2024 March for Life prayer vigil: ‘We must bring light to the darkest corners’
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with a capacity of 6,000 in its upper church, was standing room only for the National Prayer Vigil for Life on Thursday night. | Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA
At this year’s March for Life vigil Mass in Washington, D.C., Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge called on those gathered in the packed Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to “bring light to the darkest corners.”
The evening vigil and Mass took place almost two years after the fall of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide. Since then, the battle over the unborn has been largely focused on state initiatives, and the pro-life movement has suffered several defeats at the ballot box.
Burbidge, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Pro-Life Committee, said that while it is necessary to be “strategic” in states “where there are victories to be won,” “we must not lose hope” in states where abortion rights have been enshrined into law.
“Like Jesus, it is not enough to reserve our message for those who will readily receive it and to pursue victories only in those places where we are likely to win. We must persist in those places where our message is rejected. We must bring light to the darkest corners,” he said.
The upper church, which holds 6,000 people, was standing room only as pro-lifers from across the nation filled several of the side chapels on a frigid January night.
People of all ages and walks of life — young children, high schoolers, the elderly, dozens of nuns, priests, seminarians, bishops, and cardinals — filled the basilica’s pews the night before the 51st National March for Life.
In his homily, Burbidge, the principal celebrant of the Mass, noted Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gospel reading from Matthew: “Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
He said that Jesus spoke those words after he was resurrected and the work of redemption was completed.
“It seems, for a moment, that the story is over. But it’s not. The work of spreading the Gospel, of sharing the gift of redemption, has only just begun,” he said.
“The perfection we so long for, Jesus subtly reminds his followers, will not be ours until the end of the age,” he said. “Even as we work to bring God’s goodness and justice here and now, we will be frustrated. Our best-laid plans will sometimes fail. The good works we accomplish will not always last.”
“Our victories here on earth are fragile,” he said.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade, he said, was just such a fragile victory. He said it was “a moment of relief, a moment of new life, an exodus from the oppression under which we lived for 50 years.”
“If the past year and a half has taught us anything, it is this: Dobbs is not the end. It is a victory — a tremendous victory — but not a decisive one,” he said.
Burbidge added that the unborn are still in danger; mothers are still being harmed; and couples, children, and families are still in need of “resources, support, and love.”
He said that the pro-life movement “suffered a particularly difficult loss for unborn life” after the Dobbs decision when several states enshrined abortion rights with “radical amendments” to their constitutions.
Burbidge also pointed to “Catholic politicians and intellectuals” who “tragically continue to publicly endorse abortion as though it is a right and advocate for pro-abortion policies.”
He then took aim at the Biden administration’s pro-abortion policies.
“The current administration has removed safety protocols on the distribution of abortion pills, endangering women’s health and making vulnerable women more susceptible to coercion and abuse,” he said.
Burbidge said that money is “flooding” in to help abortion activists “tell falsehoods, to deceive people, and to portray anyone who stands up for life as irrational, radical, and intolerant,” adding that they are “supported by the media and public relations strategists.”
Burbidge said that “we must find new ways” of communicating the truth without compromise. The truth must be communicated even in the “darkest places, through service and always with Christ at the center,” he said.
“All of human life is sacred. The right to life is absolutely fundamental. No one has a right to directly take the life of another. No one has a right to devalue another,” he said.
“More than anything,” Burbidge said, “we must continue to serve, as the theme for the 2024 March for Life reminds us: With every mother, for every child.”
Burbidge pointed to the work of pregnancy resource centers as being “at the center of our mission.”
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“We must fortify those efforts and ensure that those who choose life have a home, an income, food, clothing, and provisions for their children. We must help mothers and fathers through the challenges of pregnancy and welcoming a new life,” he said.
Sean McKeown and Thiago Mesquita, two seminarians who traveled by train from Boston on Thursday morning, told CNA they were inspired by Burbidge’s homily and the size of the crowd.
“It’s definitely motivating for tomorrow to go out into the streets and march. Seeing all the people here today definitely felt like we have a lot of people that are supporting this cause,” McKeown said.
“It’s just once a year, so for me, it’s like everybody is working throughout the year to prepare for this powerful and big moment for the Church in the U.S. And I just felt like that’s my place, that I can rest and think of life, think of the importance of each person,” Mesquita said.
Two students from nearby Catholic University of America, sophomore Millie Bamsy and senior Mary Grace Raddell, told CNA that they appreciated Burbidge’s call to action.
“I love that people are here because I think that it brings us all together and it helps to remind us of our mission and that we’re all in it together,” Raddell said.
Bamsy said that she plans to live in Washington, D.C., after graduation and wants to do what she can to help support families and struggling mothers with unexpected pregnancies.
Another young person who traveled a long way for the march was 15-year-old James Hays from Dallas.
Hays, who came with Cistercian Preparatory School outside of Dallas, said that the March for Life is “just a great experience to come and meet with other people who share the same values that I do.”
“I really look forward to that,” he said.
Before the Mass, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Cardinal Christophe Pierre, shared a message from Pope Francis to attendees of the March for Life.
The message, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said that Pope Francis “extends warm greetings and the assurance of his prayers to the many thousands of people from throughout the United States gathered for the annual March for Life.”
“In expressing heartfelt gratitude for this eloquent witness to the inviolable right to life of every person, he trusts that almighty God will strengthen the commitment of all, especially the young, to build a culture in which each member of the human family, in particular the most innocent and vulnerable, is welcomed as a brother or sister,” the statement said.
“In this regard, His Holiness encourages everyone to persevere in efforts to safeguard our heavenly father’s gift of life through adequate legal measures enacted at the local, national, and international levels,” Pierre read.
“For when the dignity and sanctity of human life is valued and protected, society as a whole is strengthened in fraternal solidarity, mutual respect, and social charity. To all participating in the March for Life and to those who support them for their prayers and sacrifices,” the message said.
Joseph Bukuras is a journalist at the Catholic News Agency. Joe has prior experience working in state and federal government, in non-profits, and Catholic education. He has contributed to an array of publications and his reporting has been cited by leading news sources, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Catholic University of America. He is based out of the Boston area.
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