January 26, 2011 // Uncategorized

Tens of thousands of youths gather for two pre-march rallies, Masse

By Richard Szczepanowski

Pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend gather at the D.C. Armory for a Mass before the National March for Life. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the principal celebrant and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was one of the concelebrating bishops.

WASHINGTON (CNS) — At the first youth rally and Mass for life to be held at the D.C. Armory, nearly 10,000 young people from across the country were urged Jan. 24 to more fully live their Catholic faith and embrace the culture of life promoted “by our soon-to-be-beatified Pope John Paul II.”

“If we are going to rid our nation of the tragedy of abortion, then we are going to have to rid our society and ourselves of the culture of death,” said Father Patrick Riffle, parochial vicar at St. Peter Parish in Olney, Md. “The remedy that is needed to cure this plague is not a law to be enacted, not a (court) ruling that can be overturned, not an executive order, but it is a person — Jesus Christ.”

The armory was chosen as a second venue for Washington pro-life events for youths, after the first venue, the Verizon Center, was sold out weeks earlier. In addition, four parishes held Masses for people who couldn’t get tickets to Verizon or the armory.

With enthusiastic singing and a prayerful presence, 17,000 young people from across the United States gathered at the Verizon Center to show their commitment to pro-life issues at a concert and Mass for life.

The popular annual event was started more than 16 years ago and includes a concert, confessions, praying the rosary, and Mass, before most of the crowd heads to the annual March for Life, which marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The Archdiocese of Washington’s Department of Life Issues is the primary event organizer along with the help of several other archdiocesan offices.

As people filed into the Verizon Center or went to confession, event emcee and performer Steve Angrisano, the Ike Ndolo Band, and “American Idol” contestant Maddy Curtis kicked off the rally with a contemporary Christian music concert, getting the youth literally jumping for joy.

The Mass that followed began with a long procession of clergy, there to show their support of both young people and life. Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was the principal celebrant. Concelebrants included Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, four archbishops, 16 bishops, about 200 priests and 38 deacons.

Cardinal Wuerl asked that each diocesan or city group cheer as their area’s bishop was introduced, and cheer they did. The cardinal also thanked the young people in attendance for standing for life.

“We will be the voice of those who were never allowed to speak, we will cast the vote that they were never able to make, and in about two hours we will march for those who were never allowed to take their first step,” said the homilist, Father Mark Ivany, referring to the March for Life event to follow on the National Mall.

The priest, who is parochial vicar at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Md., reminded those gathered that it wasn’t enough to just overturn Roe v. Wade, but that “our mission is to change the whole culture of our country.”

At the D.C. Armory, Father Riffle was the homilist and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the principal celebrant.

Cardinal DiNardo, noting that the liturgy “is one of joy, but one of intense focus,” called on young people to “ready the way of the Lord who comes as the God of life.”

Concelebrants at the D.C. Armory Mass included about 100 priests from across the country and six bishops, including Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans; Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati; Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Steubenville, Ohio; Bishop Joseph P. McFadden of Harrisburg, Pa.; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.; and Auxiliary Bishop Gerald T. Walsh of New York.

“Some people would say that the church is old news,” Father Riffle told pro-lifers in the nearly packed armory. “Look around; I say the church is alive.”

Pointing out that almost 28,000 young people were gathered at the Armory and the Verizon Center events, Father Riffle said there are also “hundreds of thousands of other Catholics” around the country who were praying for an end to abortion to mark the day when “the highest court legalized the destruction of human life.”

In a homily frequently interrupted by applause, he called young people to daily prayer, regular Mass attendance, frequent reception of the sacrament of reconciliation and more involvement in parish activities. “If you want, as a Catholic, to be pro-life, you must be pro-Jesus Christ,” he said.

“Live out your faith wholeheartedly. Recommit yourself to the Gospel of life. Recommit yourself to Jesus Christ. Know Christ. Know the Gospel. Know your faith,” he said. “If you want to be pro-life, you must get in touch with the very source of life itself.”

Young people — some wearing sweatshirts that said, “Thanks Mom,” “I Survived Roe vs. Wade,” “Everyone Deserves a Birthday” and “Abortion is Mean” — began arriving at the D.C. Armory in the pre-dawn darkness. Pro-lifers came to the armory from as far away as New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Tennessee and Minnesota.

Spencer Witt and Abby Guenther, eighth-graders at St. Elizabeth of Hungary School in Pittsburgh, joined hundreds of others from their parish and school to attend the armory rally. The group left Pittsburgh, they said, at 1 a.m. to attend the rally and Mass and to march for life.

“We are pro-life, and we’re here to be with others to stand up for life,” Guenther said.

For Witt, getting up early and enduring a long bus ride is “how we say every life deserves a chance.”

“The Supreme Court must overturn this (Roe v. Wade) decision,” he said. “They may not hear my voice saying this, but when it is raised with thousands of others, they will hear us.”

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Contributing to this story was Anna Weaver.

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