Adults, youth share hope at pro-life demonstrations in Nebraska
By Kate Veik

Adults, youth share hope at pro-life demonstrations in Nebraska

.- For 37 years Cathy Peterson, a parishioner at St. Columbkille Church in Papillion, Neb. has zipped her coat, tied her shoelaces and headed out to the Walk for Life, a pro-life rally in Lincoln, Neb.

Peterson was at the first walk in 1974 - and has missed only two since.

"It definitely is a statement that we continue every year to be there," Peterson said. "They expected us within a couple years of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (legalizing abortion) to just take it and accept it."

Peterson will don her coat again Jan. 28 and join about 5,000 other pro-life advocates - some longtime marchers and others relatively new to the peaceful protest - at 10 a.m. on the steps of the Nebraska Capitol. The group will carry pro-life signs, pray the rosary and sing devotional hymns as they walk eight blocks to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Student Union.

One relative newcomer will be Bronson Gerken, a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha and a senior at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, who will participate in his third Walk for Life.

Gerken said he felt a bit intimidated as he stepped on the sidewalk for the first time in 2009, in effect making a public statement about his opposition to abortion. But he has been inspired by the joy and respect for life he sees exhibited by people such as Peterson.

"It's a very outward sign of your faith," Gerken said. "That can be a scary thing if you're not used to standing up and defending your faith in a very public way."

His experiences at the Walk for Life also inspired Gerken to pray at the abortion clinic in Bellevue, Neb. the last several years during 40 Days for Life, an annual international effort of prayer and protest in the battle against abortion.

"There's a lot of fighting left to do but there's also a lot of hope," Gerken said.

Peterson, whose sister, Anne Marie Bowen, is the founder and president of Nebraskans United for Life, said she hopes to move people to get involved in the November elections and "make people more aware of the cause for human life."

She said the walk is cold sometimes but her convictions compel her to stand up for the right to life.

Peterson said she also has seen progress in the effort against abortion, including growth in the Walk for Life from about 500 people in 1974 to more than 5,000 last year.

The Walk for Life takes place one week after the March for Life in Washington, D.C., which will be held for the 39th straight year Jan. 23 and includes more than 300 youth from the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Father Damien Cook, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Omaha and an organizer of the archdiocese's six pilgrimages to Washington, said six buses filled with pro-life advocates from across the archdiocese will travel to Washington Jan. 19-24 and make several other stops, including a Catholic shrine and seminary and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

But the young people won't be the only representatives of the archdiocese at the March, which is expected to draw more than 400,000 people from around the country.

Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha plans to join the March, and Marilou Holmberg-Roth, a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, said she will fly to Washington for the event with about 20 other adults from the archdiocese.

Holmberg-Roth said she also expects to participate in the Walk for Life, carrying a sign at both events that proclaims "Adoption is an Option."

She said her involvement - which includes participating seven times in the Walk for Life and four times at the March - stems from putting a son up for adoption after she became pregnant her freshman year in college. She recently learned her son is attending a university on a full-ride scholarship after graduating valedictorian of his high school class.

"It just affirms that every life has potential," she said.

Abby Allen, a freshman at Scotus Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School in Columbus, Neb. said she, too, hopes to promote adoption as she travels to the March for Life. Her 4-year-old brother, Ryan, inspired her, she said. Her family adopted Ryan after his mother twice tried to abort him, she said.

"Seeing him and how important he is to me makes me realize how important the lives of the babies being aborted could be to someone else," Allen said.

About 40 of Allen's schoolmates also plan to go on the archdiocesan trip to Washington, including Allen's older sister, Emily, a sophomore at Scotus Central Catholic.

It will be the Allen sisters' first pilgrimage to Washington, but one veteran of the trip will be Matt Coupon, a senior at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha.

Capoun said he plans to make his third trip to the March this year.

He said it was difficult "to be actively passionate" about being pro-life until he went on the March for the first time in 2010 and was "surrounded by people who feel the same way."

When he came back, Capoun helped rebuild his school's pro-life club, Skyhawks for Life. Today he is vice president of the club, voted in by his peers. The club has focused its energy on sending students to the March for Life and this year more than 20 students from Skutt Catholic will be on the March, he said.

Father Cook said having archdiocesan youth come together around the issue of life "gives a lot of hope."

"They are not only the future, but the present of the church," Father Cook said. "The desire is really to empower them with the truth."

Posted with permission from Catholic Voice, newspaper for the Diocese of Omaha, Neb.