“We’ve wandered in the desert for 40 years…”

10,000 gather for the opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life in Washington, D.C.

Regina Trovino and Daniela Haddad pray before the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Jan. 24. Trovino from Mexico and Haddad of Chile joined thousands of worshippers at the service.  (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Regina Trovino and Daniela Haddad pray before the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Jan. 24. Trovino from Mexico and Haddad of Chile joined thousands of worshippers at the service.  (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)WASHINGTON, D.C. — The New Evangelization and the pro-life movement are converging, and it must begin with each individual Christian, says Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. The Year of Faith is a perfect opportunity for Catholics to contribute to the culture of life by working on their own sanctity.

The cardinal celebrated the opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life on the night before thousands of people marched for life to mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Some 10,000 people gathered on the evening of January 24 for the Mass, which is held each year at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. As in years past, the pews and aisles were overflowing with people, including many teens and young adults from across the country. Many people had to view the Mass on closed-circuit television screens in the basement crypt church.

Cardinal O’Malley was the principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass because he is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. But he was joined by some 500 priests, deacons and seminarians, bishops and cardinals, making the opening procession some 40 minutes alone. Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB; Donald Wuerl of Washington; Francis George of Chicago, and Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Teaxs, were among the concelebrants, as well as Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The Mass was followed by confessions, a Rosary, night prayer and Holy Hours throughout the night. The vigil concluded on the morning of Jan. 25 with Morning Prayer and a closing Mass, at which Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas was the principal celebrant and homilist.

Participants were then able to attend the March for Life in downtown Washington, along Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court building.

The vigil and march came at the end of a week that also saw the second inauguration of President Obama, whom many regard as the most pro-abortion president in the nation’s history. Obama was among many political leaders who reaffirmed their support for legal abortion on Jan. 22, which was the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that struck down most state restrictions against abortion.

In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley noted that the Mass was being offered in part for the soul of Nellie Grey, who founded the March for Life and led it until her death last August. He recalled collaborating with her on the first March in 1974, when he was a parish priest in Washington. He predicted that the next great assault on the sanctity of human life would come from proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and the previous week’s news gave grim witness to that. Two 45-year-old twins in Belgium who were deaf were given lethal injections because they were developing glaucoma, and it was thought that their lives would be unbearable were they to become blind as well.

And last November, Cardinal O’Malley and the Church in Massachusetts led an effort in which pro-life voters barely defeated a ballot initiative that would have legalized assisted suicide in the state.

He acknowledged the frustration felt by many people because the Supreme Court decision in 1973, which he referred to as the court’s “second Dred Scott decision,” “disenfranchised” voters. And he offered a litany of dark statistics, including 55 million abortions since Roe, and a quarter of all pregnancies in the United States, on average, ending in abortion.

But he spoke of many signs of hope, as well, such as the fact that “tens of thousands” of people throughout the country volunteer at some 3,000 pregnancy centers.  Polls show opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion and support for parental consent laws, waiting periods and conscience rights.

“We’ve wandered in the desert for 40 years, but we’re getting closer to the Promised Land,” he said. “Younger Americans are more pro-life than ever,” he added, to strong applause throughout the vast church. And while society has become more liberal on many issues, they’ve become more conservative about abortion, he noted.

But government doesn’t seem to be listening, the cardinal lamented, and too many people regard abortion as a “necessary evil.” He said that the present situation requires more education on abortion’s impact on women, changing attitudes toward adoption and focusing more on the woman in crisis. He applauded several pro-life efforts, such as major media advertising funded by the Vitae Caring Foundation and a new brand of apologetics undertaken by a group called Catholic Voices. The group, spearheaded by Austen Ivereigh, attempts to show that not only convincing people of truths is important but so is realizing “the effect our words have on others.”

“We must work to change the law and overturn Roe v Wade,” he said to applause, “but we must work even harder to change people’s hearts and help Americans understand that abortion is evil and unnecessary.” He said that in President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to end slavery, changing the law was “only part of the struggle.”

For Catholics, that’s where the new Evangelization comes into play. “The New Evangelization is really about changing hearts. It begins with our heart,” the cardinal said, noting the appropriateness of the vigil taking place on the eve of the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. “This Year of Faith is a call to deeper conversion so that we can become effective apostles of the gospel of life and the new evangelization,” he said, “Our task is to live our faith so intensely that we generate a culture of life.”

Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, a Knight of Malta and former president of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, was on hand to assist people with disabilities attending the vigil. “The March for Life is more important than ever because it’s not just a march against abortion, it’s a march for life,” he said. “Something horrible has happened in the culture when life is not as respected as it used to be,” he said, citing recent mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

Nkasu Amingwa, a native of Cameroon, West Africa, was one of the disabled persons Dr. Dutkowsky was assisting. “I think more than ever people are aware of what the issues are surrounding being pro-life,” she said. “It’s important for people to understand that once there is life, we need to create a culture and system that protects life at all levels and stages.”

Elizabeth Taylor, from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, recalled being in grade school in the 1950s and being shocked to hear that abortion was legal in parts of Europe. “I remember thinking, ‘Thank God I live here,” she said Reflecting on the cardinal’s call to change hearts, she said people will wake up to the reality when more people talk about what abortion really is and show photos of it. “A lot of babies would be saved if the law were different,” she said, disputing the “myth” that if abortion were made illegal many women would go to “back alleys” for the procedure.

Thomas Urgo, 13, was with a group of parishioners from Sts. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Church in Cary, N.C., said that he feels most of his friends are pro-life, affirming what Cardinal O’Malley said about more and more young people being pro-life. “We think about ‘What if our parents had aborted us’ more,” he confided. He believes he will remain pro-life by continuing to be involved in parish and pro-life activities.

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About John Burger 22 Articles
John Burger is news editor of Aleteia.org.