Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — A Washington pastor told 17,000 exuberant teenagers and young adults gathered at pro-life rally and Mass in the Verizon Center Jan. 23 that he wondered if they knew “what an encouragement you are.”
Some 500 young people from the Diocese of Wilmington were also at the Mass and Bishop Malooly was one of its concelebrants. The bishop was cheered loudly by the diocese’s contingent at the rally when he was introduced to the sports arena’s young congregation.
“I am so glad for your joy … your joy is the greatest evidence Jesus rose from the dead,” said Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish, said in his homily.
The Mass and rally that morning, he said, were “about praising God and thanking him for the gift of life.”
Msgr. Pope noted that crowds at the Verizon Center normally cheer for hockey and basketball games and rock concerts, and he challenged them to offer a louder cheer for God. The spirited crowd responded with a loud sustained roar.
The annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life there and a second rally and Mass for another 10,000 young people at the D.C. Armory were sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and each year precede the March for Life.
All of the pro-life events mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
At Verizon, the crowd offered a huge ovation for Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, who smiled and thanked them for witnessing to God’s gift of life. “I share your enthusiasm and your spirit,” he said. “You are alive with hope and love, and you are alive with the life of Christ. Stay always that way!”
Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, main celebrant at the Verizon Center Mass, smiled as he processed into the arena, preceded by about a dozen other bishops, nearly 180 priests and 30 deacons.
“I welcome you as we renew our commitment to the value and dignity of all human life,” the cardinal said.
Acknowledging the large crowd, he said, “There would be even more if it weren’t for the fact we had great storm warnings, and schools and bus lines were closed. … I think the Lord did that to say to us, ‘For decades you’ve been persevering — continue to persevere.'”
Warnings of possible icy roads caused delayed openings in government offices and for area schools, preventing some local Catholic schools from busing students to the Verizon Center rally as in previous years.
Archbishop Vigano read a letter on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, who thanked the youths for “this outstanding annual witness to the ‘Gospel of Life.'”
In an interview with reporters before the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl spoke about how inspired he is each year to process into the Verizon Center and see tens of thousands of young people standing together for God’s gift of life.
“You can’t help but be filled with joy and confidence” and hope for the future, he said.
“In the struggle for the soul of America, these (young) people support the best of the American tradition — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In his opening remarks at the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl encouraged the youths to greet the concelebrating bishops, who included Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George. As bishops were announced, youths from those regions sitting in different sections of the arena burst into loud applause and cheers, waving their hands and scarves, giving their bishops a shout-out.
Via a satellite link from the D.C. Armory, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, main celebrant of the Mass there, likewise introduced the bishops present with the youths, and they were greeted with loud cheers.
Youths interviewed before the Mass expressed their determination to stand together, in faith, and support human life in all its stages. Yajaira Hernandez, a member of the youth group from St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., said, “Everybody deserves a chance.”
Jimmy Owens, a senior majoring in mathematics at the University of Nebraska, had helped lead a group of nearly 100 “Huskers for Life,” who made a 30-hour bus ride, partly through a snowstorm, to attend the rally and march.
“Because of our faith, we believe in the dignity of every human life,” he said, noting that Catholic students there volunteer at pro-life crisis pregnancy centers and pray outside abortion clinics. The crowd at the youth rally “means a lot, to see there’s hope for our generation, with so many young people coming out,” Owens told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese.
Christian Monsalve, a junior majoring in philosophy at Fordham University in New York, said, “It’s our understanding from the right to life stems all the other rights we have. For our generation to be conscious of that is very important.”
During his homily, Msgr. Pope said that Scripture makes it clear, “You’re somebody, your life is sacred, and it’s part of God’s plan. … No one is a mistake, accident, surprise or inconvenient.”
The priest, who writes a popular blog for the Archdiocese of Washington’s website, encouraged the youths to make a daily choice for chastity, charity, courage and constancy.
An estimated 85 percent of abortions are performed on single women. “I pray that every one of you understands how important it is to remain chaste and pure and save sexual relations for marriage,” the priest said. “Dress modestly, act modestly and avoid situations (involving) temptations.”
Noting that 42 percent of abortions are performed on women who live below the poverty line, the priest said, “We have to reach out to help women and families in this situation,” and he encouraged the young people to support pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.
“We’ve got to let women know they don’t walk alone,” he said.
Msgr. Pope said that 90 percent of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis that their unborn child might have Down syndrome or a severe disability decide to have an abortion. People with disabilities have “incredible gifts” to offer to the world, he said.
Regarding constancy, the parish priest said the struggle to end abortion continues 39 years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. He noted polls that show a majority of Americans, and a growing number of young people, oppose abortion.
“We’re going to get there. We will win the hearts and minds of people in our country. … We’re heading to that promised land where people respect life from conception to natural death,” he said.
Just before the Mass, one young priest, Father Mel Ayala, a parochial vicar at St. Peter Parish in Olney, Md., looked at the Verizon Center crowd and said, “This is the future, right here. It’s so awesome to be among so many young people who love life and live life. It’s incredible.”