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American Bishops Unveil Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and (Virtual) Pilgrimage for Life

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Susan E. Wills - published on 01/16/15

Can't get to DC for the March for Life? You can still make a difference

Marching in mostly bone-chilling cold every January to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s shameful decision in Roe v. Wade had its own reward. No, it wasn’t from thinking that I’d done anything important. The reward came when I finally arrived alongside the US Capitol Building, where the higher elevation offers a breathtaking view down the Mall and Madison Drive, Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues. As far as the eye can see, every square inch of pavement and grass was occupied. There were hundreds of thousands of people — mostly teens and young adults — braving the cold, moving resolutely and cheerfully forward. You wouldn’t guess that they’d endured long hours riding in a car or bus and a night sleeping on the floor of a high school gym or parish hall. As they marched, they prayed or sang, holding posters with pro-life messages or banners announcing the name of their parish, high school or college pro-life group. If there is a more hopeful vision of the future of America, I don’t know what it could be. This generation is determined to be the one that ends legal abortion in the US and I don’t doubt that they will. If you haven’t been to Washington to experience the March for Life, you’d better plan on going soon.

Recognizing that most pro-life Americans have responsibilities that keep them from making a pilgrimage to Washington for the National Prayer Vigil at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the March for Life, the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities is offering a wonderful way for Catholics everywhere to take part in Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and (Virtual) Pilgrimage, beginning Saturday, January 17 and running through Sunday, January 25.

The Pro-Life Secretariat’s novena intro webpage describes four ways you can sign up to get the daily novena message (in English and Spanish): online, by email or text message and by downloading an app. You can also find the entire novena online in downloadable formats.

The prayer/reflection portion takes no more than a couple of minutes. It consists of the daily prayer intention, and an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, followed by a very brief reflection.

Three "Acts of Reparation" are proposed each day as a concrete means of building a culture of life in the US or as a personal sacrifice to amp up the power of your prayer.

For Catholics who want to go "One Step Further," links are provided to resources (all brief) so you can better understand, articulate and defend the teachings of our faith on an array of pro-life/bioethical issues.

If you’re not yet convinced that taking part in the novena is something you ought to do, the Bishops’ Committee lists nine compelling reasons why you should sign up: 

(1) It’s important. Abortion has been legal for 42 years. Children need life-long families. An increasing number of states are considering legalizing doctor-assisted suicide. Men, women and children are suffering in a variety of ways and need our prayers.

(2) It’s an age-old tradition. For centuries, Catholics have made the commitment to pray for nine days for special intentions. This is a way to practice perseverance, setting aside time each day to spend with God.

(3) It’s "unforgettable." You can download and print the prayers for each day or, so that you don’t forget to participate, you can sign up to receive them daily through emails, text messages, or an app.

(4) It raises awareness. Does the world know that so many of us value and respect every human life from conception to natural death? You can share the intentions on social media and even download a special Facebook cover photo and profile picture to spread the word.

(5) It unites us with other participants. One mark of the Catholic Church is its universality. This is an opportunity to gather in prayer with thousands of people for a united, prayerful purpose.

(6) It unites us with those suffering. Prayer is a way to recognize our solidarity with those who are suffering. We are called to support one another in prayer and in action.

(7) It is spiritually enriching. 9 Days for Life will not only send out prayer intentions for each day, but also short reflections, actions, and articles. Nine days later you’ll be more informed about issues related to valuing all human life.

(8) It calls us to action. Different actions are suggested each day as a way of offering reparation for the ways our country has not respected God’s gift of life. Additionally, the novena may end after 9 days, but the need to protect life never will. Throughout these 9 days you may find a specific aspect or stage of life that you feel called to particularly advocate for. 

(9) It will bless us! Remember that whatever we give to God, He gives back to us a hundred-fold. By offering nine days of prayer to Him, we are not only allowing Him to work through us in the lives of others, we are opening our hearts to receive His love and grace in our own lives as well.

I’m going to add a 10th reason:

We’re winning the battle of hearts and minds and passing an unprecedented number of state pro-life laws so this is no time to let up. Every prayer, every vote, every act of kindness, every act of witnessing to the infinite value of every human life will help tip the balance. For years, NARAL has lamented the graying of the pro-choice movement and the "intensity gap" that exists between pro-life youth and pro-choice youth. 

NARAL’s former president, Nancy Keenan, stepped down two years ago (after eight years at the helm) for precisely this reason. She wanted to give young pro-choice women a chance at leadership roles in the hope they’d attract more young people to the cause. Her decision was prompted by an epiphany she experienced when stepping off the train at Union Station around the time that the March for Life brought 400,000 pilgrims to DC. She was struck by the overwhelming numbers of teens and young adults: “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” she recalled. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.” She could have added that they’re also creative, energetic and joyful. 

So, what are you waiting for? Sign up here

Susan Wills is a senior writer for Aleteia’s English language edition.

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