Catholic News Service
More than 6,000 people -- many of them high school and college students -- filled every square inch of the basilica's upper church, including the side chapels, and its lower Crypt Church for the National Prayer Vigil for Life on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand.
"We gather in this sacred space to bear witness yet again to the terrible cloud that has darkened our nation since the Supreme Court declared 33 years ago today that the life of a human being, a life created in God's image, may be ended before its birth," said Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, the main celebrant and homilist.
"We come together to pray that this darkest of clouds might at last be lifted. We come together again to pray for the triumph of life," said the cardinal, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
During Mass Proctor sat with the Little Sisters of the Poor who run the residence where she lives, near the basilica. Across the aisle little Abigail was cradled in the arms of her mom, Danielle, and her dad, R.J., was at their side. The Matavas are members of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More Parish in Arlington, Va.
All around them was a standing-room-only crowd. The sea of people was dotted with green scarves, blue-and-white hats, red T-shirts and bright yellow sweatshirts. Emblazoned on some shirts were the names of schools or pro-life groups, or slogans such as "Save the baby humans" and "Wade fought it; Roe regretted it."
Closed-circuit televisions around the basilica beamed the Mass to those without a direct view of it.
Cardinal Keeler was joined by six 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 praised the work of pro-lifers -- from the parish level to the national level -- and said they devoted themselves "so tirelessly to the great cause of life." The huge number of young people in the crowd was impressive, he said, adding that they "give such high hope to the movement."
The "dark cloud" of abortion has in the last 33 years taken "the lives of no less than 46 million of God's children" and each year they are joined by 1.3 million more, Cardinal Keeler said.
To illustrate "the horrible magnitude of this slaughter of innocents," he noted that in the last 12 months "nearly as many children were aborted as there are residents of the city of Philadelphia" and nearly twice as many "as there are residents of San Francisco."
The cardinal said some members of the scientific community deny what they know by "science and reason," that "from conception onward a human embryo is a member of the human species" and deserves protection.
But Cardinal Keeler also told 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 -- today "87 percent of all U.S. counties are abortion-free zones"; physicians are reluctant to prescribe the RU-486 abortion regimen because of complications it causes; and the latest in sonogram technology clearly shows expectant parents "the humanity of developing babies in their mothers' wombs."
In addition, the cardinal said, a recent CBS poll confirmed that there is diminishing support for abortion among Americans, especially among young people.
He also pointed out that efforts to allow assisted suicide have been defeated in many states, leaving Oregon the sole state where it is legal; 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.
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," Cardinal Keeler said. But he said, "Our pilgrimage is not over," and urged his listeners to pray to strengthen their resolve and for guidance to "bind it to God's will."
He also asked them to pray for the "courage and conviction" of St. Paul, who, he noted earlier, had shown "we can speak truth to power and do so in love."