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Jim Hale / LifeSiteNews
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Young people receive solid Catholic formation during LifeSite-sponsored program in Rome

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
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October 2, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Voice of the Family’s youth program entered its first of two days of intensive conferences in Rome on Tuesday, offering some 20 young people an opportunity to better know their Catholic faith and to make good choices for their futures in light of clear Catholic teaching.

Many of these young adults who have been together in Rome since Saturday to join the “Acies ordinata” event near St. Peter’s Basilica come from the United States, Great Britain and also farther afield: Italy, Germany, Philippines and elsewhere.

Selected by LifeSite, the British Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) and the pro-life and pro-family Catholic joint organization Voice of the Family, they are devout Catholics looking for a way to serve the culture of life. As such, they are preparing and, more important, being prepared to become key players in coming years.

The talks that will continue until Wednesday evening are being held at the foot of one of the oldest Roman basilicas, Santa Balbina, which was erected in the sixth century over the former home of a second century martyr born to a rich Roman family living in a desirable part of the city, close to the location where some 80 years later the baths of Caracalla would be inaugurated.

The session has been titled “Made for heaven,” a reality that is very palpable in the complex where the talks are taking place because of that constant reminder of the possibility of martyrdom. Walking among ancient brick walls of which some parts date to the second century, young people from the New World are communing in one ancient faith.

Daily Mass is celebrated in the traditional or “extraordinary” form of the Roman rite.

These young men and women, who are perhaps wondering what their vocation in life should be, are meeting with experienced, knowledgeable people in the pro-life movement who are taking time not only to talk to them but also to listen to them and to answer their questions.

First to speak was John-Henry Westen, co-founder of LifeSiteNews, who underscored the fact that together with Steve Jalsevac, he had been a fallen-away Catholic before rediscovering the faith of his baptism, a thing that should give hope to all.

That would not have been possible, he said, if his own father had not always insisted that he was on the wrong path, thus making his conversion possible. The “danger of hell” exists and should not be hidden from those we love, especially if we love them, he said in his opening remarks. “We shouldn’t sugarcoat it: it’s deadly,” he insisted, speaking in particular of abortion and sexual acts that are mortal sins and lead to hell if forgiveness is not sought for.

These opening words set the frame for a talk on the present-day confusion in the Church, whose leaders speak no longer in this fashion, preferring to show openness to all. In fact, Westen explained the grave ambiguities and errors coming from Rome since Pope Francis’ election.

To face this truth it is useful – if only to believe it – to make a catalog of the major scandalous deeds and words coming from the top of the Vatican, and it started together with Francis’ first appearance as Pope in the company of formerly disgraced Cardinal Danneels, who was implied in the cover-up of the sex abuse scandal in Belgium, his native country. Then Francis praised progressive Cardinal Walter Kasper’s theology “on day three” of his pontificate.

From then on, the list is long and has been closely followed by LifeSite. Remembering all of these incidents in a concentrated form is of course especially unsettling. Whether it be invitations to promoters of population control such as Paul Ehrlich, Jeffrey Sachs or Ban Ki-moon to events held within the Vatican itself, the nomination or promotion of the “anti-pro-life hierarchy” cardinals such as Blase Cupich, Danneels, Kasper or De Kesel, or the demotion of Cardinals Raymond Burke or Gerhard Muller, the pattern is a constant one.

Thus, Westen recalled that institutions such as the Pontifical Academy for Life or the John Paul II Institute are being stripped of their most traditional elements and confided to Archbishop Paglia, who famous for the homoerotic painting he commissioned opposite the altar of his former cathedral in Terni, Italy.

But that was not all. Receptions by the Pope of a practicing homosexual and his “lover” and a purportedly “married” woman who underwent treatment to become a “man” together with her “wife” also set the tone.

Particularly unsettling was the declaration by Pope Francis that he had seen a lot of fidelity in cohabitation: “I’m sure this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage.” The reminder of this papal quote by Westen came with a father’s anger: He recalled how his own daughter at that time asked him whether now cohabitation is OK.

And the list went on, with remarks about the death penalty that has been unduly condemned by Pope Francis and, very recently, his reception of Father James Martin, the pro-LGBT community Jesuit.

Is it wise to show young people these stark and even frightening events that might lead some to doubt about the Catholic Church in itself? Assuredly, it is truth that sets us free, and clearly all the youngsters present were worried that at the same time deeply attached to the institution, whatever the shortcomings of the human beings in charge.

And as Westen concluded, we know the words of the Virgin Mary in Fatima: “At the end, my Immaculate Heart shall win,” inviting all of his listeners to be the “happy and joyful warriors” because they have every reason to be thanks to this assurance.

The second speaker was Professor Roberto De Mattei of the Lepanto Institute hosting the event in Rome. His talk about “the Soul of the Apostolate” aimed to show all of the young participants that Catholics are more all built on a single model but that their very “inequalities” are willed by God and contribute to the harmony of the universe.

“God loves each one of us in a unique and unrepeatable way. The beauty of the church is expressed in a variety of vocations that will converge to the final end of the universe,” he said, encouraging his young listeners to make efforts to discern them without relying on the extraordinary, which is the error of the charismatics.

