More than 600 people packed the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington Jan. 18 for Mass and prayer prior to joining tens of thousands of other pro-life supporters for the annual March for Life. 

They gathered for the annual Adult and Family Rally and Mass for Life sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Association of Ecclesial Movements and the New Communities.

“This is God’s work we carry out … when we fight that which threatens the sanctity of life,” said Father Andrew Wakefield, parochial vicar of the Church of the Annunciation in Washington and homilist at the Mass. “We can all be agents of change, agents of light and love if we open ourselves to God’s grace.”

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fisher was the principal celebrant of the Mass. About a dozen priests concelebrated the liturgy.

In welcoming the pro-lifers to the cathedral, Bishop Fisher reminded them that “we are here to speak out for those who cannot speak. We are here to speak out for life – our life and all life.”

The Adult and Family Mass and Rally at the cathedral is an annual event held in conjunction with a similar Youth Rally and Mass at the Capital One Arena downtown. Attendees at the rally came from across the archdiocese, from states such as Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and as far away as Sydney, Australia.

“The precious right to life is at the heart of who we are as brothers and sisters of Christ,” Father Wakefield said. “It is a fundamental truth of our faith that we are all beloved daughters and sons of God. He delights in us as His children.”

He said that to be pro-life “is a way of living in which we see the innate goodness of every person we encounter.”

“We must ensure that the precious right to life is protected at all times,” he said. “Each one of us matters at each stage of life.”

Calling abortion “the dignity of the human person most blatantly denied,” Father Wakefield reminded those at the rally and Mass that other issues, such as racism, murder, discrimination and sexual abuse are also affronts to the dignity of human life.

“We must work to create a world where the right to life is protected,” he said. “We must work to protect all who are marginalized, all who are unwanted, all whose dignity is denied, all who suffer in silence.”

He called on those who gathered at the cathedral that as they took to the streets of Washington, they would “live out our vocation as missionaries of the Good News.”

Likening life to a journey with God, Father Wakefield told the pro-lifers that “this journey must be valued and protected, this journey must be allowed to thrive.”

Prior to the Mass, Melissa Ohden – a noted pro-life advocate who is a survivor of a failed abortion attempt – addressed the rally.

“It means the world to me to see you here marching for life,” Ohden said. “Every life has intrinsic value. Every life must be protected.”

She offered her personal history of how her birth mother – an unwed teenager – was coerced into having a saline infusion abortion in 1977. Despite the poison injected into her mother’s womb, Ohden survived and was born alive after doctors induced labor believing the fetus was dead.

She noted that because she was born after the failed abortion attempt, “we live in a society that calls lives like mine a ‘dreaded complication.’ I was born alive, so I was a ‘dreaded complication’ to the abortion doctor.”

“If I could be saved from certain death by abortion, then I have great hope that we can end abortion,” she said. “We have hope because we are making a difference.”

She also noted that 64 percent of women who have had abortions reported they felt coerced or intimidated into having the procedure.

“Every woman deserves better than that … that is why we march,” Ohden said. “We march because our culture deserves better than abortion. Every single one of us deserves better than abortion.”

Annie Cooper brought a group of young adults from Michigan to attend the rally and march for life. She said it is something she has done for more than a decade.

“We traveled all the way from home to come here and witness to life,” she said. “When you think about it, it is sad we have to remind people that life is a gift. But, if that is what we have to do, then we will do it.”

John Iverson traveled with a group from Iowa to participate in this year’s events. “I think it took us about 20-some hours to get here,” he said. “We’re tired even though we slept a little on the bus, but what’s a little inconvenience if our presence here can make a difference?”

Recalling Father Wakefield’s homily in which he stressed that there are many threats to the sanctity of life, Kim Manning of Virginia said that the March for Life “is not just about being anti-abortion, this is about being pro-life, defending all life.”

After the Mass, participants made their way to the National Mall for the March for Life. This is the 46th annual march, held every year around the anniversary of 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand in the United States. The theme for this year’s March for Life is “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science.”