By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

WASHINGTON – “It’s a great view from here.” That’s not in his official text but Cardinal Rigali could not help but remark upon it on Jan. 24 as he looked down from the pulpit to a filled Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It was at the start of his homily at a 10 a.m. Mass prior to the annual Rally and March for Life, held in conjunction with the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion throughout the country.

“We gather today, dear friends, to testify to the light of faith,” the Cardinal said. “This light shows us that all human life is sacred, that God alone is the Lord of Life.”

Later in his homily, the Cardinal alluded to a topic on many lips, the arrest of the operator of a Philadelphia abortion clinic for the alleged murders of a patient and seven infants who were born alive.

“This was in every sense, every technical sense, every legal sense, murder,” he said. {{more}}

The evening before, in what has become the Basilica’s largest congregation of the year, the church was absolutely jammed for the evening Mass which precedes Prayer Vigil for Life, with many of the mostly young people from around the country staying over to sleep on the floor of various nooks and crannies of the cavernous basilica.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, who was principal celebrant and homilist at the vigil Mass, saluted the young people, saying “you have become and remain the genuine leaders and pioneers in this march for life and this vigil liturgy.”

Philadelphians were present in force among the hundreds of thousands who attend the rally on the Washington Mall and the relatively short march down Constitution Avenue past the Capitol and ending at the nearby Supreme Court Building.

Because Philadelphia is relatively close to Washington most marchers from the area do not stay overnight but arrive by bus late in the morning. Nevertheless they stand on the Mall and cheer lustily as what seems to be scores of pro-life legislators speak on the value of human life. The march itself is a combination religious procession and good humored-street festival.

Some marchers are first timers, but many have been attending for years.

“We have more than usual this year,” said Ray Williams, one of the 46 people who came by bus from St. Elizabeth Parish in Upper Uwchlan. “We come because we realize abortion is the root of all evil. We want to give an example by witness to the United States and the world.”

Andrea Govannicci, a freshman at Strath Haven High School and member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Morton, said she came because “it’s part of my belief that a baby is a baby from the point of conception and it shouldn’t be killed.”

The Druding Sisters from Archbishop Ryan High School (see profile on page 40) were not the only twins from the Archdiocese at the March. At the other end of the age spectrum were Immaculate Heart Sisters and biological twins Regina Anita O’Brien and Regina Christine O’Brien, more than 50 years professed, attending with their brother Jack O’Brien and sister-in-law Pat O’Brien.

“Look at all these people,” Sister Regina Anita said. “This is all God’s people saying how sacred life is and what a gift it is.”

Jim White of St. Katherine of Siena Parish in Wayne estimates he’s been witnessing for life for about 10 years on the Roe v. Wade anniversary, either at Philadelphia City Hall or in Washington.

“I do it because we have to witness to life and hope that our nation and our politicians will understand the importance of life,” he said.

Luke Marsden of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bensalem and a “father of five, grandfather of 16 and great grandfather of ‘one and a third,'” was succinct: “Abortion stinks,” he said.

Peter Czerwonka, a sophomore at Archbishop Wood, was among 35 present from that school and was on his second march. He is still surprised by the huge number who rally and march.

“I think it’s good to see all the support against pro-choice and pro-abortion,” he said. “There is strength in numbers and it makes you feel you are not the only one.”

As is his custom, Cardinal Rigali ended his march at First Street and Constitution Avenue near the Supreme Court. He met with many of the area marchers, including the entire student body of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

“It’s always exciting,” said Steve Isaac, a seminarian in Pre-Theology I studying for the Diocese of Allentown. “But you know what? I wish we didn’t have to come. I wish abortion was not a reality, but here it is and here we are.”

Delegations from various colleges also attended, including about 30 students from Immaculata University.

“We came to carry the torch,” said Immaculata student Andy Halstead. “We want to let them know we are not forgetting people who can’t speak for themselves.”

St. Monica Parish in Berwyn also experienced an increase in marchers this year, according to Loretta Hill, who said they had 47, including many young people.

Among the youngest of the group was Colleen Phelan, a third-grader.

“I don’t think it’s fair that people have a right to kill babies,” she said, nicely summing up the event.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.