When hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world descend on Toronto this July for the week-long World Youth Day, the life and family cause will have a strong presence with activities and exhibits planned over several days.

World Youth Day has grown into a major, Catholic-based international event held every two years and features a series of events among youth celebrating life and faith, culminating in a visit by, and a celebration of mass with, Pope John Paul II.

On the life and family side of things, a coalition called World Youth for Life has been formed to co-ordinate a series of events related to, though not an official part of, World Youth Day, which will run from July 23-28. Participants include the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, Campaign Life Coalition and the National Campus Life Network.

“We basically want to have a pro-life presence at World Youth Day,” said Natalie Hudson, executive director of the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area. “We also want to inspire and educate young people to go back home and take with them the pro-life message.”

The banner event for her group will be a World Youth for Life Day July 22 on scenic Olympic Island, which is expected to draw some 5,000 to 10,000 people. The stellar cast of speakers and entertainers includes:

  • – Iain Benson, one of Canada’s top constitutional lawyers, is the founder and director of the Centre for Cultural Renewal, and specializes in talking about secularism and how it affects society.
  • – Camille de Blasi is executive director of the Centre for Life Principles, an educational organization based in Washington state. “She’s a very, very prolific speaker,” said Hudson. “She speaks all over the continent and is excellent. Her centre does amazing work as far as trying to change the culture using philosophy. It presents philosophical principles in an interesting and easy-to-understand way.”
  • – Dr. Dolores Grier, vice-chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York and director of the Association of Black Americans Against Abortion, is the first woman, layperson and black to have achieved such a high position in the Catholic church. She is very involved in multi-cultural issues affecting life.
  • – Father Tom Lynch, a bioethics expert and professor of moral theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary.
  • – Mark DeYoung works for the World Youth Alliance.
  • – Ceili Rain, a Celtic rock band featuring dancers including Shanda Gibson.
  • – Singer-songwriter Kevin Dunn, a father of six from Saskatchewan.

Hudson said the speakers were chosen with the aim of having a broad range of views and issues covered. “These people are leaders. They’re diverse and representative of many facets of the pro-life movement … We really want it to be a great event for young people to meet, get to know each other, network and hear the message.”

Another aspect of the day will be the welcoming of hundreds of American Life League Crossroads youth, who will be completing a walking pilgrimage that will have started in San Francisco and proceeded on to New Orleans. A “big welcome” is planned, said Hudson.

Meanwhile, a Leaders’ Convention: Living the Gospel of Life is being held July 21, the day prior to World Youth for Life Day. It will be hosted by St. Michael’s College Students for Life and the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, and is tentatively scheduled for St. Michael’s College. “It will feature speakers and a roundtable discussion for young people – people who feel they would like to be leaders in the pro-life movement,” said Hudson.

Elsewhere at World Youth Day, an official Pavilion of Life, hosted by the National Campus Life Network, the Centre for Life Principles and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat, will stand at Exhibition Place throughout the week. The exhibit will highlight the Christian obligation to stand up and defend the dignity of the human person. Kiosks will allow pilgrims to access abortion information worldwide and explore fetal development. Booklets will also be available.

A Culture of Life Cafe, hosted by the World Youth Alliance, will also run all week and spotlight original art and photography, an interactive mural, dance lessons, book signings, basketball tournaments and more.

On July 24 and 26, a Forum on the Dignity of the Human Person, sponsored by the World Youth Alliance, will bring together philosophers, intellectuals, artists, clergy, professionals, politicians and young people. They will discuss the nature of the human person. George Wiegel, author of Witness to Hope, the biography of Pope John Paul II, and Father Richard John Neuhaus, a leading thinker on the role of faith in public life, will be featured speakers.

On July 25, an International Roundtable on the Human Person and the Free and Just Society, will see a selected group of young people discuss the Christian vision of these issues with a panel including Wiegel and Neuhaus. The goal will be to see young people develop a language for engaging secular society about the dignity of the human person. More information on this session is available at the World Youth Alliance website: www.wya-amj.org.

Other, more informal activities are being planned throughout the week of World Youth Day and will be announced as the event approaches.

As well, the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area has established a pro-life registration group with the World Youth Day office. This will allow pilgrims to be kept together for events like catechesis sessions, masses, social projects and sleeping areas. The registration number is CO3777-1530 and the group name is World Youth for Life.

Inquiries about the World Youth for Life Leaders’ Convention and Day, and pro-life group registrations, can be addressed to:

Natalie Hudson at:
(416) 483-7869 or e-mail nhudson@on.aibn.com. Questions about the Pavilion of Life or the Culture of Life Cafe can be directed to Kevin Belgrave at the same phone number, or e-mail director@ncln.ca.