WASHINGTON (CNS) — Anyone arriving early for the Nov. 2 opening of the 27th International Week of Prayer and Fasting at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception found an usher tugging at their sleeve.

“Could you please sit in one of the first five rows?” she asked. “We’re broadcasting.”

She needn’t have worried. The sanctuary filled up quickly for the all-day event in Washington, which was livestreamed for the first time.

This year’s theme combined pro-life topics with mercy, forgiveness and healing. Speakers included Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director who now runs And Then There Were None; Kristan Hawkins, who heads Students for Life; and Father Chris Alar, a priest with the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, who wrote a book about dealing with the aftermath of suicide.

The event combined rosaries of the sorrowful, joyful and glorious mysteries led by various national groups from parishes throughout the Washington area, and a Mass celebrated by Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington.

Another speaker, Father Ubald Rugirangoga of Rwanda, was singled out for praise by Maureen Flynn, organizer of the event with her husband, Ted: “A lot of signs and wonders are following this priest.” Father Rugirangoga, a healing priest, is a genocide survivor.

This year’s event, ending Nov. 10, was the 27th. It began in 1989 at the U.S. Capitol as a day of prayer to end abortion, followed by seven days of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It moved to the national shrine in 1997 because, Flynn said in an interview with Catholic News Service, “that’s what Our Lady wants — she wants her son to be adored.”

St. Teresa of Kolkata was to be the featured speaker that year, but she died in September of that year.

The idea is not to be political, Flynn said. “More and more people are praying the rosary, and realizing that it is a spiritual weapon.”

The week helps participants get “deeper into their faith, and really deeper into the sacraments,” added Flynn, who is chairperson of the International Prayer and Fasting Coalition, which sponsors the observance in collaboration with, among others, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Legion of Mary, Priests for Life and Rosary Coast.

Fasting the correct way — involving just bread and water — is admittedly difficult, Flynn noted. “When you’re younger, you can do bread and water for a few days. Some of the younger people do juice fasting, or boiled eggs. I don’t think any particularly one is the best, but not everybody can do that.”

Measuring success “in the spiritual realm” is difficult, she said. “It won’t be until the good Lord calls us home that we’ll know all about the impact. We just know that the fruits of prayer and fasting are miraculous.”

Ted Flynn, in addressing participants Nov. 2, said the best part of the event, for him, was “there are going to be some of the best confessions priests hear annually.”

He was critical of political solutions to create a culture of life.

“The pro-life movement has ignored prayer. They have wanted to win on their own terms, politically, and they have failed miserably,” he said.

“If we use what the Blessed Mother and heaven have given us as tools,” he concluded, “we will win.” Prayer bases and political bases “have to work together.”