Click here to read the full text of Cardinal Rigali’s homily
at the Vigil for Life Mass
Click here to read the full text of Cardinal Rigali’s homily at the Mass for Archdiocese of Philadelphia Participants in the March for Life
By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Thousands of supporters of the principle that the unborn have a right to life jammed the huge Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21 for the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life. The following day, many times that number, approximately 250,000 according to Beltway police, attended the 36th annual Rally and March for Life, a tradition begun in 1974, the year after the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
On Jan. 23 President Barack Obama, fulfilling a campaign pledge, rescinded an executive order issued by his predecessor that limited federal funding for abortions. At the same time the new president declared, “It is time that we end the politicization of this issue.”
“Political pundits have said that the pro-life movement is now history,” Cardinal Justin Rigali said in his Jan. 21 Basilica homily. “Actually, they have said that every few years, back to 1973. They imply pro-lifers should just pack up and go home. Yet you do not look to me as though you were heading home. You look to me like a multitude of witnesses, a great multitude of pro-life witnesses, ready to uplift the world from the despair of a culture of death to enthrone in it the hope of a culture of life.”
Cardinal Rigali, as chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was principal celebrant of the Mass. He was joined on the altar by Cardinals Francis George, William Keeler, Daniel DiNardo and Sean O’Malley; Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl, many other archbishops and bishops and hundreds of priests.
The following morning Cardinal Rigali celebrated another Mass at the Basilica, this time for Philadelphians who traveled to Washington for the rally and march. Front pews were filled by St. Charles Borromeo seminarians who had participated in the all-night vigil before the Blessed Sacrament, and busloads of students from Father Judge High School. Many other Philadelphians were easily identified by signs and badges.
The Shine family – Kevin and Bless, and their children Gabriel and Hannah – were with a group from Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Doylestown. “This is our first time,” Kevin Shine said. “We came because we think it is the most important debate in our lifetime.”
Walter Gies was down from St. Joseph Parish in Coatesville along with his wife, Laura, and their children, John Paul, Thomas More, Mary Rita Leo, Maximilian Kolbe and Sarah. He’s been active in the pro-life movement since 1982, and he’s been incarcerated for civil disobedience on behalf of life on several occasions, including one time in Philadelphia’s House of Correction.
“We want everyone to know the taking of innocent human life is immoral and we can’t sugarcoat it,” he said.
Paula Harvey, a member of St. Francis de Sales Parish, was at the march for the first time with a group from St. Rita’s.
“This is a very important year with a new president who seems to be supporting an anti-life agenda,” she said. “I think Cardinal Rigali was right on when he said we must persevere, but don’t be surprised if in the short term we don’t succeed.”
Pat Woodruff, who came with a group of 30 from St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Fairless Hills, wondered how those who support abortion will ultimately feel. “What will happen when you die and find out God does care about babies?” he asked.
Regina Bond, attending with a group from Queen of the Universe Parish in Levittown, planned to do more than march. “We are going to talk to our representative or senator and tell them we are pro-life,” she said.
For Jim White, carrying a banner of St. Katharine of Siena, Wayne, this was the seventh march.
“I hope we can change this, and I think we have created awareness with rallies throughout the country,” he said. “We’ve got an uphill battle because of our materialistic society and our humanistic tendency to think that we can control all things.”
Among the 91 busloads of people registered with the Archdiocese, there were delegations from 17 high schools and at least four colleges, according to Susan Vadas, director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office.
Because not all local groups register with the Archdiocese, Deacon David B. Schaffer, administrative director of the Secretariat for Evangelization, estimated a more accurate Philadelphia count would be about 150 buses in addition to those who traveled by car or train.
“We come every year,” said Clare Oven, president of Villanova University’s Pro-life Club. “We have a pretty large group and I’m personally optimistic because of the number of people here,” she said.
“It’s one of the biggest demonstrations I’ve ever seen, and one of the biggest I’ve ever seen with young people,” said Auxiliary Bishop Robert Maginnis. “It really shows the young people understand the importance of life.”
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Cistone was also taken by the preponderance of youth at the march. “It’s good for the future. It shows the Spirit of the Lord is with the young people as we move forward,” he said.
At the end of the day, that spirit was still with the young people, including the St. Charles seminarians who carried the archdiocesan banner throughout the march.
Chris Mariconi, Pre Theology 1, spoke for all when he said, “I love this. It’s a great opportunity for the Archdiocese to come together with the rest of the Body of Christ to defend life and stand up for the rights of the unborn.”
On the dais, testifying to sanctity of life
The annual March for Life really began as a Rally for Life on the Capitol steps in 1974, and a rally – now on the Mall – is still an integral part of the day. Pro-Life matriarch and president of the March for Life Fund, Nellie Gray, presided over the 36th annual rally just as she has done in the past.
Pro-life civic and religious leaders, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish, were introduced; women who regretted abortions gave poignant testimony; and a procession of a score of pro-life members of Congress testified for life. The only real departure this year from the previous eight was the absence of an encouraging message from the President of the United States.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, as chairman of the Pro-Life Committee of the USCCB, introduced the 23 Catholic bishops and archbishops who were present at the rally including Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Washington’s Archbishop Donald Wuerl.
While no local political figures were on the dais, New Jersey’s Republican Congressman Chris Smith, a long-time advocate for the unborn, spoke eloquently of the challenges facing the pro-life movement.
“Despite the present darkness, be encouraged. Be strong. Be brave,” Smith said. “Continue to pray, fast and work hard. Joyfully embrace the challenge set before us to defend the most vulnerable. For in time we will prevail and overcome the injustice of America’s culture of death. Innocent lives depend on what we do today.”