If it is January, it is time for the National Rally and March for Life in Washington, DC. It’s been that way since 1974 when the late Nellie Gray initiated the march to mark the first anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the land.

It is easily the largest annual demonstration in Washington and if there is a noticeable difference over the years, it is that it just keeps getting larger (last year an estimated 650,000 attended) and the throng gets more youthful.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia certainly does its share to keep it going, and this year will be no different with 66 buses representing parishes and schools registered for participation, a number that is bound to grow, according to Mary Cullinan, program coordinator of the archdiocesan Office for Life and Family.

Among the larger groups are Little Flower High School, two buses; Corpus Christi Parish, Lansdale, two  buses; Villanovans for Life, two buses; St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, three buses; Assumption B.V.M. Parish, West Grove, two buses; St. Andrew Parish, Drexel Hill, three buses; Holy Family University, three buses; St. Joseph Parish, Downingtown, three buses; Pope John Paul II High School, two buses; Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Southampton, two buses; St. Katharine of Siena Parish, Wayne, two buses and Bishop McDevitt High School, two buses.

The official Philadelphia participation will begin with a 10 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with Archbishop Charles Chaput as principal celebrant and homilist.

Many of the Philadelphia buses park at the Shrine, which is adjacent to the Catholic University of America. After the Mass marchers proceed by the nearby Metro to a stop close to the National Mall for the noon rally that will feature pro-life members of Congress and other prominent speakers.

This will precede the actual march, which will take the participants past the Capitol and ultimately the Supreme Court Building.

Groups from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are asked to rendezvous by the Mall at Constitution Avenue and 6th Street where St. Charles Borromeo seminarians will be holding a blue archdiocesan banner. As a practical matter judging from the past, because of the huge crush of people most Philadelphians will not be able to reach the banner and will simply march on their own.

As in the past, there will be an opening Mass for the Vigil for Life at the Basilica Shrine on the preceding evening, Jan. 21. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and chairman of the USCCB Pro-Life Committee, will be the principal celebrant and homilist.

Among Philadelphians who will be in attendance is Steven Bozza, director of the archdiocesan Office for Life and Family. The Mass will be followed by an all-night prayer vigil led by seminarians from around the country, including a delegation of St. Charles Borromeo seminarians.

In other local events there will be a Saturday, Jan. 18 vigil for life at Planned Parenthood, 12th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia, from 7:30 -8:30 a.m. followed by a 9 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral Chapel, according to Edel Finnegan, executive director of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia.

This will be followed by a Pro-Life Summit meeting hosted by the archdiocesan Office for Life and Family at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center.

Another vigil will be held Monday, Jan. 20 at the same Planned Parenthood location from 10:30-11:30 a.m. This will include members of Generation Life, the Pro-Life Union and a delegation from Omaha, Nebraska.

Many of the membership of the Pro-Life Union will be in Washington on Jan. 22, mostly with parish groups, according to Finnegan.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to give prayer witness to life and it can make a huge difference,” she said.

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Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.