January 25, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC was packed to the rafters Thursday night for the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life, which takes place on the night before the March for Life. 

Speaking to four of his brother cardinals, 42 of his brother bishops, 13,000 faithful, 395 priests, 80 deacons and 520 seminarians, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston stressed that “abortion is not a necessary evil, it’s simply evil.”

Even arriving half an hour early for Mass, attendees were greeted with a solid jam of bodies filling every nook and cranny of the massive church beginning only a few steps past the doors.  Reflecting the March itself, the vigil Mass was populated in the main by young people from high schools and colleges around the nation.

The opening procession, consisting of over 1000 clerics accompanied by the deep tones of the organ, the choir and incense, all set in a basilica with beautiful and bright mosaics on the vaulted ceilings, made an unforgettable 45-minute opening.

“Since 1973 there have been about 55 million abortions,” the cardinal said. “That’s how many people live in Italy, in the United Kingdom, in France.”

Cardinal O’Malley, also the chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, added, “Abortion, like slavery, is not just a religious issue, it is a human rights issue.  “

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“We must never lose sight of the fact that we must work to overturn the law of Roe v Wade,” he said.  “But we must work even harder to make Americans understand that abortion is evil and it is unnecessary.”

Beyond abortion, the cardinal warned, “There is no doubt that the next major assault on the Gospel of Life will come from those pushing physician assisted suicide and euthanasia.” He added, “The society that allows parents to kill their children will allow children to kill their parents.”

The Mass was only the opening of the vigil, which continued all night long.  The Crypt Church below was filled with young people who availed themselves of confessions, a National Rosary for Life, Night Prayer according to the Byzantine Rite, and holy hours led by seminarians from across the country from midnight until 6 a.m, and morning prayer at 6:30 a.m.

The closing of the vigil was at 7:30 a.m. Friday with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas.  After the long night, there remained 5,500 attendees, 3 bishops and 36 priests.

In his vigil homily, Cardinal O’Malley linked the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization to pro-life work. He said: “This year of faith is a call to a deeper conversion so we can become apostles of the Gospel of Life in the new evangelization.”

Bishop Farrell continued that theme saying, “If we wish to change the “culture of death” in our society we must restore God to the center of our lives … Brothers and sisters, in this Year of Faith we need to renew our commitment to building a ‘Culture of Life’ in our communities.”

There were many other Masses held throughout the Basilica yesterday and today, and more are scheduled for tomorrow.  In this regard, the Basilica will easily have accommodated well over 30,000 within a 24 - 48 hour period.