Pilgrim's Journal: Putting on the Armor of God

A University Student’s View From the Back Corner of the DC Basilica

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

By Mary Yep

WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 23, 2012 (Zenit.org).- If Jesus said in the Gospels «where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them,» then surely he was present as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception began to fill to overflowing Sunday, before the opening Mass for the Vigil for Life.

Thousands of pilgrims, arriving from all parts of the country, packed into the largest Catholic church in the United States, stretching well past the basilica’s 4,000-person seating capacity already hours before the opening Mass was set to begin.This Eucharistic Celebration and the annual March for Life today commemorate and protest the legalization of abortion in the United States, which occurred on Jan. 22 in 1973 with the Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade.

For weeks, the Basilica of the National Shrine and neighboring Catholic University of America have been preparing to welcome those coming for the weekend’s Respect Life events. One might think that college students, already short on time and living space, would be reluctant to share those two values with others. This is a misconception. We students from the Catholic University of America opened our doors to the many pilgrims. Around 1,200 visitors stayed in the university’s athletic center, and more boarding was available with individual students. Students also volunteered their time as ushers and staff for the Mass, helping to organize the crowds that were arriving. Early last week, basilica staff set up video screens in the Crypt Church as well as in the side chapels in the main basilica in order that all pilgrims, regardless of seating, would be able to participate in the Mass.

In the days leading up to the vigil, I had heard that «a lot» of people were coming. «A lot» did not capture just how many people would be present in the shrine. I arrived at 3 p.m., three and a half hours before Mass began, and I discovered all the seats in the upper basilica already filled. It was incredible how many people showed up. Up until the last minutes before Mass, the faithful were still pouring in the doors, eager for just a place to stand. 

At last, the majestic organ began its interlude and the procession began. Even from the very nave of the basilica’s upper church, it was impossible to miss the white-robed army of seminarians, deacons, priests, bishops and cardinals all marching toward the altar. The procession alone lasted 40 minutes. The principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass was Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. 

In opening remarks, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., welcomed all who had come to participate in the weekend’s events. He gave a very special welcome to the young people. Later, in the homily, Cardinal DiNardo also emphasized the importance of the youth. He called them the «grand and eloquent witnesses full of enthusiasm; a ‘good infection that we all want to catch.'» He encouraged the young people to never underestimate their presence and to never be compromised in their dedication to life. The young people, the cardinal said, are truly the future of this country and their special mission is «weaving Christ into the culture with all their characteristic energy, joy, love of life, and deep friendship with Christ, just as Our Lady did.»

It was powerful to experience the Mass with such a large gathering of faithful. Since the crowd blocked my view of all that was happening on the altar, I focused less on what I could see and more on what I could hear. The recitations of the «Amens» were so much more resounding than ordinary, and parts of the Eucharistic prayer recited by the army of priests sounded majestically thunderous. Standing in the very back of the Church with no visibility had its advantages, contrary to what I had first expected. The sign of peace further united the crowds. I welcomed and shook hands with the neighbors around me who, maybe hours before, had been silently competing with me for a nook in which to stand. 

As Mass ended and the faithful each received the blessing from the cardinal with the sign of the cross, I could not help but imagine a vast army putting on their shields, the shield of the cross, readying themselves to continue in the battle for life.

The Prayer Vigil for Life continued after Mass with confessions, a Rosary for Life, night prayer, and a series of Holy Hours, united with those that would take place until this morning in cities around the United States.

— — —

Mary Yep is an Illinois native in her first year of nursing studies at the Catholic University of America.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation