With Christ at center, pro-life efforts will persevere, says U.S. bishops' pro-life chair

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- Jesus Christ's words in the Gospel reading for Jan. 18, "I am with you always until the end of the age," are critical as "an instruction for how to live in this broken world" and "bring goodness to it," the U.S. bishops' pro-life chairman said in his homily at the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life.

"Christ himself" is the "only answer" to better the world "even as it persists in imperfection," Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, told the congregation that filled the Great Upper Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

"Christ speaks these words, not as an assurance that all our efforts will succeed by worldly metrics, but as a promise that he will be there in our successes and our failures … , in our victories and our losses. … And he will sanctify it all," Bishop Burbidge said.

The pro-life movement has seen victory with the end of Roe two years ago but also has experienced loss as abortion policies are being pushed more than ever at the federal and state levels, he said.

The Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade in its Dobbs ruling on June 24, 2022, was "a moment of relief, a moment of new life, an exodus from the oppression under which we lived for 50 years," said Bishop Burbidge, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

But "if the past year and a half has taught us anything, it is this: Dobbs is not the end. It is a victory -- a tremendous victory -- but not a decisive one," he said. "The lives of the unborn are still in danger -- in some places, more so than ever. The lives of innocent children are being taken. Mothers are still being harmed. Couples, children, families are still in need of resources, support, and love."

In negating its own precedent that made abortion access a constitutional right in 1973, the high court returned abortion policy to the states.

"Despite the tireless efforts and hard work of bishops and all the faithful, we suffered a particularly difficult loss for unborn life after Dobbs when several states enshrined so-called abortion rights with a radical amendment to their state constitutions" Bishop Burbidge said.

In states where "there are victories to be won," Bishop Burbidge said, the pro-life movement "must continue to be strategic. ... Where states have acted to enshrine extreme abortion policies into law, we must not lose hope. Even in the darkest places, we can be a light."

"It is not enough to reserve our message for those who will readily receive it, and to pursue victories only in those places where we are likely to win,” he said. “We must persist in those places where our message is rejected. We must bring light to the darkest corners. … Every life is worth the effort.”

Highlighting the theme of the annual March for Life set for Jan. 19, "With every mother, for every child," he said, "More than anything, we must continue to serve. ... The needs of mothers and babies are dynamic, and we must be dynamic too."

"The work we do in pregnancy centers around the country is at the center of our mission," Bishop Burbidge said. "We must fortify those efforts and ensure that those who choose life have a home, an income, food, clothing, and provisions for their children. We must help mothers and fathers through the challenges of pregnancy and welcoming a new life. Becoming a parent or growing a family often comes with a need for greater emotional and spiritual support. We must be attuned to this need, and creative in how we respond to it."

Bishop Burbidge was the main celebrant of the vigil Mass, which was attended by nearly 7,000 people and joined by 138 priests, and included three cardinals -- Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley of Boston and Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S. -- 19 bishops and archbishops, 31 deacons and 314 seminarians. Among them were also Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, president of the USCCB; and two past chairmen of the USCCB's pro-life committee, namely Archbishops Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, and William E. Lori of Baltimore, the USCCB's vice president.

Cardinal Pierre read a message from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, issued on behalf of Pope Francis, who assured those gathered for the vigil and the next day's march of his prayers and his gratitude for their "eloquent witness to the inviolable right to life of every person." He encouraged "everyone to persevere in efforts to safeguard our heavenly Father's gift of life through adequate legal measures enacted at the local, national and international levels, for when the dignity and sanctity of human life is valued and protected, society as a whole is strengthened." The pontiff imparted his blessing on all those participating in the March for Life.

Bishop Burbidge opened his homily with a thank-you to pro-life supporters for their "zeal, perseverance, and love that drives your commitment." He praised them for their dedication to pro-life ministries around the country and for offering "prayer, witness, and advocacy ... on behalf of the unborn" at the vigil and the next day's March for Life.

In the face of "our opponents" being flooded with money helping them to "tell falsehoods, to deceive people, and to portray anyone who stands up for life as irrational, radical, and intolerant," Bishop Burbidge said, the pro-life movement has "the Truth."

"Yet, we must find new ways of communicating it," the bishop continued. "How? Without compromise. Where? Even in the darkest places ... through service and always with Christ at the center."

"All of human life is sacred. The right to life is absolutely fundamental," he said. "No one has a right to directly take the life of another. No one has a right to devalue another. No one has a right to say which lives are worth saving, worth living, and which lives are not."

Bishop Burbidge said that some in this world, "including those elected to the highest offices, sadly neglect these basic truths and/or want to compromise or negotiate them" but "it is our sacred duty to vigorously and tirelessly defend" these truths about life.

He said the pro-life movement’s deepest victory "lies in responding in the only way worthy of the human person: in love. … Our message must be uncompromisingly true and unfailingly charitable."

"We must never negotiate the Truth, but speak it in love, bring it to the darkest places, and continue to serve mothers, fathers, and families in need," he added.

After Mass Archbishop Naumann led the National Holy Hour for Life through 8 p.m., followed by a series of Holy Hours of Eucharistic devotion throughout the night in dioceses across the country. An 8 a.m. Mass Jan. 19 to close the vigil was celebrated by Bishop Earl K. Fernandes of Columbus, Ohio.

- - - Julie Asher is senior editor for OSV News. Follow her on X (formally Twitter) @jlasher.