FAIRFAX, Va. — At her New York high school, Elizabeth Hotalen feels alone in her pro-life beliefs. But every January, she travels southward to Virginia and attends the Arlington Diocese’s Life is VERY Good event with more than 8,000 teens who are as pro-life as she is.
“I come from a school (where) everyone is very anti-life. I’ve been harassed in school because I’m pro-life and it’s amazing to see so many teens here. It makes me so happy,” she said.
Busloads of Catholic youths traveled from 49 dioceses and archdioceses from 26 states to attend the annual rally held at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax the evening before the March for Life. The Jan. 23 event was sponsored by the diocesan office of Youth, Campus and Young Adult Ministries.
Each group sported matching shirts, sweatshirts or scarves. Before the program began, the teens walked around the concourse, chatted with the men and women religious manning booths and took photos with a cutout of Pope Francis. They bought pro-life and religious swag, as well as sodas and snacks. Dozens of priests heard confessions.
In the amphitheater, multicolored lights roved over the quickly filling seats as Catholic musician ALOB sang praise and worship songs. Then Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington greeted the teens.
“(We bishops) are so very proud of you when we see your love for the Lord, your commitment to the Gospel of life, your courage and your zeal,” he said.
Bishop Burbidge told them he hoped this night would prepare them for the next day’s march.
“Did you ever notice when you have a big sporting event or a big performance or a big task to do, the better prepared you are, the better it will be? So we have this rally (with) great music and great speakers so we get that zeal, that energy, that enthusiasm going for tomorrow,” said Bishop Burbidge.
“Tomorrow is a special day for the unborn and how blessed are we that we get to be their voice, their intercessors and their protectors,” he said.
Speaker Immaculee Ilibagiza spoke about surviving the Rwandan genocide. She held a rosary throughout her speech, saying that reciting the prayer brought her peace during the months she and several women spent hiding in a small bathroom. Though she was angry and devastated when she learned her family had been killed, she encouraged the teens not to harbor hatred and to always forgive.
When Ilibagiza finished, the entire auditorium gave her a standing ovation.
At the close of the night, Bishop Burbidge led adoration, processing with the monstrance throughout the crowd. The thousands knelt on the concrete as the smell of incense wafted up to the rafters.
“The other reason I love (Life is VERY Good) is adoration, being there with God,” Hotalen told the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper. “This is an amazing rally.”
Prior to the March for Life, Bishop Burbidge was the celebrant and homilist at Mass the morning of Jan. 24 at EagleBank Arena. More than 5,000 people attended, including dozens of priests and bishops.