The contrast in actions in Albany and the archdiocese on behalf of the preborn was palpable.
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act during the early evening of Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade—the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion across the country—pro-life advocates assembled inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral to participate in a Prayer Vigil for Life that included a Holy Hour and Mass.
The new law grants nondoctors permission to perform abortions; removes protection for an infant accidentally born alive during an abortion, allows late-term abortions, and permits abortion for any reason, for all nine months of pregnancy, including up to the moment of birth.
Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne served as principal celebrant of the 7:30 p.m. Mass that drew more than 500 on the cold winter night. Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, of Brooklyn, concelebrated the liturgy. A number of priests concelebrated, including Father Richard Veras, director of pastoral formation at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, who proclaimed the Gospel of Luke (1:39-56), the Magnificat, and delivered the homily.
The Prayer Vigil for Life was sponsored by the archdiocesan Respect Life Office.
Monica McDaniel of Immaculate Conception and Assumption parish in Tuckahoe took the train with her and her husband Stefan’s four young children in tow: Stefan Jr., 7; Paul, 5; Mary, 3, and Elizabeth, 1.
“I came down from Westchester because I couldn’t make it to Washington, D.C.” for the March for Life Jan. 18. “I saw this as a penitential mission. I wish I didn’t have to be here, but I’m very alarmed at the new legislation being passed in New York.” Her husband was unable to attend because he was at work, she said.
“The only thing I feel that I can do,” she told CNY in the back of the cathedral after the Holy Hour had ended and the Mass was about to begin, “is to pray and to witness with my children.”
The retired attorney concedes it is difficult to explain the new law to the youngsters—“I just say we’re coming to pray for our state and for families in our state, because they’re too young to understand. I do want them to pray and to be here and see all the people who come.
“My parents brought me to these kinds of things since I was a little kid and so I grew up understanding what this was,” she added. “I want them to have that kind of exposure that I had,” also “in a positive way.”
The Prayer Vigil for Life “was needed,” said Jack Delac, 25, who moved to New York seven months ago year after serving as a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionary from 2015 to 2018. “It’s atrocious what’s going on.”
Delac, a native of Houston, recalled a month-long mission trip to India in the summer of 2017 and what he learned there about the culture of life. “It’s sad that we have a hard timing finding that in America.”
He was pleased to see other young adults at the cathedral. “We can’t sacrifice truth in order to live a comfortable life. We have to be willing to unite under Christ and then be willing to preach truth without change. It’s encouraging seeing all the people united in the Mass.”
Father Veras, in his homily, said, “On an evening where darkness threatens, we want to stay close to Our Lady, Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Hope…
“At Calvary, the serpent thought he brought black despair, but the flesh in Mary’s arms came from her virgin womb and sustained her hope. At Calvary, the serpent thought he brought death but the flesh that rested in Mary’s arms at the foot of the cross has risen.
“And on this night, in this Calvary, in New York State, the serpent thinks he leaves us in despair, but Jesus comes to us yet again in His risen flesh, remembering His promise of mercy, the promise to all of his children forever.”
Father Andrew King, parochial vicar at the cathedral, exposed the Blessed Sacrament at the beginning of the Holy Hour of Eucharistic Adoration, and served as master of ceremonies for the Mass. Father Aldolfo Novio, chaplain at Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers, closed the Holy Hour with Eucharistic Benediction and was among the priest concelebrants at the Mass.
Some of the Sisters of Life were stationed outside the cathedral inviting people to come inside to pray. Members of the religious order also provided music for the Mass. Brother Malachy Napier, C.F.R., of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and other musicians provided accompaniment during Eucharistic Exposition.
Mindful that the legislation had just passed, “prayer and supplication is the only response we have right now,” said Sister Virginia Joy, S.V., director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office, in an interview with CNY at the back of the cathedral.
“Some of the sisters were saying, ‘this is like Roe vs. Wade, again, 46 years later.’” She was dismayed when she considered what was simultaneously happening at the state capital. “They’re celebrating in Albany tonight.”
“I grieve for the legislators who wrote this bill and passed this bill. I think of Christ’s words from the cross—they know not what they do,” continued Sister Virginia Joy.
As for Gov. Cuomo, who is Catholic, “I grieve that a baptized soul could disregard life in such a way.” Sister Virginia Joy said she also prays for the governor’s “conversion of heart, so that he might know his own dignity and worth, and be able to recognize and value it in others.”
Being in the cathedral when the legislation passed and was subsequently signed was poignant to Sister Virginia Joy. “Where the Lord is, there is peace,” she said. “What a gift that I received the news here at the cathedral.”
She expected more people would continue to make their way into the cathedral. “It’s a freezing night. Groups from Staten Island got here at 6 p.m. People recognize that this is their only appropriate response, to beg the Lord’s mercy at a time like this.”
Despite the life-changing legislation that had transpired, there seemed to be a sense of joyful congeniality and appreciation in the cathedral vestibule following the Mass, as numerous pro-life advocate friends and well-wishers of the Sisters of Life gratefully greeted the women religious with admiration and affection.
As she headed toward the door, Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., superior general of the Sisters of Life, told CNY: “People have a great desire to be together to pray. They know the power in the victory lies in the Lord Jesus. What an opportunity to be together on a night like this.”