NRL News
Page 4
February 2009
Volume 36
Issue 2

Catholics Gather for Prayer in Washington to
Observe Roe Anniversary

By Susan E. Wills

For Catholics, the Roe v. Wade anniversary is observed as a “particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 373). So, in addition to witnessing to our resolve to end abortion through the March for Life, youth rallies, and student conferences at Georgetown University and The Catholic University of America, prayer figures prominently in observances. The penance part is at least partly fulfilled by long bus rides (such as 26 hours from Salina, Kansas!), sleeping on gym floors, spending hours outdoors in often frigid temperatures at the rally and March, fasting, and other deprivations.

Traditionally, prayer begins at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in the United States and eighth largest religious structure in the world.

Given its immense size, you’d think it could handle Mass-goers in town for the March for Life. But for many years the crowds at the Vigil Mass for Life, held on the eve of the Roe v. Wade anniversary, have filled every seat and aisle, spilling into side chapels, stairwells, and even the lower Crypt Church, where pilgrims view the Mass on large television screens.

Anticipating an even greater crowd this year, the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities scheduled “overflow” Masses at St. Vincent’s Chapel on the CUA campus and Notre Dame Chapel on the Trinity University campus, which together accommodated another 1,000 pilgrims. Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City (Kansas) and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport—both members of the Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities—celebrated the overflow Masses.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia and chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the principal celebrant of the main Vigil Mass. He was assisted by 4 cardinals, 38 bishops, over 400 priests, and scores of deacons. In addition, about 350 seminarians were seated in the sanctuary during Mass. Cardinal Rigali’s stirring homily can be read at

Throughout the night, pilgrims continued their prayer in the magnificent Crypt Church on the lower level of the Basilica. The night vigil began with the National Rosary for Life, and continued with Night Prayer (Byzantine Rite), Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and Holy Hours hosted by seminarians from formation centers around the country.

By 7:00 a.m., the Great Upper Church was again packed to overflowing with Catholics who had just arrived in Washington after spending the night (and longer) on buses. Arlington, Virginia, Bishop Paul Loverde’s eloquent homily roused them to wakefulness and even greater determination to be the generation that brings about the end of abortion in America. His homily is posted at

At 10:00 a.m. on January 22, Cardinal Rigali celebrated Mass for his Philadelphia flock who, alone, filled the Basilica. Across town, the 20,000-seat Verizon Center reached maximum capacity very early in the morning. Six satellite locations in downtown churches were used for the overflow.

The Verizon Center rally and Mass has always been geared for youth. Jessica Marie Tous and the band Who Do You Say I Am joined perennial favorites Steve Angrisano and Matt Maher’s band to rock the house.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., was the main celebrant of the Verizon Center Mass. He was assisted by about 40 bishops, including 4 cardinals, and over 300 priests. About 500 seminarians and 100 religious sisters received a warm ovation from the crowd. In his homily, Fr. Rob Walsh, assistant director of vocations for Washington, told students they were chosen to be there and their presence was part of God’s plan for them. He challenged them to be witnesses to life beyond that day and in everything they do and say.

The 2009 prayer observances included for the first time a beautifully moving service for all those who’ve been hurt in some way by abortion. Called an Afternoon of Prayerful Remembrance & Intercession and developed by the Sisters of Life and Lumina: Hope and Healing After Abortion, the January 21 service included first-person testimonies from those impacted by abortion—doctors, counselors, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, and others.

Participants at the Basilica recited a rosary, listened to a homily on God’s merciful love and desire to heal all those who are broken, had an opportunity for Confession, and participated in Eucharistic Adoration and Mass. Remembering in prayer all those hurt by abortion was a fitting beginning for the events surrounding the Roe anniversary. Let us remember to keep them in our prayers throughout this year.