National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Youthful Zeal for Real Families

Pro-Family Profile

BY Joseph Pronechen

March 23-29, 2008 Issue | Posted 11/18/08 at 1:23 PM

 

Materialism. Relativism. Immoral en--tertainment and attacks on the family. What’s a youth to do to buck the trends? Why, join the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC)’s new youth wing, iFIC.

The name of this offshoot purposely reflects the iPod generation. Only these members aren’t out for amusement, but to fulfill the rest of iFIC’s mission statement: “To promote and uphold traditional family values in the state of Connecticut by encouraging, challenging, and em--powering the leaders of tomorrow to dare, defy and do.”

“We want young people to dare to make a difference, to confidently stand up for traditional family values and to be witnesses of it among our peers and fellow citizens across Connecticut,” says iFIC’s 24-year-old director, Leah Ackland.

Already 48 members strong, iFIC worked arm in arm with its nonsectarian parent at the Family Institute of Connecticut Rally for Marriage on Sept. 28 at the Connecticut statehouse. Together they attracted 2,800 supporters. Among those working for the protection of traditional marriage were Zach Wood and Jennifer Landry.

“It was our first rally, and it came off incredibly well for FIC and iFIC,” says 18-year-old Wood, a college student. “We were in the crowd handing out information on marriage and what iFIC is doing. We knew we were having an impact right then.”

It was an easy move for him into iFIC, which is made up primarily of Catholics and evangelical Protestants, because he already had done some volunteering with FIC. “I was really excited,” he says, “because iFIC was going to be a way for the youth of Connecticut to be involved in what we believed had to be done to further pro-family issues.”

As a 2007 college graduate, 23-year-old Landry attended public schools and grew up Catholic. Her parents always brought her to Mass.

“As a high school freshman with conservative values,” she explains, “I was, in a way, naive to the evils in the world.” Everything came to a head in one class whose weekly assignment was to give a synopsis of a current-events article. One student used it to promote homosexuality, and he asked for opinions. When Landry said this lifestyle was morally wrong, “Every student but one verbally attacked what I said,” she recalls. “I couldn’t believe it. They were brainwashed. That was my basis for realizing how important these things are.”


Voice of Experience

The iFIC is becoming a boon to like-minded college and high school students. “Conservative youth at the moment feel isolated in their views. Our organization wants to unite these people and give them the power to act,” explains Ackland, who works for the Archdiocese of Hartford as Catholic campus minister at the University of Hartford and is studying for a master’s in theology at Holy Apostles College in Cromwell, Conn.

“When you talk about the John Paul II generation, Leah is it,” says FIC executive director Peter Wolfgang. He met her at Hartford’s Cathedral of St. Joseph, where they attend daily morning Mass. Wolfgang learned Ackland had already done pro-family work in college. Once he explained his vision for an FIC youth wing, she added ideas, and iFIC was launched.

Wolfgang knew the potential impact of a youth wing. Prior to what he calls his spiritual and political conversion while in law school, he was active in left-leaning, liberal causes in his youth.

“From my experience growing up in Connecticut, I know how the anti-family groups get their hooks into the youth,” he explains. “Members of our group would go to work for them and intern for them in the summer. I saw how the groups working in favor of abortion and same-sex ‘marriage’ have a long-range plan, a very sophisticated operation to reach and to cultivate the youth and use them to perpetuate their anti-Christian ideologies. I wanted to take what I learned firsthand growing up as a left, liberal man and apply it to winning the battle for faith and family in Connecticut.”


Counter Force

Answering that call is the “dare” in the iFIC’s mission statement. Ackland says the “defy” and the “do” are made manifest in the work of young people like Valeria Barbier, a college junior who gave key testimony before the state legislature that helped kill a bill that would have given Planned Parenthood $1 million to teach sex education to children.

“Because Valeria was a young person, she could say to Planned Parenthood what men can’t get away with saying,” reports Ackland. “They have a vested interest in sexualizing the youth; it’s a big business.”

Barbier’s outspokenness is the kind of daring action iFIC is encouraging.

“The ‘defy’ is to defy low cultural expectations and reject the status quo by setting higher expectations for ourselves and others,” Ackland continues, such as talking about abstinence before marriage in the positive terms of chastity.

The “do” element means attending public rallies, making promotional videos to post on YouTube, and countering the “gay-straight alliance” clubs in schools by establishing a traditional-values movement.

Father Michael Dolan, the Archdiocese of Hartford’s coordinator of campus ministry for 12 campuses and chaplain at the University of Hartford and Trinity College, sees the iFIC as “cutting-edge.”

“Most campuses are politically correct, and it’s hard to get a message heard that doesn’t tow the line,” he explains. “iFIC is learning how you speak a language people understand in order to transmit a message of great and lasting value.”

At the University of Hartford Father Dolan sees one woman in particular using her faith to engage the people in her dormitory, where intense conversations take place among friends and acquaintances.

“There’s no reason to think iFIC will not make just as much progress and become just as accepted as groups on the opposite sides of the issues,” he says.

The group hopes to spread iFIC membership statewide and beyond. In September, members were invited to make a presentation to representatives of the evangelical organization Focus on the Family in Washington, D.C. Since then, people from around the country have contacted iFIC, expressing interest in setting up similar movements in their states.

“Hopefully,” says Ackland, “this will become a national movement.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is

based in Trumbull, Connecticut.


INFORMATIONCTFamily.org/youth (877) 33-FAMILific@ctfamily.org