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Despite rough weather impeding travel from many parts of the country, huge numbers of Catholics gathered in Washington, D.C. to take part in liturgies, youth rallies, and conferences occurring January 21-23, in advance of the March for Life. Their enthusiasm and presence were a great blessing, and evidence of the continuing strength and vitality of the pro-life movement.
The continued growth in numbers each year also creates welcome challenges for the Archdiocese of Washington—host to many events—and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception ("Basilica") where the all-night National Prayer Vigil for Life began in 1979 and is held each year on the eve of the March for Life. By adding extra Masses throughout Sunday and on Monday morning, the Basilica was able to accommodate 36,000 worshippers this year!
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was principal celebrant and homilist at the televised Opening Mass on Sunday evening. Over 40 bishops (including four cardinals and the Apostolic Nuncio), around 350 priests, 70 deacons, and 650 seminarians took part in the Mass, with standing room only for 12,000 people in what is the largest Catholic church in the United States.
Many hundreds of pilgrims then spent the entire night in prayer in the Crypt Church—praying the National Rosary for Life, which was then followed by Byzantine Night Prayer, or Compline. This year, Compline was led by Most Reverend William C. Skurla, Bishop of Passaic and Metropolitan Archbishop-elect of Pittsburgh, and featured a homily by Most Reverend Stefan Soroka, Metropolitan Archbishop for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. From midnight until 7:00 a.m. Holy Hour devotions, Adoration, and Morning Prayer were led by seminarians from dioceses and religious orders across the United States, from California to Massachusetts. The National Prayer Vigil for Life concluded with a 7:30 a.m. Closing Mass at which Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, President of the USCCB, was principal celebrant and homilist. The homilies of all three Church leaders are posted at www.usccb.org/about/media-relations/resources/2012-national-prayer-vigil-for-life-homilies.cfm.
Elsewhere in D.C., Monday morning events began near dawn with the opening of the 20,000-seat Verizon Center and the 10,000-seat D.C. Armory, the largest indoor venues in the area. Catholic students from the Archdiocese of Washington and dioceses across the country soon filled both arenas for pre-March rallies and Mass.
However, even these spaces can't meet the demand for over 40,000 tickets, so 5,000 more students heard pro-life talks and attended Mass in local parishes. In the neighboring Diocese of Arlington (VA), Bishop Paul Loverde hosted a "Life is Very Good" evening of prayer for youth (with Mass, speakers, music, and Eucharistic Adoration), attended by 5,000 teens the night before the March.
The goals of these liturgies and events are many:
▪To thank God for the great gift of human life.
▪To beg his protection for the lives of unborn children through just laws and policies.
▪To pray for the conversion, healing, and peace of all those who have been involved in an abortion decision or in providing abortions.
▪To ask God to change the hearts and minds of those in our government and culture who influence the beliefs and behaviors of the nation's children, so that all Americans will come to recognize, and fight to uphold, the inherent dignity and right to life of every human being.
▪To empower teens and young adults to take up the critical task of transforming the culture and changing our laws with all the energy, idealism, and fresh messaging ideas that they possess.
One example of young Catholics educating their peers on life issues was the January 22 "Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life," hosted since 1990 by Georgetown University Students for Life. The Conference keynote was delivered by Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia. His keynote can be found at: catholicphilly.com/2012/01/news/archdiocese/archbishop-chaput-speaks-at-cardinal-oconnor-conference-on-life.
Consider making the pilgrimage to Washington for these events next year. If you can't, consider using the resources on our web site for hosting similar holy hours and public witnesses for life in your local parish.
Susan Wills is Assistant Director for Education & Outreach, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. To learn more about the Catholic bishops' pro-life work visit www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities.
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