Focus on ‘changing hearts,’ Bishop Burbidge tells packed post-Roe Vigil Mass for Life
Sarah Achenbach (center left) and Heather Kramer (center right) traveled with other pilgrims from a pro-life Wisconsin group to the Vigil Mass for Life on Jan. 19, 2023, celebrated by Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. | Lauretta Brown/CNA
The first post-Roe Vigil for Life Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Thursday evening was a standing-room-only event for many as the 9,000-seat upper church quickly filled to capacity.
USCCB pro-life committee chair Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, told the families, college students, and young people gathered from across the country that “a new, important phase of work in the pro-life movement begins now.” He urged those gathered in prayer who would be marching in the 2023 March for Life on Friday to communicate the love of God in their public witness for the unborn.
The annual event began with a greeting from Pope Francis, read by Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The Holy Father wrote of his deep gratitude for “the faithful witness shown publicly over the years by all who promote and defend the right to life of the most innocent and vulnerable members of our human family.”
Pierre noted the many young people gathered at the basilica and read that the Holy Father trusts “that almighty God will strengthen the commitment of all, especially the young, to persevere in their efforts aimed at protecting human life in all its stages, especially through adequate legal measures enacted at every level of society.”
Burbidge opened his homily by noting that “for the first time in the 49-year history of the March for Life, we can say that Roe v. Wade, a blight on our nation, our system of justice, and our culture is no more.” The statement was greeted with enthusiastic applause.
Burbidge said this moment was one for joy, gratitude, and also “a moment to recall the countless souls who have dedicated themselves to political and social action, to prayer, and to service in the name of this cause.”
He continued by stressing that in this new moment that the pro-life movement is in, “our efforts to defend life must be as tireless as ever.”
While this means vigilance at the national level, he said, it also means turning “a greater share of our attention to our local communities from where we may cultivate opportunities in our states to limit the scope of legalized abortion, to curb its funding, or ideally to ban it altogether.”
Burbidge said that “the most important work” in this new phase of the pro-life movement “is the work not only of changing laws but of changing hearts with steadfast faith in the grace and power of God.” He encouraged those gathered to learn “new and compelling ways to communicate the harsh reality of abortion and the damage it inflicts on children, mothers, fathers, and society more broadly.”
One portion of the bishop’s homily seemed to be referencing pro-abortion politicians such as President Joe Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who profess to be Catholic but publicly support abortion.
“Charity demands accountability,” Burbidge said, “those in public office who endorse policies that protect or grow the evil of abortion must know they are accountable. Yes, to the public they serve, but most importantly to almighty God, the source of all life.” He added that “this is especially true for those who profess our faith and have the greatest opportunity to protect the child in the womb.”
He also urged those gathered “to communicate our views with love.” He referenced the divisive nature of social media and said that lasting victories will “not come from views or hits or retweets” but “from our sincere efforts to effect true conversion of mind and heart.”
He encouraged those marching on Friday to witness “peacefully and courageously to the truth in love and with childlike trust in the power of Jesus to heal and transform our minds, our hearts, and the world in which we live.”
Following the Mass, Heather Kramer, who traveled to the vigil and the march from Wisconsin, told CNA that she felt it was important to attend “to be a testament to our faith and a peaceful support to the unborn.” She saw Roe being overturned as “just one battle that we’ve overcome now,” but “the battles are really back to our states and we have to still have a united front and show people that we’re still here and still caring for the unborn.”
Sarah Achenbach, who also traveled to the vigil with the Pro-Life Wisconsin group, told CNA that the march is “an amazing example to show that everyone can come together and make a difference in the pro-life movement.” She said Roe being overturned was “a big step in history” and she hopes to see continued change in a pro-life direction.
Anna Callahan, a young professional who recently moved to D.C. from Philadelphia, said that it was “wonderful seeing people from all over the country come together” at the vigil Mass and, for her, seeing the shrine “full of people of all ages, all backgrounds coming together, embodies the heart of the pro-life movement.”
Eva Frank, another young Catholic resident of D.C. who attended the event with Callahan said it’s important to be active in the pro-life community and “it’s very evident to see that other people are feeling that way because it was so packed today, we were standing the whole time at Mass, we couldn’t find a spot to sit, which is a great problem to have.”
Frank praised Bishop Burbidge’s message that the movement is not just “about changing policy, it’s about changing hearts” and she saw that as starting “with each one of us just talking about it and showing up, one heart changed at a time.”
Vince Duarte came to the vigil Mass and the March for Life with a group of about 60 students, the Catholic Gators at University of Florida. He said the atmosphere was exciting, particularly as he traveled to the march last year before the Dobbs decision, and called it “a grace to be able to see the impact of prayer and fasting and how that’s changing lives.”
Nick Salazar, another University of Florida student, was attending his first March for Life this year. He said he felt it was important to spread God’s message of love in defense of the unborn. He said he liked the bishop’s emphasis on trying to teach people on the pro-life issue with charity, not “try to have division, but to try to approach others and to just have charity in your heart.”
The Prayer Vigil for Life concluded at 8 a.m. on Jan. 20, the morning of the March for Life, with a closing Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Coffey, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.