The enthusiasm and joyful noise of more than 6,000 Catholic middle school and high school students electrified the open-air tennis stadium at the StubHub Center in Carson on Oct. 14 during the annual Christian Service 4LIFE rally, which featured special guest speakers and activities all celebrating and supporting the sanctity of life.
Speakers included Holy Cross Father Wilson D. Miscamble, an author and professor at the University of Notre Dame, Walter Hoye II, founder of Issues 4 Life and the California Civil Rights Foundation; and Archbishop José Gomez.
“We need to remember all the time that we have a great dignity being children of God, and that God has made each one of us for a reason, because he loves each one of us…in a very special way,” Archbishop Gomez told the crowd.
“We as Catholics — understanding that we have received the gift of life from God and we are special — stand up for life because we value life. We celebrate and protect life, especially life that is weak and vulnerable. And in order to really celebrate life, we need to be really close to Jesus through the Blessed Sacrament: the Eucharist.”
This year’s keynote speaker, Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the 100-day Rwandan genocide of 1994, shared powerful personal testimony about her incredible journey from the darkness of despair back to the light again.
When the genocide began, Ilibagiza was a 23-year-old electrical engineering student. The assassination of the then-president of Rwanda, who was a member of the Hutu tribe, sparked months of massacres of Tutsi and moderate Hutu by members of the Hutu majority. An estimated 1 million Rwandans were killed.
Ilibagiza survived by huddling together with seven other women in a 3-by-4-foot bathroom in the home of a local pastor. Her father, who was a director of Catholic schools, sent her there to find refuge, along with his last gift to her: rosary beads.
“The only thing that got me through was my faith in God,” recalled Ilibagiza.
When she emerged from that bathroom 91 days later, her tall frame had dwindled from 150 pounds to a skeletal 65. But instead of celebrating her survival, Ilibagiza was heartbroken to learn that her father, mother and two brothers had been killed. Over time, finding herself increasingly consumed by a growing desire for revenge, she instead “fell to my knees” and turned to God, whose love taught her to forgive.
“No matter what happens to you, no matter how bad things can be, remember there is always hope; God is always there… And please remember: If I can forgive, anybody can forgive,” said Ilibagiza, She urged the young people to embrace forgiveness, praise God, pray the Rosary and always support all life. “From the beginning to the end, life is God-given and no one has the right to take it away.”
This year’s pro-life celebrity guests — who were met with roars of approval from the audience — included actor David Henrie, from “How I Met Your Mother” and “Wizards of Waverly Place”; Brittany Sharaun, former “America's Next Top Model” contestant and founder of Burgers and Bibles; and Maria Cahill, an inspirational speaker and Miss Delaware 2011, who served as event presenter.
For 17-year-old Ankofa Billips, a senior at St. Mary’s Academy in Inglewood, the Christian Service 4LIFE event was an inspiring and eye-opening experience.
“It was a great being around other young people of faith, all moving forward toward the cause of ending abortion and reiterating the value of human life, from the beginning to the very end,” she said. “And it was great having celebrities here, people we see on TV, and seeing that they have values and support life as well.”
The yearly Christian Service 4LIFE gathering is presented during Respect Life Month as a joint effort between LIFEsocal, a pro-life group founded by students and families, and the archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace. For more information about Christian Service 4LIFE, visit www.lifesocal.org.