Parishioners listen intently during the Mass.
Parishioners listen intently during the Mass.

Adults and young persons of faith from across the region nearly filled St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, for a Mass for Life, Jan. 20, in prayerful commemoration of the 50 years that a “right to abortion” was the law of the land and the persistent threat to pre-born children despite last year’s overturning of Roe v Wade.

Celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and about two dozen priests of the Diocese, the Mass was part of “Standing Together for Life,” a day-long event that called upon all members of the Church to help build a culture of life amid the ongoing practice of abortion and acts of violence and indifference aimed at vulnerable human life in all its stages.

Photo Gallery: Mass for Life

Photo Gallery: Standing Up For Life seminar

The Mass, which drew Catholics from throughout the four counties of the Diocese of Trenton as well as the other dioceses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, was the first part of the local day of advocacy for the sanctity of human life on the day that tens of thousands pro-life adults and youths gathered in Washington for the March for Life.

After Mass, the event continued in the Co-Cathedral’s Dentici Hall, where the filled-to-capacity crowd heard keynote speaker Dr. Charles Camosy lead a presentation on how the “culture of life” can be advanced by involving the entire Church and through collaborative efforts initiated by respect life and social justice ministries.

The Fight’s Not Over

Though Roe v. Wade was overturned last year by the Supreme Court, Bishop O’Connell emphasized in his homily, “That reversal has not ended abortion in our country. It simply ‘passed the buck’ to the states. Here in our own New Jersey, we have on the books the most permissive abortion laws in our nation, thanks to the hardest of hearts. The fight is in our hands.

“There is no doubt our presence marching on the front lines, our persistence, our prayers have made a difference as Roe v. Wade fades into the saddest chapters of American history,” Bishop O’Connell continued. “Now is not the time for us to fade with it, to diminish our presence and persistence, to weaken our witness, to minimize the constancy of our prayers.”

According to event organizers, the Mass for Life and seminar were scheduled to take place between the first anniversary of the New Jersey Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act signed into law Jan. 13 (codifying the right to abortion into state law), and the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the now-overturned 1973 Supreme Court case making abortion legal at the federal level.

The goal of the day was to offer an opportunity for members of the Diocese to participate in a locally-based pro-life event, particularly those who were not able to attend the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and for those who preferred to focus their efforts in New Jersey. There were a number of parish and school communities that did participate in the March for Life.

Those at the Mass for Life, which was livestreamed on the diocesan YouTube channel, included diocesan staff, members of parish Respect Life groups, social concerns ministries focused on assisting the poor and marginalized, parishioners from 39 parishes, students and faculty from four Catholic High Schools – two from the Trenton Diocese and two from the Metuchen Diocese – and representatives from the NJ Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Global Perspectives

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell referred to instances when Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis had occasion to speak out on the devaluing of human life.

As one example, Bishop O’Connell cited from Pope Francis’ meeting with the worlds’ Vatican diplomatic ambassadors when the Holy Father stated that, “the defense of life is ‘jeopardized not only by conflicts, hunger and disease, but all too often even in the mother’s womb…’”

Bishop O’Connell continued, “Pope Francis called upon political leaders ‘to safeguard the rights of those who are weakest and to combat the thruway culture that also, tragically affects the sick, the disabled and the elderly’ and insisted governments have a ‘primary responsibility to ensure that citizens are assisted in every phase of human life until natural death.’”

Now today “in Washington, D.C., here as a Diocese and throughout our many parishes, we affirm those same ideas, Bishop O’Connell said. “One need not be a Catholic to express and believe them. One needs only to be a rational, honest human being. But one cannot, however, BE a Catholic without those sentiments rooted deep in our souls.”

The Bishop decried those who identify as Catholics, including those who hold the highest offices in the nation and in the state, “who not only are NOT pro-life but who work against the conviction, who vigorously support a contrary position, who tragically seek to make even more restrictive legislation that enables the destruction of life at its most vulnerable stages in the womb, the law of the land, the law of our state.

“That is why it is so important for us to stand up together as Catholics and be counted together as pro-life,” Bishop O’Connell said. “It is not simply one of many labels applied to us. It is, as the bishops of our country have reminded us, our ‘pre-eminent priority.’”

Addressing those who had journeyed to Washington for the March for Life or those gathered for the Mass and seminar in Freehold, the Bishop reminded them that “as we stand together in the greatest of all prayers, the Eucharist, let us ask the Lord Jesus who gave his life for all of us, born and unborn, to give us the grace to protect the innocent, the most vulnerable child in the womb; to love and support and encourage their mothers and fathers to let them live; to walk with mothers and fathers, to work with renewed strength to build a ‘culture of life’ and a ‘civilization of love.’”

A story on the seminar presented by Dr. Charles Camosy to come.