The second annual Culture of Life Leadership Conference in Ancaster, Ont. on Feb. 17 and 20 allowed almost 100 area Catholic high school student leaders and adult guides to be informed about basic pro-life facts and issues so they could bring that information back to their classmates and spark pro-life initiatives among them.

Founded by Halton Pro-Life executive director Joanne Matters and the rest of her organization in Burlington, Ont. in 2005, with the co-operation of the Halton Catholic District School Board, it was attended by students and adults strictly from that board in its first year. This year, however, the event grew in leaps and bounds, thanks mainly to the added participation of students and adults from all seven high schools encompassed by the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton also contributed this year through its Office for Family Ministry.

“It was awesome,” said Matters after this year’s event was over. “It accomplished what we wanted it to do – inform and inspire. The students were enthusiastic and excited, and in presentations, they came up with tangible projects to bring back to their schools.”

A key and heartening component of the two-day conference was the attendance of high-ranking officials from both school boards and of Hamilton Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Bergie, who celebrated the event’s Mass. Bergie said in his homily that it filled him with hope to see so many young people present and added that it is important for the message of life to be heard in today’s world. He spoke of the need to take the Christian message outside the walls of churches into the wider world in which we live.

The event was pushed back one day because of inclement weather on the planned start date, Feb. 16. That development necessitated a shuffling of the itinerary and speakers. But things otherwise went off without a hitch as the revised schedule began with students breaking into groups for a series of three workshops: “Pro-Life 101,” facilitated by members of McMaster University’s pro-life group LifeLine; “Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” led by Matters; and “Embryonic Stem Cell Research,” given by Father Adrian Lee.

A keynote plenary address the afternoon of the first day was provided by Pedro Guevara-Mann, a supervising producer and reporter with Salt + Light Television, who gave a multi-media presentation on culture and the media. He attempted to alert his listeners to the slick tactics used by modern media to sell products and inculcate values alien to Christian ethics.

“It’s all about going for weaknesses … for a feeling,” he said. “Advertising works … because it speaks to your emotions. An ad that makes you think is bad.” He juxtaposed the nihilistic rock song Bohemian Rhapsody, with it’s closing motif that, “Nothing really matters,” with Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up, to show how media can provoke opposite emotional reactions in consumers.

The first day closed with the Mass with Bishop Bergie.

The second day began with a keynote plenary address by Natalie Hudson, executive director of the Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area, who spoke on “Sexuality, God and You.” She drew heavily on the late Pope John Paul II’s work The Theology of the Body to show the students why a life of chastity and purity makes not only godly sense, but physical sense as well.

“Sex as bodily pleasure negates the inner life of the person,” she said. “This separates the person from the body and is a violation of the person … As man disobeys God, we experience disobedience in our lives. There is a conflict between passions and appetites; intellect and the will.”

The conference concluded with students breaking off into groups and coming up with pro-life action items their schools could take on. They came back with a number of projects they will be following up on in the coming weeks and months.

In closing, conference leaders impressed upon the young people the importance of taking part in this year’s National March for Life in Ottawa May 10-12. So far, more than 100 Hamilton-Wentworth students have signalled their intentions to go.