WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Since early afternoon Sunday the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception had begun to fill for the 6:30 pm. National Prayer Vigil for Life Mass in anticipation of the March for Life.  By 6 pm. every nook and cranny of the giant basilica was packed with people.  The booming pipe organ and majestic choir signaled the commencement of the Mass, which began with a massive procession of hundreds of seminarians, deacons and priests followed by 39 bishops and five cardinals.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was the principal celebrant and homilist, joined at the altar by Cardinals Donald Wuerl of Washington, Francis George of Chicago, Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, and Sean O’Malley of Boston.

In his homily, Cardinal DiNardo spoke of today’s “cultural shadows,” noting that they are “cast by the terrible reality of legal abortion on demand.” 

He thanked various groups for attending the event including priests, deacons, seminarians bishops, religious, but most of all the youth.  “To the astonishment of nature, of the chattering classes and of disinterested and jaded media, you have continuously come forward here and throughout the places where you live to be unflagging witnesses to the inestimable worth of each human person,” said DiNardo.  “We your elders become exhausted just watching you!,” he added to an outburst of applause.

The Cardinal recalled John Paul II’s powerful pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae - The Gospel of Life - in which the Pope, “minced no words when he wrote of a disturbing state of affairs that keeps expanding new attacks on the dignity of the human being by way of scientific and supposed technological progress.”

Applause greeted the Cardinal’s mention that Pope John Paul was to be declared blessed on May 1, adding that John Paul’s prayers were now a “pro-life plus”.

“The seemingly daily attempts to deny nurses and pharmacists their conscience rights are disquieting,” he said.  “A further violation takes place when taxpayers are forced to fund abortions.  The blindness against the rights of the unborn seems to move to an inability to respect the rights of those of us who respect and fight for the rights of the unborn.”

After interviewing several bishops this reporter did not leave the Basilica till 10:30pm; however the vigil continued all night in the crypt church below.  At 6am Monday morning the closing Mass of the vigil took place.  In his closing remarks, Cardinal DiNardo jokingly asked the young people who would take part in the all-night vigil to have mercy on their elders and let them get some sleep.

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Coming and going: filling the U.S. national basilica and Metro with pro-life youth