Riley Inspires Young Adults to Value Life
In addition to the march in the nation's capital, a separate rally in Trenton will take place the same day.
As one of the major participants in the demonstrations, youth and young adults in the Archdiocese of Newark and nationwide are making their pro-life voice heard in increasing numbers.
Cheryl Riley, special events coordinator and administrative assistant for the athletic department at Queen of Peace High School will lead a group of about 50 teenagers as they journey to Washington.
The abortion issue is not only a political and spiritual cause to Riley-it is personal. After having an abortion at the age of 19, Riley has served as a post-abortion minister and gives her testimony to young people throughout the archdiocese. She participates in Rachel's Vineyard, a weekend retreat for postabortive men and women organized by the archdiocesan Respect Life Office, located in Linden.
"I just go out and give witness to educate others on what really happens after an abortion. I was 19- years-old and in a crisis situation," Riley explained.
Her ministry to young people is especially important due to her firsthand knowledge of the pressures they face. "When I speak to the kids, they are always wonderful. They ask questions and participate. The young people always hear about what to do before an abortion. I don't think they have listened to what happens to someone after they leave the clinic. The Holy Spirit just works with me to reach out to the kids."
Riley believes that education and honesty are key when discussing abortion with youth. "Abortion leads to the death of a child. I feel that no one explained to me what abortion was. The clinic left out the word 'baby.'"
Following her procedure, Riley suffered from post-abortion syndrome, which is similar to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of the disorder include nightmares, feelings of guilt, suicidal thoughts, a disconnection from God and can lead to drug and alcohol abuse.
The repercussions following abortion are rarely discussed, Riley argues. "I suffered for 12 years. I want to raise awareness to the kids of the effects of abortion. I want to make it known that you do suffer afterwards. Men are also affected by abortion and grieve along with women. Men feel that they were supposed to be caretakers and having that taken away from them can be traumatic."
The trauma of her abortion stayed with Riley for years and she was unaware of what could heal her mental and spiritual wounds. "I knew I needed help. I went from psychiatric counselor to psychiatric counselor and they said that the abortion was not the cause of my problems. I read a church bulletin at Queen of Peace Parish and saw the announcement about Rachel's Vineyard-that is where the healing started. I thought there was nothing that could help me and I was just so disconnected from God. I feel like I made the first step to the healing at Rachel's Vineyard," Riley recalled.
By regularly attending Queen of Peace Parish and going to Rachel's Vineyard, she learned to address her issues and further understand her faith's message about abortion. "I now have a relationship with my unborn daughter," she said. "When I give my testimony, I read a letter to my child. I was given the advice to memorialize and name my daughter. I named her Christine."
Today, Riley has three children and is open about her experiences. "My children know they have a sister in heaven watching over them." Discussing her abortion and the journey to find peace was difficult for Riley in the beginning of her ministry. "It was painful at first to speak about my experiences. However, I feel that God has given me the grace to do this. It is not easy to do what I do- there is no anonymity and few people do this kind of ministry. I feel blessed and, in a way, I feel that educating others is a way of giving back to my unborn child."
Riley has been attending the March for Life in Washington D.C. for almost 10 years, but this is her first year as a chaperone for the Youth for Life group at Queen of Peace. As a regular attendee of the rally, Riley is continually impressed by the amount of young people who are making their voice heard in support of life. "I feel like I have a connection with young people," she said. "Sex and drugs are difficult issues for parents to talk about. I never had anyone talk to me about it," Riley lamented. "If just one person sees the march and has a change of heart about abortion, it is all worth it."
One of the students attending the March for Life along with Riley is Kimberly Feliciana, 17, president of the Youth for Life. "This is my second time attending the march and I strongly feel the need to attend," Feliciana said. "One-third of our generation has been aborted. Every life is valuable."
Seventeen-year-old Lauren Rocha, who serves as vice-president of her school's Youth for Life group, also attended the rally last year. "Our country is about freedom and justice but we continue to take the life of innocent children. Our generation is not going to sit by and watch this happen. I think our generation will change things because the people that are in power now are not doing a very good job."
Not only are young women passionate about the cause, but young men involved in Youth for Life also plan on attending the march. "Everyone deserves a chance to live," Gage Roman, 16, said. Siraz Ali, 17, previously has attended the March for Life, and as a Muslim, feels that the issue of abortion unites people of all faiths. "As Muslims, we don't support abortion," Ali said. "I hope to meet new people at the rally and hear their opinions on the issue."
The large number of students and young people going to Washington D.C. is a positive sign for the pro-life movement according to Jim Sondey, chairman of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Commission. Sondey has attended the March for Life for the past 18 years and notices the commitment of the youth.
"Some young people and high school students travel a long way to get to the march," he said. "I see families with strollers walking. It is so inspiring when you are walking to the Supreme Court building and look back to the sea of people behind you. It shows that you are not alone."