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BOSTON -- Over 1,000 eighth grade students from Catholic schools in the archdiocese gathered to hear chastity and pro-life speakers at the Created for Love Rally at Boston College High School on Oct. 23.
The rally was part of the Created for Love curriculum, which is a moral theology program mandated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley for grades six-eight in all Catholic schools and parish religious education programs. As the first group of students to complete the three year curriculum, all eighth graders were invited to participate in the rally.
"We love all of you so much," said Cardinal O'Malley in his opening remarks. "We want you to be successful. We want you to have that happiness that comes from leading a life of love. That love that comes from having a life of freedom, and that freedom that's born out of discipline in our own lives."
He urged students to reflect deeply on the message they would hear in the talks, and encouraged them to recognize God's thumbprint on them.
"If we choose to not follow those directions that are written in our heart, then we are doing violence to who we are. And it does introduce chaos into our lives and can keep us from finding meaning and true happiness," he said.
After his address, the boys attended a talk given by Jason Evert while the girls attended a talk given by Sarah Swofford. Both talks addressed dating and chastity.
Swofford focused on the specific hardships that face young girls in junior high, specifically the cycle of use in dating relationships.
"Men use women and women use men," Swofford said. "It goes both ways."
Swofford voiced the dangers of obsessive relationships, overusing social media, and letting emotions carry us onto the "emoticoaster."
"You have to be the boss of your thoughts," she said. "Your heart was made to love but your head was made to lead. If you only remember one thing from this talk, let it be that."
She encouraged the girls that they were not alone, and mentioned that most older women tell her they wished they had heard her message when they were in eighth grade.
Swofford urged the girls to think about who they want to be, who they are living for, and what they are living for. Instead of trying to find a relationship, she encouraged them to grow in virtue and grow closer to God.
"Strive to become the woman of your dreams and you will attract the man of your dreams."
After the talk, the girls were invited to take free books and CDs, including Swofford's book "Emotional Virtue."
Hailey Colby of Lawrence Catholic Academy said she had never heard a talk like this before.
"I thought it was very useful especially for girls at this age," Colby said.
After lunch, all the students gathered back in the main auditorium for praise and worship and a short address from the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth. The program closed with a talk by pro-life speaker Chad Judice.
Judice shared the story of his son Eli, who was diagnosed with a severe birth defect before he was born. Doctors said Eli wouldn't be able to walk and would be severely mentally disabled. Judice shared how this transformed his faith, brought him into deeper prayer, and allowed him to surrender to God's will.
"God wants us to trust and be dependent on him like a child is dependent on his parents," Judice said. "We have to let go and let God."
Throughout his wife's pregnancy, Judice prayed for a miracle. He said he began to understand God's sacrificial love for humanity through he and his wife's suffering.
"We chose to embrace the emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering that would accompany this journey," Judice said. "It really wasn't possible without divine intervention."
Judice mentioned that most parents abort their unborn children who have the prognosis that Eli had. But Eli defied all predictions, and celebrated his eighth birthday this past February.
Judice's book, "Waiting for Eli" documents that journey of faith and love.
"This is the story of an unborn child crying out in the womb who was heard by believers."
Judice ended his talk with words of encouragement for the students.
"God doesn't always answer your prayers when you're ready for them to be answered. He doesn't always answer them the way you want them to be answered. But it doesn't mean he didn't answer them," he said. "You just have to be looking with the eyes of faith instead of the eyes of the world. And then you really see how he answered your prayer."