By Alberto Carosa
The sentiment that the 2006 US national pro-life march, which this year took place on January 23rd, might be the last one to be staged, was certainly reinforced the following day, when the Senate judicial committee confirmed the appointment of judge Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court, and especially a week after, when the Senate itself voted 58-42 to reconfirm him. For the first time the US Supreme Court has now a Catholic absolute majority, 5 judges out of ten.
Perhaps for the first time, this new configuration makes it a concrete possibility for the infamous Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision which 33 years ago legalized abortion virtually on demand, to be finally overturned. Should this be the case, the matter would then come back to the state legislatures and a new phase of the fight would start. The Supreme Court verdict, in fact, decrees that the single state may not ban abortion from its legislative texts.
Should the 2006 march actually be the last one, then it could not have been more successful as “swan’s song”. The Washington Mall was inundated by some 250 000 marchers, mostly young people, twice as much with respect to 2005. Various factors contributed to this unprecedented turnout: a not-too-cold January day, the presence of top and renowned personalities but, most of all “the extraordinary enthusiasm of the youth, who made up the overwhelming majority of the marchers”, in the words of Nellie J. Gray, the anti-abortion veteran and president of the March for Life Fund.
But Father Frank A. Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, the specifically pro-life religious congregation established under the patronage of the late Cardinal O’Connor of New York, noticed “this year that more people than ever told me it was their first time at the March for Life. We seem to have had a large new wave of recruits this year”. One reason, he believes, “was the Terri Schiavo tragedy of last Spring. Terri’s murder was the last straw for many people who have been sitting on the sidelines of the pro-life battle. They saw the connection between that and abortion, and decided to get involved. Many of them marched”. Among the marchers were Terri Schiavo’s mom and dad, Mary and Bob Schindler, and her brother Bobby Schindler. They thanked the crowd of marchers at the Rally.
Father Pavone and his associate Father Giacomo Capoverdi (the latter was also interviewed live, together with other pro-life leaders, by the major Italian religious radio network Radio Maria the day before the march) were among the Catholic protagonists of the event. During a prayer service in the prestigious Senate Caucus Room in the Russell Building, on behalf of the National Pro-life Religious Council Father Pavone awarded the “Pro-life Recognition Award” to the Schindler family and to US Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. The Board of the National Pro-life Religious Council had voted to give Senator Brownback this award, because he is one of the pro-life movement’s best friends in Washington, DC. In the words of Father Pavone, “he is not one who can simply be counted on to vote with us when the pro-life battles come. Rather, he goes forward pro-actively to seek the battles and to work to advance the cause. He does not simply wait ‘for the right time’; rather, he knows that the time is always right for justice”. [Click here to listen to Fr. Frank's talk]
But the Catholic mobilization for and the organization of the event went much, much further than that, as shown by what is the largest annual Catholic Mass in the United States: the National Prayer Vigil for Life Opening Mass at 8 p.m. in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.
The Vigil Mass for Life and National Prayer Vigil for Life are co-sponsored by the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), The Catholic University of America, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, Cardinal William H. Keeler from Baltimore was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Vigil Mass for Life. This Mass was celebrated in the Great Upper Church at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 22nd. After this Mass there was a National Rosary for Life, Night Prayer celebrated according to the Byzantine Rite, confessions, and holy hours from midnight until six a.m. led by pro-life seminarians from across the country. On the morning of the March for Life, the National Shrine also hosted Morning Prayer at 6:30 am and a Mass of Penance and Prayer at 7:30 am. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia was the principal celebrant and homilist. In fact all U.S. dioceses are also called to observe Monday as a day of penance and prayer for violations to the dignity of human life through acts of abortion and for full restoration of legal guarantees of the right to life.
Thousands of participants and other pilgrims from around the country, with a traditionally huge presence of young people, did attend the vigil and participate the next day in the March for Life. This year more than 6,000 people (other say 10 000), many of them high school and college students, were estimated to have jammed the Basilica, which to the eyes of the author of this article appeared bursting at the seams: it was almost impossible to get in and move inside. All the more impressive, the number of the clergy concelebrating. Cardinal Keeler was joined by six other principal concelebrants: Cardinals Edward M. Egan of New York, Adam J. Maida of Detroit, Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington and Justin Rigali of Philadelphia; Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. bishops' conference; and Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, outgoing apostolic nuncio to the United States. Also on the altar were 50 other bishops and more than 300 priests and deacons, along with numerous seminarians. The opening procession took about a half-hour, as did the recessional; the clergymen, walking two by two, were barely able to get through the crowd. Distribution of Communion took more than 30 minutes.
