Home National News Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge at Vigil for Life in Washington: ‘Only love...

Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge at Vigil for Life in Washington: ‘Only love fills the empty spaces caused by evil’

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Wilmington Bishop William E. Koenig joins bishops processing to the altar for the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life on Jan. 19, 2023, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. more than 6,000 people attended the annual Mass that takes place on the evening before the March for Life. (Catholic Standard photo by Mark Zimmermann)

By Mark Zimmermann
Catholic Standard

The standing room crowd of more than 6,000 people from across the United States attending the Jan. 19 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception offered a visible sign of pro-life advocates’ determination.

They vow to continue to pray, march and work for life in the year after the Supreme Court in its June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion on demand for nearly five decades.

The crowd including many young families with children, college students and teens filled the Great Upper Church of the largest Catholic church in North America, with an overflow crowd watching the Mass in the basilica’s Memorial Hall on its lower level. The Mass was televised nationally and around the world by EWTN, the Eternal World Television Network.

The annual National Prayer Vigil for Life, which began in 1979, takes place on the evening before the March for Life, which began in the aftermath of the Roe v. Wade ruling and which this year marks its 50th anniversary with a new focus since that Supreme Court decision is no longer the law of the land, and states can now pass abortion restrictions.

Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the main celebrant and homilist at the opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life, and as he began his homily, he reflected on how this is a new moment, and a new opportunity for people gathering for the annual March for Life. Bishop Koenig was among the concelebrants.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va., chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, delivers the homily during the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 19, 2023, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

“Dear friends, today we have so much to celebrate. For the first time in the 49-year-history of the March for Life, we can say that Roe vs. Wade, a blight on our nation, our system of justice, and our culture, is no more,” Bishop Burbidge said, as the congregation applauded.

Then the bishop noted, “This is a moment for joy, and for gratitude; 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. It is a moment to gather before our God to offer praise and thanksgiving for this great, longed for blessing.”

Bishop  Burbidge underscored that “even as we celebrate, we must remember: this is the beginning, not the end. A new important phase of work in the pro-life movement begins now. As we plan for the future, our efforts to defend life must be as tireless as ever.”

Arlington’s bishop said that means on a national level, abortion opponents must continue to work to end policies “that target global populations with abortion funding or that facilitate alternative means of abortion at home,” and to work in local communities to “limit the scope of legalized abortion, to curb its funding, or ideally, ban it all together.”

Those remarks likewise drew applause, and Bishop Burbidge emphasized the importance of “not only changing laws, but of changing hearts,” relying on steadfast faith and God’s grace. He also stressed the importance of supporting women facing unplanned pregnancies, offering them “God’s peace and hope and our untiring commitment to walk with them at every moment.”

Archbishop Christophe Pierre – who as apostolic nuncio is the pope’s personal representative in the United States – read a message on behalf of Pope Francis from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state of the Holy See, to the people gathered for the vigil and to those who will be attending the March for Life, saying the pontiff wanted to assure them of his spiritual closeness with them.

A woman prays during Eucharistic adoration following the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life Jan. 19, 2023, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

“He is deeply grateful 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,” Archbishop Pierre said.

The apostolic nuncio said the pope hopes that “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.”

Archbishop Pierre said that Pope Francis extended a blessing to all those taking part in the March for Life, and to all those who support that effort by their prayers and sacrifices.

The concelebrants at the Mass included two cardinals – Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley – and 19 bishops, including Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, who serves as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, the vice president of the bishops’ conference. Also concelebrating the Mass were 141 priests. Twenty deacons and 360 seminarians participated in the Mass.

Cardinal Gregory welcomed the concelebrating bishops and priests at the Mass and he noted that a delegation of Orthodox bishops from the United States was also in attendance, as were leaders and members of Catholic groups including the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Peter Claver, the Knights and Dames of Malta, and the Catholic Daughters of America. The cardinal thanked those attending the Mass, and made special mention of young people who had come from far and wide to stand and pray for life.

Seated near the front of the sanctuary were dozens of women religious, including members of the Sisters of Life, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Missionaries of Charity, and Sisters of the Servant of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. Before the Mass, the praying of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was led by members of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, the religious order of St. Faustina Kowalska who popularized that devotion which she received in a vision.

In his homily, Bishop Burbidge noted how Pope Francis has said that “the secret of Christian living is love.” The bishop pointed out that the pope has also said that “only love fills the empty spaces caused by evil.” Arlington’s bishop said that abortion opponents’ actions must match their words, and he emphasized “our work will not be complete until God’s love is felt in every empty space created by abortion.”

Public officials who support abortion must be held accountable for their views, he said, noting that they are accountable not only to the public they serve but also accountable to God, the source of all life. “This is especially true for those who profess our faith and have the greatest opportunity to protect life,” Bishop Burbidge said.

The bishop encouraged people to bring “clarity and charity” to public discourse on abortion and communicate doing what is right and just “in the empty space of our wounded politics.”

In addition to urging support for women facing unplanned pregnancies, Bishop Burbidge also stressed the importance of extending God’s love and mercy “to mothers and fathers who mourn from children lost to abortion.”

Bishop Burbidge said it is essential for people of faith to fix their hearts in prayer, and let God fill the empty spaces of their hearts with his love so that they in turn can share that love with others. He noted the last words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who died on Dec. 31: “I love you, Jesus.”

The bishop praised the example of the dying pope, who “in the empty space of suffering, he saw Jesus, and loved Him… May we ask our Lord to give us hearts like that – hearts overflowing with love for Him and one another. Nothing less will heal our suffering world.”

Arlington’s bishop closed his homily by noting that as they gathered in prayer “in Mary’s home, we ask for her powerful intercession,” that after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist at the Mass, “we will go forth tonight and then tomorrow in our nation’s capital, witnessing peacefully and courageously to the truth in love, and with childlike trust, in the power of Jesus to heal and transform our minds, hearts and the world in which we live.”

After the intercessions, the congregation recited a prayer for pregnant mothers. The offertory gifts were brought to the altar by a visually impaired young woman with a service dog, and also by a woman and a man each holding a baby.

After Communion, the congregation knelt in reverent prayer during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and as Bishop Burbidge carried the Eucharist in a monstrance in a Eucharistic procession throughout the basilica.

A Holy Hour that followed the Mass included a rosary for life and a reflection by Archbishop Lori, who said, “As we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar, let us listen anew to the Gospel of Life and let us seek with the eyes of faith the One who is the source of our solidarity with vulnerable mothers and their children.”