The arena, normally home to the Washington Capitals and Wizards sports teams, appeared full. As a religious sister called out from the stage to groups from states like Pennsylvania, Illinois, Tennessee, and Nebraska, cheering and crowd waves broke out, with the atmosphere more resembling a playoff game than an early morning prayer meeting.
Throughout the rally portion of the morning, long lines formed in the halls of the upper deck of the arena, where priests offered confession to the thousands of arrivals.
While the crowd was dotted with many priests, religious brothers and sisters, parents and teachers, the clear majority of the crowd were young people under 30 years old.
At 9am, the atmosphere shifted to devotional with the recitation of the rosary.
Mass began at 9:20, led by Archbishop Pierre, with Washington auxiliaries Bishop Mario Dorsonville and Bishop Roy Campbell representing the archdiocese. Among the other bishops present were U.S. bishops' conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP of Sydney, Australia, who was greeted by some in the crowd waving inflatable kangaroos.
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During his words of welcome, Pierre delivered a message from Pope Francis to the crowd-turned–congregation.
"His Holiness is deeply grateful for this outstanding witness to the right to life of the most innocent and vulnerable members of our human family," Pierre read.
The pope wrote that upholding the inviolable dignity of human life and ensuring its protection in law was the challenge of every generation "and especially the young."