Over 6,000 young Catholics filled Washington’s D.C. Armory Friday morning for the second annual Life Fest hosted by the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus.
The pre-March for Life rally has already become a must-attend event for young pro-life Catholics. Coming off the success of their first Life Fest in 2023, the Sisters of Life and Knights of Columbus went big this year, choosing to hold the rally in one of D.C.’s largest arenas. The Sisters and Knights were not disappointed, as this year’s rally nearly doubled the previous year’s attendance.
Sister of Life Mary Gabriel told CNA that they would love for the rally to continue growing because they want everyone to hear the message that “love is the answer.”
“We want every person to walk out of here knowing that they are good, that they are chosen, that they are loved, and nothing can take away that love,” she said. “Love is the answer. This is a battle of the heart and it’s not just about law, which is important, but it’s really about the human heart.”
Sister Mary Gabriel said that Life Fest, a morning of prayer, praise and worship, inspirational talks, and Mass, is the best way to prepare to stand for life.
The event began at 6 a.m., well before the sun had risen. Outside the stadium, heavy snow blanketed D.C., but inside the atmosphere was energetic and joyful.
Though most of the crowd was made up of young Catholics in college and high school, religious orders and seminaries were also strongly represented, with sisters, priests, brothers, seminarians, and postulants from the Franciscans, Dominicans, and many other orders present.
The morning kicked off with praise music led by the Catholic group Damascus Worship and several testimonies of faith and life, including one from a post-abortive mother from New York City who converted to Catholicism and embraced God’s forgiveness because of the help and love shown to her by the Sisters of Life.
Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022 and then a year of difficult pro-life defeats in several states, the speakers at Life Fest said that the pro-life movement needs to focus on the message of love.
“Praise God we live in a post-Roe America, that is something to celebrate!” Sister Cora Caeli and Sister Charity exclaimed onstage while welcoming the young crowds.
“This is such a pivotal time in our history,” Sister Charity went on. “We know that the task of building a culture of life is just beginning. How can we ensure that every unborn child is reverenced and welcomed as a gift? How can we support every pregnant woman so she knows she’s not alone? How can we heal from the wounds of abortion as a nation, as families, and as individuals? How can we spread the good news of the gospel of life, the truth that every life matters, that your life matters? Love is the answer.”
Sisters Luca Benedict and Pia Jude, identical twins and both members of the Sisters of Life, gave one of the keynote addresses in which they urged the young faithful to spread love into the culture by radically following God and being confident in his love.
“Jesus wants you to know that you each have a story, the story of your life is being written,” said Sister Luca Benedict while Sister Pia Jude added that “all of us have been chosen to exist in this moment of history.”
Mass was celebrated by Archbishop William Lori, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, and concelebrated by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and several hundred priests from dioceses and orders across the country.
In his homily, O’Malley said that “dismantling unjust laws is only the beginning. We still have the arduous task of creating a pro-life culture, of changing people’s minds and hearts.”
“If exponents of the pro-life movement come across as judgmental or self-righteous, we will not be heard. People will believe us only when they are convinced that we care about them, people will believe us only when they are convinced that we love them. Our task isn’t to judge others but to try and bring healing,” he said. “We must learn to love first, to forgive first, to give first. It’s that kind of love that creates a culture of life.”
Danya, Maureen, and Elveda, three students who came to Life Fest from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA that they felt fired up by the rally and even more inspired to join the March for Life and to continue being witnesses to life after the march.
“It was amazing,” Danya said, adding that “the testimonies were very powerful.”
“For me personally to see a lot of young people and families stand for life, that’s very inspiring,” she added. “I think that gives hope to this generation and generations to come.”