The two biggest stories covered by the Catholic Standard newspaper and website this month converged this month in a group of young adult Catholics sitting near the stage at the Archdiocese of Washington’s annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life at the Capital One Arena on Jan. 18.
I began my article on the youth rally by noting that it wasn’t hard to discover who in the crowd had traveled the farthest to be there, because “among the estimated 18,000 people in the arena was Monica Pazniewski, waving a life-sized inflatable yellow plastic kangaroo with green boxing gloves. She had journeyed with a group of about 120 young adults from Sydney, Australia, who stopped in Washington to join the March for Life on Jan. 18 before continuing on to World Youth Day in Panama.”
Pazniewski said she had come to march for life “because I believe every human life and dignity and value, and I want to stand up for everyone.”
Joining the Australian young adults at the rally and Mass was Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher, who said, “I have known about the March for Life for decades. This is my first time. I’m excited to be here… This is just ideal to make a pilgrimage for life on the way to World Youth Day. We’ll get double bang to the buck.”
The archbishop noted, “For us to see so many people standing up for life is inspiring. Who knows, maybe someday we might do the same in Australia.”
The pro-life cause helped inspire his own vocation when he was young, he said. “When I look at them and their idealism, it reminds me of the spark of my faith. It helps renew my idealism… It gives you hope the next generation will do great things.”
He noted that some of the other young adult Catholics from Australia were making a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, while they too were on their way to the World Youth Day gathering in Panama City.
Reflecting on the pilgrims from his country who would be participating in World Youth Day, Archbishop Fisher said, “For many of these young people, they will discover that (in) loving God and wanting to be Christian in this world… they’re not alone. There are millions like them.”
That point was echoed by several of the Aussie young adults attending the Rally and Mass for Life. Mitchell Gallagher, 20, who does catering work in the Sydney area, said he would be attending his first World Youth Day.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said, adding that, “as a young Catholic, you can feel very isolated and alone,” but he believed that the crowds of young Catholics at World Youth Day would show that “the faith is not dying – it’s thriving more than ever.”
Sitting beside Pazniewski at the youth rally and Mass was Sarah Alimangohan, who had small temporary tattoos of the Australian flag on both sides of her face. She noted that the theme of their pilgrimage was “Life to the Full,” which she said was a good message to bring to the March for Life and then to World Youth Day and back home again.
Noting that the World Youth Day theme reflected Mary’s “yes” to following God’s will and becoming the mother of Jesus, Alimangohan said, “To amalgamate World Youth Day and the March for Life is saying ‘yes’ to God’s plan for your life, and saying ‘yes’ to God’s plan for other people.”
Pazniewski, a 23-year-old Catholic who is studying physical therapy at her college Down Under, said she hoped that her World Youth Day experience would help her “to discern and live out God’s will in my life, just like when Mary said, ‘Yes, be it done according to thy will.’” The Australian young adult added, “That’s what I want to do with my life.”
And when she returns home to Australia after her World Youth Day pilgrimage, Pazniewski said she hopes “to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and bring that back to my family and friends in Australia.”
(Mark Zimmermann is the editor of the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)