Catholics in the pro-life movement must "evangelize with beauty and with joy" as they seek to offer compassionate aid to women facing difficult pregnancies, said Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston.

"People think Catholics are the 'people of no'," the cardinal said, but "in reality, we are the people of 'yes': yes to God, yes to life, yes to compassion with the poor and the suffering, yes to solidarity that makes us messengers of joy even in the valley of tears."

Thousands of pilgrims from across the country packed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on the evening of Jan. 21.

They gathered to attend Mass on the eve of the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

After the Mass, the National Prayer Vigil for Life took place throughout the night with a rosary, confessions, and time for prayer, ending with a closing Mass the next morning. Those attending were then able to participate in the March for Life in downtown Washington, D.C., from the National Mall to the Supreme Court building.

Cardinal O'Malley, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Jan. 21 Mass. Assisting him were more than 500 seminarians, 300 priests, and 30 bishops.

"The Gospel of Life is the center of the Church's social teaching," Cardinal O'Malley said in his homily, explaining that "this defense of unborn life is linked to the defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of every other kind of human life."

Without protecting the right to life for all, the United States' notion of defending human rights lacks a solid foundation, he said. Neglecting the most vulnerable members of society opens a  "Pandora's Box that unleashes every kind of injustice and violation."

This dismissive attitude towards human life, he continued, "jeopardizes the very meaning of democratic coexistence. Rather than societies of people living together, we risk becoming societies of people who are rejected, marginalized, uprooted and oppressed."

Therefore, when "the Church raises the prophetic cry 'Choose Life,' we are performing a prophetic service to all of society."

However, he also stressed the importance of love and mercy in proclaiming this message to those in difficult situations.

"The pro-life movement needs to be the merciful face of God to women who are facing a difficult pregnancy," he said, adding that "being judgmental or condemnatory is not part of the Gospel of Life."

Pointing to the day's Gospel reading, the cardinal remarked that like the woman caught in adultery, many women facing difficult pregnancies must similarly feel "overwhelmed, unloved, afraid and confused."

While the Pharisees wanted to stone the woman to death, Jesus defended her, reminding them that they too were sinful. He offered hope to the woman, and encouraged her to embrace a new life.

In a similar way, Cardinal O'Malley said, the pro-life movement "has to be about saving mothers" and extending mercy, love and understanding to women facing difficult situations.

"We can rescue unborn babies from abortion by rescuing their mothers from a life of hopelessness," he said. This must begin with a "focus on the woman to try to understand what she is suffering."

From there, he continued, the Gospel of Life leads us to pursue economic justice and a "new start" for all people.

"The antidote to abortion is solidarity, community where people are willing to care for each other and for the most vulnerable."

When this happens, "more solutions present themselves" to help women facing difficult pregnancies, the cardinal said, giving the example of adoption, which is the theme of this year's March for Life.

In a world in which many people see abortion as "a necessary evil," he said, the Church's task is to proclaim the truth.

He referenced the classic tale of "The Emperor's New Clothes," in which swindlers convince a vain king and an entire kingdom that they had prepared a grand suit of clothes for the king and that anyone who was not able to see the clothes was "stupid, and unfit to rule."

While the king and the citizens in the story pretended that they could see and approve of the new "clothes" the king wore,  only a small child had the bravery and honesty to proclaim that the king was actually naked.

"The king's new clothes today," Cardinal O'Malley explained, "are called reproduction rights, termination of pregnancy, choice, and many other euphemisms that disguise the reality and brutality that is abortion."

Society is "afraid to question," and so it plays along, saying that "those who do not applaud must be stupid, naive, obstinate," while "the Church is like the child who declares before the world that the clothes are a lie, a humbug a deception."

"The Church, with the candor of the child, must call out the uncomfortable truth: 'Abortion is wrong! Thou shalt not kill'," the cardinal said."'Choose Life' is the message of the Church confronted by the king's new clothes."