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Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's Homily- Vigil Mass for Life, January 21, 2002

Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua
Homily: Vigil Mass for Life
January 21, 2002
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

You are here tonight to proclaim publicly that you are a pro-life Christian. I am here tonight to strengthen your desire to be more fully a pro-life Christian. To be a true pro-life Christian is determined by an intermingling of two things: what you do and what you are. Or, in different words, it means to become involved and to be holy.


It was just after 3:00 a.m., March 13, 1964. A red Fiat rolled slowly through the darkness into a parking lot adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road station in Queens in New York City. A young woman emerged from her car and began to walk toward her apartment house. But then she spotted someone in her path. She changed direction and headed toward a police call box.

Suddenly, the man overtook her. She screamed. The residents of nearby apartment houses turned on their lights and opened their windows. The woman screamed again: "Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me!" Ignoring her cries, her neighbors turned out their lights and slammed their windows shut. Her attacker stabbed her again. "I'm dying!" she cried. This time, he killed her.

Forty-five minutes later, a neighbor called the police. Officers arrived and found the body. They identified the victim as Catherine Genovese, 28 years of age. Neighbors knew her as Kitty.

Kitty Genovese ... it was a name that would stand for Americans who were too indifferent, frightened or self-absorbed to "get involved" and help a fellow human being in trouble. Thirty-eight neighbors witnessed the attacks, but did not come to her aid or even call the police. Over the years, there have been studies of what is now called "the Genovese syndrome." Commenting on this incident, one psychologist wrote: "If we need help, will those around us let us be destroyed or will they come to our aid? Are we there to help sustain life and values, or are we individual flecks of dust just floating around in a vacuum?"

Why have I told you this story? I tell you this story, my sisters and brothers, because, when we are not vigilant, and do not act in time of crisis, history repeats itself. Yes, you are here because you believe in the sanctity of life and the rights of every human person, including unborn persons. You hear their silent screams, and you act. Many of you will march for life tomorrow. For that also, I am grateful. And so is the Church.

Today, however, I am asking you to reflect even more deeply about what it means to be a pro-life Christian. But are these words not redundant? To be Christian should mean we are pro-life. This is so important at this critical time. Because we are disciples of Jesus, we respect human life at every stage of its existence and in every condition of its being. To be Christian means that no disciple of Christ can responsibly take a "pro-choice" stand when the "choice" involves the taking of innocent human life. In more direct language, it must be said that no one can consider himself or herself a true Christian who consciously supports abortion or euthanasia.

Yes, the battlefront is abortion and euthanasia. Yes, our unborn sisters and brothers need our help; we cannot let them be destroyed. We must continue to work and pray to overturn Roe v. Wade.

But being a pro-life Christian is not only what we do, but who we are. Every thought and every action must be pro-life. What does this mean practically? Recall what I said a moment ago. Being a pro-life Christian means that we respect human life at every stage of its existence and in every condition of its being. Today there are many threats to the sanctity of human life, especially where life is weak and defenseless. In addition to poverty, hunger, disease, violence and war, new threats are emerging on a disturbingly large scale, as became horrendously real last September 11. We must be deeply concerned about all the forces that threaten the well being of all of God's children.

Being pro-life begins in your heart and in your soul. It is not only a banner you carry, but a spirit that emerges from deep within your being. This means striving to be holy and prayerful people. Others must see these qualities first. And from your holiness and prayerfulness there emerges a deep and abiding respect on the part of others for God's presence in every other living person. And from your holiness and prayerfulness there can emerge a deep and abiding respect on the part of others for God’s presence in you.

Today we celebrate the memorial of the virgin and martyr, St. Agnes. Agnes lived in Rome during the fourth century. She refused all invitations to compromise her virginity. As a result, she was brutally murdered.

Today she is recognized as the patron of Christian virtue confronted by political and social violence. She tells us it is noble to live a virtuous life, to give oneself completely to God, to live a life worthy of a Christian and to speak out against what is opposed to God's law. Will we be like those people who turned out their lights and slammed their windows shut when they heard the cries of dying Kitty Genovese? What is at stake is not the life of one person, precious as that one life is, but of millions. Where is the outcry?

My sisters and brothers, I am asking you to cry out. I am asking you to take up the pro-life banner by living pro-life lives every day and doing everything in your power to promote a pro-life lifestyle. This means living chaste and virtuous lives. This means promoting family values and co-creating families when you are married. Do not be afraid to speak up for life. Do not be afraid to speak up against whatever threatens life. If the weak and marginalized continue to be exploited, by our silence we betray not only our Christianity, but our humanity.

Yes, proclaiming the truth of pro-life may cost you, may cost you severely. But suffering is part of being a disciple of Jesus. Remember John the Baptist. He was persecuted and put to death by King Herod not because Herod asked him to deny Jesus. Herod only asked John the Baptist to remain silent.

The assault on human life in our age has become a crisis of culture, even more, a crisis of civilization. True Christians may not, must not remain silent. In this crisis in the defense of human life, neutrality is not an option; silence is not a choice. In this crisis, let there be no doubt in the minds of anyone where we stand.

Let your entire life be a burning desire to promote the sanctity of life. And do not become discouraged. A candle is not diminished by the dark. Hope overcomes the darkness of doubt, skepticism and despair. We must keep these issues burning before the eyes of the public in our conversations and letters, but especially by our lives, which, of course, speak the loudest.

History will judge us on this issue. What will be the verdict? Will we be known as the generation that killed its young? And will those who survive grow up to kill their parents through euthanasia? Will we be like those who kept silent and watched Kitty Genovese die or will they call us true pro-life Christians, who did not keep silent, but spoke up for the sanctity of life and Christian values? Those assaulted by our culture of death have nobody to speak up for them ... nobody, that is, except us. Are we Christian enough to recognize their needs and to speak up, and even shout, on their behalf?

Jesus invites us today to pour new wine into new wineskins. It is time for us all, but especially you, my young sisters and brothers, to pour your new wine into the new wineskin of this new millennium. The Eucharist binds us together as God's family and sends us forth, challenged and changed to live our faith in a very real way in the very real world. May God help you to meet this challenge as true pro-life Christians.

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