WASHINGTON -- The hundreds of teens and young adults from across the Archdiocese of Washington who gathered Jan. 20 prior to the annual March for Life at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington were urged to be "witnesses to life, witnesses to the truth that every life matters."
"Pray and be confident that God can and will do great things," said Father Robert Kilner, administrator of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Solomons, Maryland, who gave the homily at the early morning Youth Mass of Celebration and Thanksgiving for Life. "Witness by the way you love your family, and especially the smallest, most helpless around you. Witness by your words in defense of the unborn, witness to God's mercy, inviting everyone back to the joy of confession."
He reminded the young people that "when you stand up for life, when you pray, when you love the smallest among us, when you defend the unborn, and when you invite others to the mercy of God, you tell the truth and show the world that every life matters. You make a difference."
Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington was the principal celebrant of the Mass. "It is a special joy for me to be able to celebrate this Eucharist with you, our young, youthful, joyful, happy Church," he said. "We come together to praise God and to thank God for the gift of our lives -- and we do so humbly."
Concelebrants included Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States; Bishop Earl K. Fernandes of Columbus, Ohio; Washington Auxiliary Bishops Mario E. Dorsonville and Roy E. Campbell Jr.; and about a dozen priests.
The Mass replaced the youth rally sponsored by the archdiocese and held prior to the annual March for Life at Washington arenas for more than 30 years. The new celebration and Mass follows the Supreme Court's June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The archdiocese changed its pre-March for Life activities after other dioceses that had typically sent participants to the Washington youth rally indicated that they would instead focus on their own states' pro-life efforts now that Roe has been overturned.
In his homily, Father Kilner called the overturning of "the unjust and awful decision of Roe v. Wade" a "great victory in the fight for life."
"I have a confession to make: Going to the March for Life year after year since I was a kid, I can remember sitting on my father's shoulders as we marched. ... I started to doubt that we could make a difference. Oh, me of little faith. I forgot what great things God can and will do through little people like me and you," he said.
He stressed that although Roe has been overturned, "we have a mission to continue to be witnesses to the truth that every life matters."
"Our mission is to save souls, our mission is to save babies, our mission is to help end abortion in our day," Father Kilner said.
At the start of Mass, Archbishop Pierre read a message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, that was issued in the name of Pope Francis.
Cardinal Parolin said Pope Francis "is deeply grateful for the faithful witness shown publicly over the years by all who promote and defend the right to life of the most innocent and vulnerable members of our human family."
"His Holiness trusts that Almighty God will strengthen the commitment of all, especially the young, to persevere in their efforts aimed at protecting human life in all its stages, especially through adequate legal measures enacted at every level of society," the message read. "To those taking part in the March for Life, and to all who support them by their prayers and sacrifices, the Holy Father gladly imparts his blessing as a pledge of strength and joy in the Lord."
The Holy See granted a plenary indulgence to those who attended in person or virtually the Mass of Celebration and Thanksgiving at the cathedral, or the Jan. 19 National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception or any Masses offered Jan. 19-20 in the Archdiocese of Washington in conjunction with the March for Life. To gain the plenary indulgence a person must sacramentally confess his or sins, receive holy Communion and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.