His call to action was above all a call to the nurturing of the “interior life” that is the life of the soul whose “vital principle is God himself.”

De Mattei then showed that other religions, and in particular post-Christian Judaism and Islam, know no interior life, relying on “formal acts” that are required of their faithful. “Christianity, on the other hand, qualifies as an interior religion” that does not propagate itself by holy war but “by sacrifice and preaching.”

“It is the only religion that has social fruits,” he added, showing the young people who certainly desire a more just society that the interior life inherent to the Catholic faith “changes and transforms” society by civilizing it, as can be seen in the role of women or the abolition of slavery, which was so present in the pagan world.

For the first time in the youth program, separate talks were held for the young women and the young men on the subject of personal vocation. Three nuns from the Consoling Sisters of the Sacred Heart, an Italian religious order founded in the 1960s that since 1996 has relied on the spiritual assistance of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, came to speak of their personal choices in life. Most remarkable was their joy. It was certainly the best witness they could give of the peace and happiness brought by answering God’s personal call.

Two American sisters explained how they had crossed the Atlantic to come and fulfill what they understood from providential signs to be their own vocation. They acknowledged that it was not easy. “But if you are called, you also get all the necessary graces to persevere. God is there every step of the way.”

They also insisted on the deeply feminine nature of the call. “Renouncing marriage and family life is a big sacrifice for any girl; we could also see it as against nature if we were hostile to it; but God gives us spiritual maternity. So fruitful his virginity that it gives supernatural life to many more souls than natural motherhood,” insisted one sister.

Another commented that the community life the sisters commit to allows them to “prove” their love of God through love of their neighbor in “fraternal charity.” “We are rocks rubbing against each other and making each other smooth,” she said with a smile.

In another more homely remark, eliciting a wave of approval from the listeners, a sister noted that their whole lives are filled with prayers and thoughts of their heavenly spouse: “We keep in contact, like a girl would with her boyfriend, texting him all day and rushing to defend him if he had been unjustly offended in any way.”

They also wanted to make clear that religious life is the “lung of the Church:” “The Church will never be able to do without the religious life” and its “fervent and constant prayer,” attracting graces for all “as a lightning rod.”

Speaking as an unmarried lay woman with responsibilities in the pro-life movement, Virginia Coda Nunziante recalled that while some choose compromise in a society that is “difficult” for women, and others “isolation,” that is, living according to the faith in their families and homes, there is also a “third way” that involves “public witness.” She recalled that this is not something new since the church is always given a high role to women and in particular nuns who have been counselors of popes and kings.

Since revolution, and in particular the sexual revolution often were pushed along by women, be it in the Bolshevik era, in Spain or in Poland, it is also up to women, and perhaps especially so to consecrated virgins living in the world, as an answer to the particular needs of these times, to be forces of the counterrevolution in society.

Coda Nunziante quoted a Masonic publication in France in 1968, L’Humanisme, which wrote: “To bring down Catholicism, bring down the dignity of woman.”

Events have shown us that this is done by creating a false equality between men and women and by making the latter lose their “sense of reserve.”

Calling on her listeners to “respond with a supernatural response,” through the restoration of “customs and modesty,” she told the young women to rely first of all on prayer. “Both action and contemplation come from a profound love of God. The more we love God, the more we hate evil and want His kingship over persons and society,” she insisted.

In the present day, those women who do not have a purely contemplative vocation, she added, have a mission “that also extends to very important political and social action. Because we do not live in normal times, we must be ready to embrace different vocations for the greater glory of God, always the feminine virtues of purity, sacrifice, self-denial, sweetness. We need to rediscover the pride of being Catholic, also in the public square, where we need the virtue of fortitude.”

“The most charitable work today is to carry on the fight against relativism, even if it’s only in your free time,” she said in an answer to a question about women who are obliged by circumstances to have an ordinary paid job. Coda Nunziante also suggested that girls should go and help large families and their extended family.

For those who have the common vocation to marriage, Colleen Bayer of Family Life in New Zealand gave a deeply stirring talk about her own marriage that has always been anchored on “Eucharistic life.” “The vocation of marriage takes three: husband, wife and God,” she said, giving many concrete and touching examples of the self giving that has been part of her own wedded life with Terry Bayer, whose love she described as “unlimited.”

The young women listening to Colleen said they were particularly interested to have her insights on “submissiveness” to one’s husband. “Terry is submissive to God and I to him, and that has brought freedom, also freedom from my self-willed personality,” she said.

One example was her husband’s insistence that after the birth of their daughter, Michelle, and the adoption of three special-needs children, the couple should take in and adopt a little girl with Down syndrome born to a 10-year-old raped and abused child when Colleen was already 55. She admitted that she had thought it would not happen. But her husband said, “Bring her home,” and now little Elizabeth is the light of his life.

Girls in the Voice of the Family youth program listened in silent awe as Colleen described the generosity of a couple so deeply involved in pro-life work that its love spilled out toward children with psychological or mental handicaps, finding its strength in sacramental life and daily Mass.

“Develop your backbone and do what God is calling you to do,” she concluded.

That is exactly what the youth program is trying to help these young people to achieve.

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