Twelfth annual 'Building Bridges to a Culture of Life' conference emphasizes dignity of life from conception to natural death 

DEARBORN — If you want to change the future, you need to change the youth.

More specifically, you need to change the culture that surrounds the youth.

Entering its 12th year, Building Bridges to a Culture of Life’s “Unleash the Culture of Life” Conference at Divine Child High School in Dearborn on Oct. 27 offered approximately 100 teens from the Archdiocese of Detroit a chance to hear pro-life speakers, network with fellow pro-lifers and learn from different perspectives on some of the most pressing moral issues of the day.

The conference, which began in 2004, has been a gathering for teens, by teens, to discover their role in the pro-life movement and how to be ambassadors for life.

Students “do everything from collecting speakers, getting all their information, organizing their trip here, ordering T-shirts and pamphlets — really everything from start to finish,” said Emily Roland of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Sterling Heights, one of the organizers of the event. “This conference is really important for pro-life youth because it really is rallying the youth, the future of our society, to the pro-life cause.”

Recognizing that most teens who attend the Building Bridges to a Culture of Life Conference are already pro-life, the conference offers youth a chance to learn how to become advocates for life in 2018.

Pat Castle, a U.S. Air Force veteran who holds a doctorate in analytical chemistry, is the founder and president/CEO of LIFE Runners, the largest pro-life running and walking team in the country with more than 9,200 teammates signing up to run in races, marathons and 5Ks across the world wearing pro-life T-shirts.

Castle served as the keynote speaker for the conference, encouraging attendees to pull out their smartphones and look up statistics about the magnitude of abortion in the United States.

Pat Castle, founder and president of LIFE Runners, a pro-life apostolate that witnesses to the Gospel by wearing pro-life T-shirts in marathons, 5Ks and races across the country, points out the significance of the group's signature verse, Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you."

“When I was in the Air Force, one of my titles was 'weapons of mass destruction defense officer,' and I was with an American unit in Turkey, the closest unit to Osama bin Laden on Sept. 11, 2001,” Castle said. “Now, I’m still a WMD defense officer, fighting against abortion, the biggest killer since 9/11. Every day in America, we lose about (as many people who died on) 9/11 every day to abortion. In all American wars, combat casualties were 1.4 million. In some years, we lose more than that to abortion. We lost 1.6 million 1999. Now it’s down to 900,000.”

“When I was in the Air Force, one of my titles was 'weapons of mass destruction defense officer,' and I was with an American unit in Turkey, the closest unit to Osama bin Laden on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, I’m still a WMD defense officer, fighting against abortion, the biggest killer since 9/11.”

Castle encouraged young people to know statistics, as well as the science behind the pro-life position and what it means to be a witness for life in a world that at times is hostile to the pro-life message.

“We need to know our stuff, folks; we have to know the stats,” Castle said. “We need to be witnesses on social media. Eighty-two percent of post-abortive women say they wouldn’t have had an abortion if they had someone who had been giving the pro-life argument.”

Also speaking at the conference were representatives of the Culture Project, a team of young adults from across the country who give witness talks on how young men and women can build a better environment for dating and relationships around respect for oneself and one another.

Another panel of speakers encouraged teens to spread the pro-life message through other means, including burying and praying for the dead and caring for the homeless, immigrants and those with limited physical abilities.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I’m pro-life,’ but they only think of abortion,” said Patrick Lee of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Northville, one of the emcees of the conference. “In reality, it is about the sanctity of each human life from birth to natural death. As youth witnesses, we’re addressing the most pivotal social issues of today’s age.”

Lee volunteered at the conference after hearing about it from his theology teacher at Detroit Catholic Central High School.

“Youths' witness is so powerful in the pro-life movement,” Lee said. “Fifty percent of abortions involve women ages 16 to 24. That’s why it’s important for our generation to understand the choices we’re making. As youths form into adults, we’re the next generation of decision makers.”

The conference also highlighted pro-life groups and ministries in southeast Michigan with which young people can get involved.

Angelica Abbott was one of three speakers for Protect Life Michigan, an organization that assists college students by linking them with pro-life resources on campus.

“Kids at this age are eager to learn and get involved. But the biggest challenge they face is the society we live in, how it is so anti-life. Being brought up in a culture of death can be very difficult, very challenging, and it takes you outside of your comfort zone.”

A panel of speakers talks about different aspects of the pro-life message during the Building Bridges to a Culture of Life student conference Oct. 27 at Divine Child High School in Dearborn.

Caring for all life

Local speaker Tiffany Brocker, a Detroiter, spoke about how she developed a friendship with Gordy, a homeless man she frequently saw on the corner of Chrysler Freeway and Larned Street.

Brocker developed a rapport with Gordy after years of stopping at the intersection with sandwiches, socks, underwear or anything else he might need.

“Over time, it seemed Gordy become a slower and slower walker, but I looked forward to the opportunity to minister to the homeless and run into Gordy,” Brocker said. “But after a while, I became concerned about Gordy, because nobody had seen him. Then in April this year, a man told me he had died.”

A heartbroken Brocker called the Wayne Country Morgue, who had Gordy’s body, since no one had claimed him. Reaching out to the Pope Francis Center at SS. Peter and Paul (Jesuit) Parish in Detroit, Brocker and volunteers organized a funeral for Gordy, which included student pallbearers from the University of Detroit-Jesuit High School's Joseph of Arimathea Ministry.

“As Catholics, we’re called to pray for the dead as a work of mercy,” Brocker said. “Pope Francis said we have to put mercy before judgement, because in every case, God’s judgement will be encased in mercy. Undertaking Gordy’s funeral was an amazing task that almost seemed impossible, but I want to live in a world where even small actions make a difference.”

People from all over donated to help fund Gordy’s funeral, Brocker said.

“It is important to know, you don’t have to do it by yourself,” Brocker said. “What may seem impossible to you is not impossible for God.”

James Wilson of St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak, who was involved in the first Building Bridges to a Culture of Life conference when he was in high school, said the annual event has grown to create a significant impact.

Over time, the conference has been a launching point for many youths to begin careers in pro-life ministry, Wilson said.

“It is beautiful to watch that transformation of the high school students who are organizing this conference from the beginning to the actual conference day,” Wilson said. “You see they have these convictions rooted in them, they have worked the materials and they understand what they are fighting for. They are ready to speak and minister to their peers with conviction, a conviction that is more natural.

“They know that even if what they say today affects just one person’s idea on abortion, that one life is worth it,” Wilson said. “All the change in the world happens just one little step at a time, one heart at time changing, opening their minds to the pro-life message and building a better world for all.”


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