EVOKING a phrase long associated with the civil rights movement, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told an overflow crowd in Washington that “we shall overcome” in the fight against abortion.
Quoting Pope Francis in his homily on Wednesday (January 21) during the opening Mass of the United States National Prayer Vigil for Life, Cardinal O’Malley said, “The Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for a better world.”
He added, “In our country, people have come together in the fight to overcome racism” and other social ills. “The quest for human rights and solidarity brought together people of faith to ‘repair the world’, to use the Jewish expression.”
Now, Cardinal O’Malley said, the fight was for the right to life, “and we shall overcome”, he said to applause from a crowd of more than 11,000 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Without saying so directly, Cardinal O’Malley’s use of the phrase as the linchpin for his homily might have come from a phone call from Oprah Winfrey.
The cardinal and some priests were eating dinner at a diner near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston when the call came. “I presumed it was a telemarketer,” Cardinal O’Malley said, but Winfrey called to thank him for some comments he had made in an earlier blog posting about the movie “Selma”, of which she was one of the producers and had a featured role.
The comment focused on “how every person was made in the image and likeness of God”, Cardinal O’Malley said, a point often made in the pro-life movement.
The cardinal, who is chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, used his sermon to take apart some “American mythology” about abortion. The three biggest myths, he said, were that abortion was a woman’s issue, that most Americans “are pro-choice, pro-abortion”, and that “young people are overwhelmingly in favour of the pro-abortion position”.
But polling over the past 20 years, according to Cardinal O’Malley, showed “women have consistently been more pro-life than men”. By supporting abortion, he said, “men rationalise their irresponsibility” and push women to abort their unborn child, “threatening to abandon her if she ‘chooses’ to gives birth. … An abortion is a bargain compared to monthly child-support payments.”
On the second myth, Cardinal O’Malley quoted outgoing NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keegan said “there is a large intensity gap” among supporters of legal abortion and their foes.
And young people, the cardinal said to applause, “are the most pro-life segment of the American people”. Five years ago, the Gallup organisation “declared pro-life is the new normal”, Cardinal O’Malley said. “Congratulations, young people – you’re normal.”
“We shall overcome indifference only by love,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “We must press on with the full assurance that we shall overcome.”
Worshippers did not seem to be bothered by the mixture of light rain and fluffy snowflakes that descended on Washington the afternoon of the Mass. Nor did they seem thrown by the Mass starting a half-hour earlier than in past years. The shrine was filled to the brim.
More than 1000 bishops, priests, seminarians, novices and servers took part in the 42-minute entrance procession.
Meanwhile, March for Life president Jeanne Monahan-Mancini answered matter-of-factly when asked why she marched each year to mark the anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the nation.
“I can’t not march. I march for women who have made that wrong decision and suffered greatly; most of all I march for the unborn,” she said. “It is the worst human rights abuse happening out there right now, so I can’t not march.”
In an interview with Catholic News Service ahead of Thursday’s (January 22) annual event on the National Mall in Washington, she said this year’s March for Life would emphasise “everyone’s role in the creation of a culture of life”.
About this year’s March for Life theme – “Every Life is a Gift” – Ms Monahan-Mancini said there were “really two main points” to it.
“The first part focuses on the parents of children who receive a difficult prenatal diagnosis, such as spina bifida, Down syndrome, etc.,” she said. “The point is that every life is a gift, regardless of difficulty or disability. The average, overall abortion rate is 19 per cent of children conceived, so one in five. For children that receive this prenatal diagnosis, the rate is nine out of 10. These precious little ones are being exterminated!
“Secondly,” she said, “the theme is also meant to emphasise that everyone has a call and a mission. So my life is a gift and so is yours … Everyone at the march and in the world is a gift and has a role to play in the creation of a culture of life.”
Ms Monahan-Mancini is no stranger to the claim that women at the March for Life are somehow demonstrating against their own rights.
“I get really agitated when I hear that abortion is ‘good for women’,” she said. “When I hear these claims, I think about the 88-year-old woman who called in to a radio show I was on, crying because she regretted the abortion she had decades ago.
“I think about the father of Holly Patterson, who was killed by the abortion drug in California. I think about the real stories of real people who have been affected by this decision. Women deserve better than abortion. They deserve to be told the truth about the psychological and physiological consequences of abortion.
“One of my favourite quotes is by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who said that ‘abortion is profoundly anti-women. Three quarters of its victims are women: half the babies and all the mothers.'”
US news reports indicated hundreds of thousands of people attended the march.