Bishop O'Connell greets faithful following the Mass he celebrated Jan. 18 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. The Mass was offered for the intentions of all respect life issues as well as for those who would be attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C., the following day. John Blaine photos

Bishop O'Connell greets faithful following the Mass he celebrated Jan. 18 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. The Mass was offered for the intentions of all respect life issues as well as for those who would be attending the March for Life in Washington, D.C., the following day. John Blaine photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent 

On Jan. 18, hours before more than 1,000 representatives from the Diocese’s parishes and schools were due to depart for the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., scores of faithful gathered with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, to bid them Godspeed.

Amid prayer and soaring music from the Co-Cathedral’s choir, Bishop O’Connell commended the pilgrims – a number of whom were in attendance – for their devotion to the cause of life from the moment of conception to natural death and sent them forth on mission.

Photo Gallery: Mass of Sending in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral 

The special Mass of sending was the first of its kind for the Diocese, he noted. Traditionally, individual parishes have held their own Masses in the very early hours of the morning shortly before departure. This Mass, on the eve of the march, offered pilgrims and all who wished to see them off with spiritual support the opportunity to unite as one.

Bishop O’Connell expressed joy that the Mass was the first in a series of pro-life events – the Jan. 19 March as well as a Mass for Life he will celebrate in Trenton’s St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral Jan. 22 and subsequent Rally for Life outside the State House Annex, also Trenton. The Mass for Life and rally will take place on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that in 1973 legalized abortion.

Among the concelebrants at the Co-Cathedral Mass were Msgr. Sam Sirianni, Co-Cathedral rector, and Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, vicar general, moderator of the curia and pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton.

The Mass was streamed live by the diocesan Department of Multimedia Production for those who couldn’t attend but wanted to participate in asking God’s blessings on the annual witness to life.

A God-Given Right

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell called on everyone to pray for renewed commitment to life in all stages. He urged everyone to be steadfast and encouraged all to pray for a safe and peaceful journey for those going to the 45th annual March for Life.

The Bishop reminded the faithful of the overwhelming human cost of abortion in this nation, which, since the Roe v. Wade decision, has cost nearly 53 million lives in a “national nightmare” that has yet to end, he said.

“Regardless of race or place of natural origin; regardless of our religion or the absence of it; regardless of our age or status or station in life, we all have this in common: God gave us the gift of life, which our mothers carried until the day of our birth,” he said.

“We were allowed to live! Every human being who has ever walked the face of this earth shares that one thing in common,” Bishop O’Connell said. “And from the moment of our conception until the day of our natural death, we celebrate with gratitude our God-given right to life. Nothing is more fundamental, nothing is more precious than that one human right.”

Underscoring that those who gathered in the Co-Cathedral on the eve of the march were “conscious of that basic human right” and “committed to that basic human right in the face of those who seek to deny that basic human right to the most vulnerable in our society: the unborn child in the womb,” he reminded all that the “human right to life is not simply a religious right.”

“It is a human right without which no other human rights can be, no other human rights can exist, no other human rights can prevail no matter how clever or deceptive those opposed to life” disguise their opposition, he said.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson and Pope Francis, Bishop O’Connell called it necessary to continue opposing abortion and infanticide – what the Second Vatican Council described as “unspeakable crimes.”

“One month ago,” the Bishop said, “we celebrated the Birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, long anticipated in the writings of the prophets of old. We believe, don’t we, that Christ was/is the plan of God for us, and so he entered and assumed our humanity!”

“He did so to save us from our sins, to save us from ourselves and the human judgments and decisions we make,” he continued. “We must always remember Jesus’ own words, ‘I have come that you may have life.’” (John 10:10)

“The words of Jesus,” Bishop O’Connell said, are “the banner we lift high in this Diocese, in Washington, D.C., here tonight and throughout the world. … We must continue to bring ‘life to light’ in every choice we make, every decision we uphold, every right we claim and affirm as human beings.”

Life is a Gift

His words were taken to heart by those in attendance, including Laura Cugini, 22, a St. Robert Bellarmine parishioner and public school educator who said it was vitally important to pray “over the need to end abortion.”

Luis Neira, 31, a parishioner of St. Thomas More, Manalapan, who was received into the Church at last year’s Easter Vigil, said he felt called to be present. Since entering the Church, Neira said he has realized that life is every day. “I came because, for the first time, I see it as a gift.”

Neira said he attended the Mass to pray that all will come to the same realization.

Tom Panettiere, Respect Life coordinator for St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish, had proposed holding Mass on the eve of the rally and was thanked for his efforts to bring that about by Bishop O’Connell and Msgr. Sirianni, in their closing comments.

Inspiration for the Mass came to Panettiere, who has been coordinating the trip for 10 years, while considering a way to spend more time in Washington.

“Every year, we have a Mass before the buses leave, and this year, we wanted to leave earlier than usual to get to Washington and make the most of the day,” said Panettiere, who added that it seems to be an idea whose time has come.