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July 29, 2012

Promoting life, one balloon at a time

A rosary made from "LIFE" balloons is seen here during a March 23 rally for religious freedom in Federal Plaza. Members of the Crusaders for Life at St. John Cantius Parish brought the balloons to the rally.span>Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Natalie Schurolak from St. Peters in Volo, Ill and Therese Seybert from St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago pray during the rally. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Esteban Burgoa from Chicago holds sign displaying his faith during the rally. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Clare Dempsey holds onto a cross their youth group made for the rally.Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Dr. Tony Caruso referred to himself as a Catholic doctor said that he'd go to jail before he'd perform a procedure that goes against his conscience. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Dale Anderson from St. Christopher Parish holds up a sign for drivers on Dearborn to see as they drive by Fedreal Plaza. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Alicja Pozywio

STAFF WRITER

Eight years ago, Brother Chad McCoy of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius at St. John Cantius Parish, 825 N. Carpenter St., called around to see who could take part in a trip to Washington, D.C. for the annual March for Life. He had no idea that it was the beginning of a new chapter in Chicago’s pro-life movement and the birth of the St. John Cantius pro-life teen group in which a significant role is played by Chicago Crusaders for Life.

As he loaded 15 kids into the van for the 2004 march in D.C., he hadn’t dreamed that a few years later this group would organize “pro-life flash mobs” around the entire country; honor pro-life leaders in Hollywood style by unrolling the red carpet for them; pray on a gigantic rosary made of balloons in the middle of the city for numbers of occasions or turn a formal political rally on Federal Plaza in Chicago to a swing dance festival to “swing public opinion” on the HHS mandate.

Nor could he imagine the impact of yellow balloons with a black imprint: “LIFE.”

The first March for Life surprised everyone with its stillness, McCoy said.

“People walked, prayed and left. There was no intensity or urgency,” said McCoy.

His group broke the silence by rallying on Capitol Hill shouting: “We love babies, yes we do! We love babies; how about you?”

“We lost our voices again and again,” said McCoy. Subsequent trips involved teens from public and private schools as well as homeschooled kids. Soon the trip required a bus. Since then, about every two years, Brother McCoy has to charter an additional bus to transport everyone who wants to go to the rally.

Dramatic and good

“I haven’t ever experienced anything this dramatic in a good way,” said Aaron Brown, the president of the McHenry County College pro-life student organization in Crystal Lake, who has been with the Crusaders for the last five years.

But going on Marches for Life wasn’t enough for McCoy, who said, “Everybody went home and as a group we weren’t doing a lot for the culture of life.”

As a result, the St. John Cantius leaders created a rule that “everyone who goes on the March for Life should be involved in any pro-life causes, not only the antiabortion (cause), but generally life-affirming causes,” said McCoy. Many prayed in front of abortion clinics, some visited hospitals, others fasted and signed up for the 40 Days for Life initiative.

“When you see that after your prayers, women change their minds, you know that you are saving babies,” said Julia Wool, 14, a freshman at Downers Grove North High School, who calls praying in front of the abortion clinics the highlight of her pro-life experience.

This rule bore fruit.

“Everyone had a more mature understanding of the reality of abortion,” said McCoy.

Balloons earning fame

The idea of carrying balloons surfaced when the group wanted something positive, happy and cool to carry.

“We wanted to show the joy of kids who have the Holy Spirit and are fired with love for the Lord and the truth,” McCoy said.

He asked what would symbolize all of that and the group shouted an answer: “Balloons, balloons!”

The color yellow came naturally. “It goes back to the time when after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, we countered the group of protesters in front of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, wearing the pope’s gold and yellow colors,” said McCoy.

The balloons made an enormous impact during the March for Life.

“It was not just one balloon per person but clusters of balloons. It became our symbol,” said McCoy.

They earned more fame with the pro-life flash mob in February 2011 at Daley Plaza. The group was peacefully protesting a Walk for Choice.

“We transported the helium balloons in black garbage bags and as the sound of the Lord of the Rings played from a stereo system built into a backpack, they popped out all around the plaza,” McCoy said.

The whole event was recorded and uploaded online.

“Before we knew it, all Catholic media were picking it up,” said McCoy. They received requests for yellow balloons and help organizing pro-life flash mobs all over the country. They have been involved in pro-life rallies in Michigan, Ohio, California, Texas and Ireland. They have sent about 25,000 printed yellow balloons to different pro-life groups.

Crusaders for Life is the official pro-life St. John Cantius group but the pro-life teenage group includes many youth from surrounding parishes as well. They are committed to being educated on all life issues. Once a month between 30 to 60 people show up to pray, play, dance, listen to a speaker, save time for confession, soccer, bonfires, sledding and iceskating.

Luke Drong, a recent graduate from Lockport High School who is thinking about an engineering career, said the Crusaders made him a better person over all but the mission alone inspires him.

“The people who are in it know what they are doing, and they get the job done,” he said.

For more information about the Crusaders for Life, email Brother McCoy at babiesmaketheworldgoround@gmail.com or call (312) 243-7373.