Increased awareness and involvement by youth is showcased at Bishop's Annual Pro-Life Banquet

Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

Participants view a christening gown for auction at the Bishop's annual Pro-Life Banquet. The annual banquet supports diocesan pro-life programs.
Participants view a christening gown and other items that were auctioned at the Bishop's annual Pro-Life Banquet. The annual banquet supports diocesan pro-life programs.

They’re the generation that grew up knowing how to surf the Internet, post videos on YouTube, and download pictures from a cell phone. But Generation Z youngsters -- born in the 1990s and beyond — are plugged into more than just their electronic devices. Research studies indicate today’s teens are more thoughtful, socially aware, and informed about morality issues than their predecessors.

That awareness was showcased during The Bishop’s 8th Annual Catholic Pro-Life Banquet held Sept. 29 at the Hyatt Regency DFW. Members of the diocesan Youth for Life organization served as young hosts at the dinner and were featured in a video that showed the group praying at local abortion clinics and participating in summer “pro-life boot camp” activities.

Speakers and prayer vigils scheduled during “boot camp” inspired 15-year-old Cameron Walton to become more involved in the pro-life movement.

 “Our generation is directly affected by abortion. If we don’t stand against it, who will?” voiced the home-schooled high school sophomore during a break in the evening’s festivities. “Seeing other people on fire about pro-life issues makes me want to do more.”

Providing educational forums for young people through Youth for Life is just one of the ministries the Bishop’s Pro-Life Banquet raises money for, ministries that protect, nurture, and sustain human life from conception to natural death. The Gabriel Project, which assists women in crisis pregnancies, and Rachel Ministries, a healing outreach to post-abortion victims, are two other programs supported by the annual fundraiser.

The event also gives members of the diocesan Catholics Respect Life office an opportunity to recognize outstanding service and dedication. Burnie and Carol Vaughn were the recipients of this year’s Service to Life Award for their public commitment to pro-life work and charity toward women and families in crisis. Each year, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioners charter a bus for participants going to Austin’s Walk for Life, and they frequently join other Knights of Columbus families at prayer vigils outside a local abortion clinic.

“Burnie and Carol are champions for the unborn and are more than worthy recipients of this award,” Bishop Kevin Vann said, before presenting the couple with the Service to Life Award, a crystal cross. “They are willing volunteers for anything when it comes to respecting life.”

Thanks to other supporters who sponsored tables and donated auctions times, this year’s fundraiser — attended by 550 people -- was a success, according to Mike Messano, director of Advancement for the diocese. A live auction, featuring artwork by John Sustaita and Kerry Kerr, and Mavericks tickets from Robert Bertino, netted almost $3,000.

Youth for Life teens, who sold raffle tickets during the dinner, boosted pre-event sales considerably.

“I was amazed at the energy and passion of these young people,” said Messano, who was pleased the banquet spotlighted their efforts. “Educating the next generation about pro-life issues is important and these kids epitomize that.”

Click here to view slideshow of Bishop's Pro-Life Banquet.

Pledging money to support diocesan ministries is part of the evening, and audience members heard an impassioned defense of life by Father Jim Pemberton before filling out their cards. The St. Bartholomew pastor told listeners the media inundates the public with stories of war, terrorism, and crime but ignores another American tragedy — abortion.

“Our national and local media does not mention one word about these atrocities because it refuses to recognize these unborn victims as human life,” he continued.

Human development is a never-ending process created by God that begins at the moment of conception and ends at the moment of our death.

“We are not potential human beings,” he insisted. “We’re human beings with potential.”

In addition to supporting diocesan ministries monetarily, Fr. Pemberton urged the gathering to shed light on pro-life issues by participating in the 40 Days for Life campaign, standing vigil outside abortion clinics, and using “our daily prayers to ask the Father of all life to lead us in overthrowing the culture of death.”

Keynote speaker for the evening, Dr. Thomas Hilgers, told the audience that reading Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 changed his personal and professional life. Today, the obstetrician/gynecologist specializes in reproductive medicine and helped develop the Creighton Model Fertility Care System. His ongoing medical research and application of this system introduced NaProTechnology — a new women’s health science that monitors and maintains a woman’s reproductive and gynecological health using treatments that work cooperatively with the body and nature.

“It is completely consistent with Catholic teaching,” Dr. Hilgers explained.

The founder and director of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction went on to say despite popular opinion, the availability and popularity of oral contraceptives has not enhanced but diminished women’s reproductive health care.

“Everything that is pushed on them is unhealthy for them and very unhealthy for their babies,” he cautioned, referring to the growing use of abortion, sterilization, and in vitro fertilization. “It’s a problem that the culture has accepted.”

A firm believer that faith, coupled with science, forces a researcher to ask different questions, Dr. Hilgers provided the crowd with startling statistics. There have been 150,000 scientific papers published on the birth control pill since it was introduced in 1960. Most concern side effects and complications.

By comparison, only 250 articles have appeared in medical journals discussing natural methods to regulate fertility.

“There are people who think the Church is anti-science and stuck in the Middle Ages,” the speaker pointed out. “Yet, in Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul encourages men of science, physicians, and health care professionals to become involved in this work and develop technologies that would be reliable, accessible, and consistent with Catholic teaching.”

What medical science has produced in recent decades is a spike in premature births, a highly abortive in vitro fertilization industry, and rising infertility rates. More than 50 million abortions have also taken place in the U.S. since 1973.

Hilgers called the dearth of media attention given to these facts a “conspiracy of silence.”

“They want to keep people in the dark and uneducated about these issues,” he asserted. “In spite of that, your efforts through education programs in the pro-life movement are showing returns, and I congratulate you for that.”

Welcomed with a standing ovation, Bishop Kevin Vann used the banquet to discuss his recent appointment to Bishop of the Diocese of Orange, California. The bishop, who will serve as apostolic administrator in the Diocese of Fort Worth until December, reassured his supporters they would not be forgotten.

“Fort Worth has been wonderful. It’s been a real blessing for me,” he said, leaning casually against the podium. “I may be in Southern California in four months, but you’ll always be with me. Remember that.”

He encouraged the audience to continue working to advance a culture of life.

“We have a light and message to give. We have a light and message of life to live,” he reminded them. “There are a lot of wonderful things going on in the diocese affecting families, and we didn’t always have that. It’s happened because of all of you. I want to thank you for your commitment to this most important work — the work of defending human life.”

Providing educational forums for young people through Youth for Life is just one of the ministries the Bishop’s Pro-Life Banquet raises money for, ministries that protect, nurture, and sustain human life from conception to natural death