The National Rosary for Life and all-night vigil at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception began in 1979 from the inspiration of Maryknoll Brother Goretti Zilli from New York. Fifty people attended the first vigil Mass celebrated by Fr. John Gabin of Philadelphia in the lower level Crypt Church. Eucharistic adoration and other devotions continued through the night, with Fr. John Randall of Providence offering Mass at midnight. Brother Michael Cerrone, (who later became Army Chaplain Fr. Michael Cerrone) coordinated and led prayers through the night for an end to abortion, and then led the group in the March for Life the following morning.
Key organizers of the first Vigil also include Mrs. Sally Reynolds and the Mothers of Mary of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Miss Virginia Murphy and the Immaculate Heart Reparation Society of D.C., as well as groups from Michigan and Rhode Island. At their request the following year, Cardinal John Carberry asked the Bishops' conference to co-sponsor the event. With every passing year, thousands of Catholics from all over the country have responded enthusiastically and in ever greater numbers by taking part in the National Prayer Vigil for Life.
Today, the founders' dream of a program of prayer for life exceeds anything they could have envisioned. The Great Upper Church of the Basilica fills to overflowing for the opening liturgy, which is concelebrated by hundreds of clergy, including Bishops, Cardinals, and the Apostolic Nuncio, the Holy Father's personal representative in the United States. With the assistance of the Eternal Word Television Network, the Opening and Closing Masses of the National Prayer Vigil for Life are televised live worldwide.
Beginning with this National Rosary for Life, programs of prayer and adoration continue throughout the night. On the following morning, thousands more gather in the Great Upper Church for the Closing Mass of the Vigil before taking part in the March for Life on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Church and the Pro-Life movement are deeply indebted to the visionaries who began this event decades ago. May this great prayer for life continue as their lasting legacy for years to come.
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