It was potentially a tough crowd.
Organizers estimated some 400,000 people marched up Fifth Avenue on Saturday to demonstrate against the Trump administration. As the swelling human tide rolled passed the giant bronze doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, many carrying signs advocating for “abortion rights” among other causes, a small group of missionaries—Sisters of Life, seminarians and lay youth leaders—invited passersby inside for a respite. They handed each a red rose to place on the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a piece of paper on which guests could write their prayer intentions.
All afternoon, a steady stream of people entered the cathedral, some wearing the signature pink wool caps that were a symbol of the Women’s March.
“It’s interesting, a lot of people have been very responsive,” said Ingrid, 31, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s in Astoria and a member of Frassati Fellowship, a group for Catholic young adults in the city.
“We’ve been inviting people to come inside the church, letting them know there is a prayer service, we have volunteers inside. There is also confession available and Holy Hour. We’ve really just been inviting anyone and everyone to come inside and pray in thanksgiving for the gift of life. There are a couple of people who maybe weren’t as interested. But in general there has been no hostility or anything of that nature. I think God has really graced today and has given everybody just a real spirit of peace to be out here.”
The Day for Life at the cathedral had been planned for Jan. 21, the day before the 44th anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide. It happened to coincide with what turned out to be perhaps one of the biggest days of protest in the nation’s history.
The Day for Life kicks off the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Nine Days of Life,” which runs through Jan. 29. It is an annual period of prayer and action focused on cherishing the gift of every human life. The program included Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, an opportunity for reconciliation, singing the Divine Mercy chaplet and four Holy Hours led by members of pro-life ministries.
Cardinal Dolan had suggested the event because, with the inauguration scheduled for Jan. 20, the date for the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., had been pushed back to Jan. 27, opening up an opportunity for a kickoff event in New York.
The cardinal, who was the principal celebrant and homilist of the closing Mass, reminded a packed congregation that it was important for pro-life advocates to be people of hope.
“Those of us committed to the noble pro-life apostolate have to be people of hope,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s difficult to maintain our hope in this noble cause of protecting the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person. There are a lot of setbacks. A lot of people are against us. You may have sensed some of that today on your journey to this cathedral for Mass. But we cannot and will not lose our hope as we gather this evening in preparation to begin this novena…We know the difficulties. We know the strength of those who disagree with us. We are very sober-minded when it comes to assessing the challenge before us. We’re people of prayer, though.
“We know in the battle of life and death, the battle is long. There will be setbacks, there will be occasional temporary defeats. But the virtue of hope tells us who the winner will be. For the victory is ours...life will triumph over death. It is in His hands.” As the cardinal spoke the sound of demonstrators outside was audible inside the cathedral.
“Ever since it started at 1 o’clock, we’ve had a really a non-stop flow in both of the side doors of people,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth Wusinich, S.V. “People are really welcoming that invitation. So we’ve had hundreds and hundreds.”
Was she surprised?
“Not really,” she responded. “Actually, the crowd is very diverse, so they’re out here for a lot of different reasons and I can tell that many people have been really touched. They’re writing their prayer requests down on slips of paper and putting them in the basket before Our Lady. She’s definitely reaching out to many people today with her motherly love.”
Sitting quietly in a pew not far from the altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe was Robyn Mutnick, 36, of Queens, dressed in a cat costume she purchased at Target. The costume was in reference to one of the more crude comments attributed to the incoming president. She had just left a rose and a prayer at the altar, one of more than 1,500 that had been left by the end of the day.
“The Father was very inviting, and I came in here. I’m not Catholic, but I don’t think it matters,” she said. “I am married to a Filipino, so my father -in-law is Catholic, and prayer is universal. Peace and love are the universal prayers that we’re all hoping for out there in the march. I’m very fearful of the current trajectory of the country.”
Sister Faustina Maria Pia, S.V., delivered the closing reflection on life, reminding the gathering congregation that life was a precious gift, “We are made in the image of God.” she said. “That is written into us deeper than our DNA. He breathes into us his own very life. He chooses us that we may have life and life in abundance. This is the great sheer gift of life.”