WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 25, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The pro-life struggle is the “greatest civil rights battle of all time,” homilist Fr. Carter Griffin told a packed crowd of around 17,000 at the DC Archdiocese’s Youth Rally and Mass for Life on Friday morning at the Verizon Center.

Between the DC arena and a satellite event at Maryland’s Comcast Center, around 30,000 youth gathered to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade before joining the hundreds of thousands of marchers on the National Mall. The two events were organized by the Archdiocese of Washington.

Organizers said the crowd represented over 103 dioceses, with groups hailing from as distant as the Virgin Islands and Oregon.

At the Verizon Center rally, the mood was jubilant, the whole arena on its feet with many clapping or dancing as the Josh Blakesley Band rocked out a series of praise hymns. But it quickly took a solemn tone as MC Bob Rice spoke about the “Holocaust” that abortion has wrought in America with over 55 million lives taken since 1973.

“In the United States today, one of the most dangerous places to be is in the mother’s womb,” he said, calling on the youth to be a voice for the unborn. “Because they can’t speak and they can’t march, we can and we will.”

After offering Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer for the unborn, the rally began with a commemoration of Nellie Gray, founder of the March for Life, who passed away in 2012.

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During the rally, two high school students from the DC archdiocese, Jackie Sheehan and Bridget MacDonald, gave a witness to their commitment to the right to life, urging teens to join their school pro-life clubs, pray for an end to abortion, and take part in local 40 Days for Life campaigns.

Never be silent, said Sheehan, because “silence accomplishes nothing.”

The Mass at the Comcast Center was offered by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and at the Verizon Center it was offered by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., who was joined by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, as well as sixteen other bishops and over 100 priests.

In his homily, Fr. Griffin, vice-rector of the DC seminary, emphasized that the battle “is taking place not only out there, but first in here. Before we can change laws we have to change hearts, starting with our own.”

“Before pro-life is a political agenda it must become a personal agenda,” he continued. “Don’t be a spectator in these battles of our day. Get in the arena and make a difference. … It is a time of crisis, that’s true, but crises simply are times for heroes, for the greatest lovers of all: they are times for saints.”

“The most important thing we can do to promote a culture of life – even more important than voting, marching, and speaking out – is to grow in holiness,” he added.

After Roe, he said, “every child in every state lost his or her right to born.”

“Forty years is a long time to restore this basic civil right to life. You know, forty years ago today I was a newborn infant; I was among the last with the right to be born,” he said. “How many here are younger than forty years old? You did not.”