships with to see what they could do. At one school they simply prayed the Rosary for pro-life intentions with the students in the church. At another school, they gave a short talk where, said Zacharia, it became very intimate when one girl had questions about what happens when a family member has an abortion.

However, these types of visits are above and beyond the duties of the university’s pro-life committee. The task list for that in and of itself is impressive.

Not only do they volunteer at the Rally for Life, they also recruit others to come for the March. They organize monthly delegations to the abortion clinics where they pray and reach out to women and their families. They are also responsible for coming up with different types of events.

“This year my vision was coming up with different ways we can get involved in the whole entire pro-life message, so we partner with the service committee to help serve,” Zacharia said. The group is planning, among other things, to volunteer at a women’s pregnancy center.

The group is also big on education. As Zacharia explains, you can’t say you’re pro-life if you’re not informed about resources for people who need help, such as someone on campus looking to have an abortion.

She is also in charge of communication and trying to reach out to college students in a way that they will respond. “There’s a class on campus that [encouraged] their students to go to an event they didn’t agree with, so I had somebody named Trevor reach out to me the day before our November prayer outside the abortion clinic, and he asked if he could come.”

Trevor thought that the event would be a lot more intense, she said. Rather, he noted that the group was peaceful. They didn’t change his mind about abortion, but changed his mind about what the pro-life movement acts like and dispelled some stereotypes. The students took Trevor out for dinner “showing him we’re normal human beings. We’re normal college students who make jokes. I think we humanized the movement,” Zacharia said.

Feeling the impact

It’s young adults like Zacharia and Israel who really go that extra mile to make the pro-life cause flourish.

“I’ve heard of young adults who’ve come and they’re so moved by the sheer number and then they want to go back to their local communities and do everything they can to make an impact there,” said Mancini. “They feel connected to the larger whole. We can sometimes feel like we’re swimming upstream and we’re alone and there’s something about the March for Life that helps us to see once a year that we’re unified with a large majority of Americans.”

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“Fostering a culture of life is something we all can and should do,” reiterated Zacharia. “In fact, it starts right at home in our local communities. When we live in a way that supports the vulnerable, we reaffirm a culture of life.”

Mariann Hughes writes from Florida.