WASHINGTON - Repent, pray, fast and stay busy winning the war against abortion.
That was the message 6,000 persons heard from the pulpit here in the nation's capital Oct. 13.
The messenger was Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life.
"When we come away from prayer, we should not feel like we've done our duty, but rather that we've been given our duty," Father Pavone told the Register after celebrating a midday Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Columbus Day.
Father Pavone, actor Jim Caviezel, and a host of other speakers participated in a daylong vigil at the shrine, part of the 11th International Week of Prayer and Fasting for the conversion of nations, world peace and an end to abortion.
Caviezel, who portrays Christ in the upcoming Mel Gibson film "The Passion," spoke of his devotion to Mary and thanked her for his success in acting and in life. He encouraged listeners to seek freedom in truth, saying, "The big problem in the world is indifference."
The "week" of prayer and fasting began Oct. 5 and continued through Oct. 16, closing with a special Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II's 25th anniversary and all-day Eucharistic prayer at the basilica.
Organizers of the event, the Signs of the Times Apostolate based in Herdon, Va., this year extended the week to make more time for the rosary in order to honor Pope John Paul's request that Catholics promote and say the rosary more frequently.
"The spiritual battle we are in requires the spiritual weapons of prayer, especially the rosary and fasting," said an official statement by Signs of the Times Apostolate. "Our Lady has said the rosary is the weapon to bring about world peace and to end abortion."
Organizers asked Catholics throughout the world to recognize the week by attending Mass, participating in holy hours of Eucharistic adoration, saying the rosary, fasting and reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Father Pavone and Priests for Life have been involved with the Week of Prayer and Fasting for most of its 11 years, and he's seen steady growth in the number of Catholics who participate. This year's success, he says, relates directly to the overall success of the pro-life movement in the United States. Father Pavone says his only concern is that Catholics and pro-life activists might become complacent because of victory.
"Are we winning the war against abortion? Yes, but it's a careful yes," he says. "I see the abortion industry in a state of collapse."
In the 11 years since the Week of Prayer and Fasting began, Father Pavone says, 50 percent of the abortion clinics in the United States have closed.
"The reduction in the number of abortions hasn't corresponded with that, but it has gone down," he adds. "So I have great confidence that we're winning, but it's cautious confidence because confidence can lull us into a false sense of security that would lead to inaction."
The New York-based priest credits much of the success of the pro-life movement to prayer. However, he explained that prayer without carrying out God's work is simply not enough.
In his homily at the shrine, Father Pavone explained that prayer, fasting and worship of the Eucharist should lead Catholics to the voting booth. Quoting Pope John Paul's 2003 encyclical on the Eucharist, the priest explained that the Eucharist makes us long for the world to come, which should not make us less concerned about the world we live in today.
"The Eucharist should not make us less concerned about this world, but more concerned about it," he explained. "I hope that one big fruit of this week of fasting and prayer is that everyone in the pro-life movement will move up a notch in terms of active political involvement. Participate in pro-life activities, not just in your parishes, but in citizens groups that exist or that can be formed."
Father Pavone explained that merely holding pro-life sentiment and spending time in prayer does not make Catholics less accountable for the merciless killing of unborn children.
"Often believers say their first response to abortion should be prayer," Father Pavone said. "Not so, It should be repentance. The blood is on our hands. Maybe we haven't done enough; maybe we haven't spoken up and confronted others when we needed to. Maybe there have been people who we needed to admonish, or to console, who have been injured in some way by abortion.
"We need to repent by speaking up, or writing letters to the editor, and by accepting the sacrifice of losing popularity or suffering criticism for our defense of life," he continued. "Even losing a job - if there's no other option, and there usually is - is something we need to do if we're keeping quiet instead of defending life. A real encounter with God leads us out of ourselves and into the assistance of others."
Commenting on the attendance at the Mass, which filled the main shrine church to capacity, Maureen Flynn, coordinator of the event, said: "This shows what happens when groups come together to pray and make reparations to the Immaculate Heart of Mary before her son (in the Blessed Sacrament). People need to learn the power of the rosary to overturn the culture of death. It is through prayer in front of the sacrament that the culture of death will be overturned."
Wayne Laugesen is based in Boulder, Colo.