Punta Gorda | Two key groups received special attention during the 2018 Statewide Florida Respect Life Conference held at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda Sept. 29. A second site was needed to accommodate the youth of the Diocese, while a parallel workshop to the main Conference was devoted to Spanish-language faithful in the main event center.
About 200 men and women from 15 Parishes of the Diocese took part in a Youth Respect Life Conference at nearby Sacred Heart Parish. This event brought the message of life to a group that will be a key part of the future Pro-Life debate.
The youth learned about the Pro-Life movement while hearing from speakers on the issue. Throughout the day they were told to see themselves as valued and loved while learning to value all life from conception to natural death.
One young man from St. Agnes Parish in Naples said he thought he knew all of the arguments about being Pro-Life. “Today, I realized I need to take action in defense of life. It’s not just about knowing the facts and staying on the sidelines and doing nothing. I need to do more. Too much is at stake.”
A young woman from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula said each speaker reached her in different ways. “It is hard to hear about chastity and being Pro-Life when there are so many pressures out there to do what your friends are doing,” she said. “I need to stand up and be a strong woman. I am special because I have value as a child of God. I know I can do it.”
Bishop Frank J. Dewane said he was pleased to have such a large group for the youth component of the Conference and told those gathered that “we all need to hear the message of the value of life. We need to realize that in our own lives there is value, and what a gift each of you are to your family, the Diocese, your Parish and to your community.”
Bishop Dewane urged the youth to not just consider themselves, but to look out for others. The most threatened times we all need to speak up about are at the beginning and the end life, “because life at those stages, oftentimes they cannot speak for themselves.”
Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine, and Respect Life Moderator for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was impressed to see the youth gathered for this special purpose and celebrated a Mass for them at the end of their day. “The Catholic Church wants to promote a ‘Yes’ to life.”
Bishop Estevez spoke about the value of life and spoke specifically about the death penalty and the recent change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Pope Francis, which calls the death penalty inadmissible in all circumstances. “Prison is not supposed to be penal,” he said. “It is to be for reform and rehabilitation.”
Bishop Mark J. Seitz spoke in more detail about the value of life. He asked the youth to explain what they are worth and why. The keynote speaker at the main Respect Life Conference, Bishop Seitz is from the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, and a member of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Of course, the youth are all priceless because each of is made in the image and likeness of God, Bishop Seitz said. “You are of such great value, being a reflection of the love you received from God, no amount of money is enough.”
The day also included a frank discussion on sexual abstinence and its benefits from Pam Stenzel, the founder of Enlighten Communications Inc. and Senior Regional Clinic Coordinator for Community Pregnancy Clinics in Naples, Fort Myers and Sarasota.
“I’m going to tell you the truth, so you can make a decision,” Stenzel said. “Chasity is where Pro-Life begins. Because there is a cost to pregnancy among teens. The choices are bad, terrible and worse. This isn’t a game. This is not getting a new puppy. These babies don’t deserve the death penalty because of your actions. You best choice is before you have sex.”
Stephanie Gray, author, international speaker and president of “Love Unleashes Life,” spoke about the way to win arguments in favor of life. In the days following the Conference, Gray also spoke on the same subject to Catholic high school students.
Throughout the day a group from NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries interacted with the youth, keeping them focused on life issues through fun and games.
While the main Confidence was taking place, a Spanish-language workshop focused on education on the Church’s stance on life issues and offering information about support for those who may have had an abortion.
About 50 people heard from Bishop Seitz and Bishop Estevez, as well as Ingrid Delgado, Associate for Social Concerns/Respect Life for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Sylvia Jimenez, Diocese of Venice Project Rachel Coordinator.
The response to the workshop was enthusiastic, as many questions were asked and information shared. Bishop Seitz explained the need to share clear information to all Catholics on the issues of life, from conception to natural death.
“Life is promoted throughout the Bible and in the teachings of the Church,” Bishop Seitz said. “Helping everyone understand why the Church takes these positions is key to building up the culture of life for all Catholics.”