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Behind the scenes at Life is VERY Good

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For years, the people of the Diocese of Arlington have hosted out-of-town March for Lifers. But eventually, those in youth ministry realized that visitors didn’t need only a place to stay — they needed a place to worship. 

“Some people think we created an event and we’re teaching (teens) how to be pro-life, but it’s really the inverse of that,” said Kevin Bohli, director of the Office of Youth, Campus and Young Adult Ministries. “There were so many thousands of young people already coming into town that we offered them a place to gather in prayer.”

See more photos from Life is VERY Good and the March for Life. 

What started with dozens grew into Life is VERY Good — thousands of teens from across the country and down the street celebrating life together with music and prayer the evening before and the morning of the march.

The process of planning starts with booking the arena, shortly after the previous Life is VERY Good ends. The schedule of EagleBank Arena in Fairfax is filled with basketball games, expos and concerts, but since Life is VERY Good has been held there for years, the management has come to expect it, said Bohli. Next, the youth office books speakers and musicians, finding acts they believe can entertain the large group of teens. 

Planning then settles down until about August or September, said Bohli, when they start sending out registration information to groups that have come before and diocesan respect life offices across the country. “If we don’t send out information, we start getting emails pretty quickly,” he said. 

Each group has assigned seating so they’re guaranteed to have a spot when they arrive. But it does make sending tickets more difficult.

“We get 16,000 tickets from EagleBank Arena, so you have these stacks and stacks. We get a conference room and lay out all the tickets and all the boxes. That perhaps is the most detail-oriented part of the preparations — sorting out the proper tickets,” said Bohli. Then they’re double-checked and mailed. “They don’t like seeing us at the post office with a couple hundred boxes right around the Christmas season,” he said.

In early January, they start planning the liturgy for the morning Mass. The right number of Communion wafers has to be placed in several ciboriums for around 5,500 people, assuming all the groups make it to the event. Ushers and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion are directed to specific locations throughout the arena to distribute Communion.  Everything has to run like clockwork so that the marchers can leave in time. “(The distribution) has always come in under 15 minutes — that’s the goal,” said Bohli. 

The day of the evening rally is spent transforming the arena into a place of worship. “A place like the EagleBank Arena isn’t used to having  a sacristy — that’s something we set up. They’re used to bands or speakers,” said Bohli. Along with video equipment and guides for the prayer service and Mass, they bring a tabernacle, altar and chairs for the sanctuary, even a large monstrance — something that won’t seem dwarfed by the enormity of the space, he said. Part of the concourse is turned into confessionals. 

After the closing hymn is sung Friday morning, the teens file out of the arena and into their buses, but not before grabbing a Chik-fil-A sandwich. Having lunch for the groups is another way the youth office tries to anticipate the needs of the visitors. “If you’ve ever been on a youth event, finding a place to get a busload of 50 kids to eat is not easy, so we really take that concern off the table for them,” Bohli said. 

Though it takes months of preparation, the two Life is VERY Good events give teens time to reflect before the peaceful march. “The whole purpose is to provide a prayerful experience, to have adoration and to give young people quiet time in the midst of (travel) to and from D.C., to slow down and listen to what the Lord may be saying to them,” he said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018