By Christopher Lushis
WASHINGTON, D.C. — “I am grateful to see so many from our diocese here today in prayer as we prepare for tomorrow’s March for Life here in our nation’s capital,” said Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades who gathered with diocesan pilgrims Jan. 21 at St. Matthew Cathedral in Washington, D.C. for Mass.
“I am proud of your witness to Christ and the Gospel of Life,” Bishop Rhoades continued. “I am grateful for your dedication to the cause of life and for your steadfast commitment to the right to life of every human person, especially the innocent unborn.”
Families, adults and students from schools throughout the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend bravely weathered the snow and wind to show their united support against legalized abortion and to pray for the conversion of hearts and minds among those who continue to fight against the culture of life.
One of these students, Emma MacDonald, a home-schooled sophomore from Fort Wayne who served as lector at the Mass, reflected on why she chose to come to the national march. “Standing up for the unborn is vitally important,” she said, “and it is very special to be able to stand and walk together with so many other people my age who seek to do the same.”
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades reflected on Blessed Pope John Paul II’s words of “our present social context” as being “marked by a dramatic struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death.”
Bishop Rhoades said, “Even though at times we may feel powerless when we see the powerful resources of the forces promoting the culture of death, like Planned Parenthood, many in the media and Hollywood, and powers in our present government, we must always keep in mind the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians about God choosing the weak and the lowly, vessels of clay, to show His wisdom and power.”
Bishop Rhoades said two decades ago that Pope John Paul II “called upon the Church and all people of good will to activate a great campaign in support of life,” and that this call is rooted in the Church’s mission of evangelization.
Julie Weilbaker, a senior at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, demonstrated an awareness and realization of the pope’s words in responding why she desired to attend the national march. “I am here because my brothers and sisters in Christ can’t be here, and I am walking for them,” she said.
Bishop Rhoades further emphasized the necessity for prayer and liturgy to accompany the activities of the March. The prayer from the diocesan gathering Mass, as well as the Mass the following day at the Verizon Center, he said, “rises up from our hearts and thousands of others here in Washington today and tomorrow. Yes, we will march, but we will also pray. We offer our petitions to our Creator, and lover of life.”
He remarked that “throughout human history, ever since the fall, there has been a struggle between the forces of good and evil, life and death.”
Speaking of the battle that raged at the beginning of the fourth century against the Body of Christ, he said, “The atrocious cruelty against Christians revealed the prevailing culture of death at that time. Yet, so many Christians refused to deny the faith and accepted martyrdom for the sake of Christ.”
One of these martyrs was a 13-year-old virgin, St. Agnes, whose feast day was celebrated on Jan. 21.
“St. Agnes was a beautiful young teenager who pledged her life to virginity, choosing Jesus as her only spouse,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Because she resisted the many young men who wanted to marry her, they turned her over to the governor for being a Christian. Agnes would not offer sacrifice to the false gods of the Romans or to forsake her virginity.”
“She stood up to the culture of death and suffered martyrdom for her faith,” Bishop Rhoades said. “She is a model for us today of faith, purity and courage. St. Agnes and all the martyrs teach us the power of love over hate and of life over death.”
Bishop Rhoades reminded all that God chooses the weak and lowly of this world, and “He chooses us today to have the love and courage of St. Agnes, to stand up for our faith, and, yes, to march for life,” Bishop Rhoades said. “We cannot sit on the sidelines in the battle between the culture of life and the culture of death.”
“We must pray. We must vote. We must assist pregnant women,” he emphasized. “We must bring healing to women who have had abortions. And in all we do, we must have faith in the One who conquers death, faith in Christ whose blood reveals to us that man’s greatness vocation ‘consists in the gift of self.’ Christ’s Blood poured out as the gift of life, no longer a sign of death. … In the Eucharist, we drink the Blood of Christ and draw the strength to commit ourselves to the service of life.”
Bishop Rhoades also remarked that it is good to heed the words of Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” where he wrote, “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us.”
Bishop Rhoades also recognized the Franciscan Brothers Minor and Sisters Minor for their attendance, as well as thanking the diocesan seminarians from the Pontifical College Josephinum for their service at the Mass.
He then concluded the liturgy by reflecting on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s openness to life. “The Annunciation,” he said, “was the greatest ‘yes’ to life in human history, when Mary said ‘yes’ to conceive and bear the Savior of the world. And as patroness of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, under the title The Immaculate Conception, we ask her blessings upon us through our prayers today.”
Members of the Catholic community from northern Indiana were well represented this year in the March for Life walk, which takes place annually in protest of the Supreme Court’s decision on Jan. 22, 1973 that legalized abortion in the United States. Over 400 members of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and 320 students and faculty from the University of Notre Dame, Holy Cross College and Saint Mary’s College were able to attend the event. In total, more than 500,000 participants were estimated to have made the walk from the National Mall to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court Building.
Unfortunately, even more participants would have been able to attend had it not been for the blizzard-like conditions that kept thousands throughout the country, including more than 200 from the University of Notre Dame, from traveling to Washington.
Those who were able to assemble to show their commitment for the Gospel of Life were greatly encouraged by the positive messages of hope and support offered by the leaders of the march. New President of the March for Life, Jeanne Monahan led the demonstration with a revitalized focus on changing the culture of abortion through the use of social media, promoting active citizen involvement in local government and continued grassroots movements, and by emphasizing the beautiful gift available to women in offering their unwanted child for adoption.
Unlike recent years, the political speeches were shorter in length and fewer in number, but remained energizing and uplifting throughout.
Catholic musician Matt Maher was also added to this year’s lineup to play songs of inspiration for those in attendance.
As well as introducing new websites and apps to keep supporters actively involved in the cause throughout the year, the social media aspect of the march received a boost from none other than Pope Francis himself, who tweeted, “I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable.”
This proclamation was greeted with loud cheers and gracious thanks at his public support for the pro-life ministry all Catholics are called to share in together.
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