In a homily punctuated several times by loud applause, Cardinal Keeler pointed out that progress is being made so that one day the “dark cloud” of Roe “will be blown away by the purifying wind of God's truth”. The “dark cloud” of abortion has in the last 33 years taken “the lives of no less than 46 million of God's children”, Cardinal Keeler went on saying, and each year they are joined by 1.3 million more. But the senior prelate also called upon the congregation to take heart from some encouraging signs: the “rate and number of U.S. abortions are now at their lowest levels since 1975”; the number of physicians willing to perform them is declining, so much so that today “87 percent of all U.S. counties are abortion-free zones”; and the latest in sonogram technology clearly shows expectant parents “the humanity of developing babies in their mothers' wombs”. On other pro-life fronts, he stressed that efforts to allow assisted suicide have been defeated in many states; 52 laws to restrict abortion have been passed around the country; and four states have passed measures that will ban abortion should Roe be overturned. In addition, the cardinal said, a recent CBS poll confirmed that there is diminishing support for abortion among Americans, especially among young people. The impressive vision of such huge number of young people in the crowd, he said, “give such high hope to the movement”.
But members of the Catholic clergy were by no means the only religious present: the march began with a number of speakers including other Christian and Jewish religious leaders from across the country who addressed the people from a stage on the Mall, in front of the Smithsonian Castle. Speeches were given by numerous Congressmen and Senators, but the crowd was particularly thrilled when president George W. Bush phoned the hundreds of thousands of pro-life marchers. He thanked them for helping to defend his “culture of life” agenda and for pursuing “a noble cause” that he hopes will persuade other Americans to the “rightness” of their effort. “And this is a cause that appeals to the conscience of our citizens, and is rooted in America's deepest principles”, he concluded, “and history tells us that with such a cause, we will prevail”. (Click here for the full text of the President's remarks)
A no less significant event alongside the vigil and the march for life was the three day Convention 2006 of the pro-life organizations in the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill in Washington, with the participation of groups including the Family Research Council, Human Life International, The Justice Foundation, Silent No More Awareness Campaign, The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, Pro-Life Action League. The latter was also represented by Joseph M. Scheidler, historical leader of the US anti-abortion movement. Among the and guests of honour were the former Democrat mayor of Boston and US Ambassador to the Holy See Raymond L. Flynn, who sounded a bipartisan note by calling on all pro-lifers “to come together for the sake of America”, and a couple of Hollywood producers, Jonathan Flora and his wife Deborah, second runner up to Miss America and lead character of the 35 minutes-long film they presented, “A Distant Thunder”. This critically acclaimed film deals with the appalling reality of the partial-birth abortion and brings the expertise of Hollywood to the pro-life message. “The film shows the supernatural dimension of the struggle between life and death, as well as the psychological storms that take place in the mind of someone who has an abortion”, says Father Pavone. “Without a doubt, this film will become one of the most powerful tools to make people think and wrestle with the abortion issue”. Interestingly, this initiative comes after the Passion by Mel Gibson acted as a trailblazer for Hollywood to start producing also “politically incorrect” films and as was the case with the Passion, the Floras are now offering a powerful weapon against the moral decay Hollywood continues to foster and spread. And who could deny that the Passion of Our Lord is actually and visibly renewed whenever a child is intentionally aborted?
The convention was concluded by its keynote speaker, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis, who called upon the audience to reflect that “it should not surprise us that the incidence of violence …steadily increases, for when our laws do not protect the most innocent and defenceless among us, our unborn brothers and sisters, then the sanctity of every human life is surely called into question”. “If our society is to seek the common good in truth and thereby attain a measure of peace for all”, he went on saying, “it must protect all human lives, and above all the lives of the innocent, the defenceless and the weak”.
The participation of a number of foreign contingents from countries including Italy, Poland, Croatia, Germany, France, Lithuania, Australia, Austria and Finland was a good reminder that the defense of life cannot be confined solely to the US, but it’s a universal issue which concerns not only Europe and Western countries, but also the rest of the world.
KATOLSK OBSERVATÖR 2005 All rights reserved