Seminarians, students, clergy from many faiths, congregants from throughout Southern California, and infants lovingly carried in the arms of their parents packed the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for the annual archdiocesan Respect Life “Requiem for the Unborn” Mass Jan. 21.

“The liturgical celebration for the culture of life is always a very special moment in the life of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” said Archbishop José Gomez in his opening remarks, presiding for the first time at the concelebrated Mass with Cardinal Roger Mahony, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, and auxiliary bishops Thomas Curry, Joseph Sartoris (retired), Oscar Solis and Gerald Wilkerson. 

Eighteen ecumenical and interfaith church leaders, several accompanied by their spouse, attended the liturgy. Father Alexei Smith, archdiocesan director of ecumenical/interreligious affairs introduced the guests, among them representatives from Armenian, Antiochian Orthodox, Buddhist, Coptic Orthodox, Evangelical, Islamic, Mormon and Protestant denominations. 

In his homily following the proclamation of the Scriptures --- including the first reading (Wisdom 3:1-8) by Anne Hennessy, executive director of the Right to Life League of Southern California, and the second reading (Revelation 21:1-5) by Licia Nicassio, former director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office --- Archbishop Gomez said the Gospel reading of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt and King Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2: 13-18) speaks to today’s world where families are under attack and unborn children are aborted daily.

“My brothers and sisters, 40 years of legalized abortion in our country is too long,” said the archbishop. “There have been too many innocent lives lost. Too many men and women wounded in body, mind and spirit. Too many consciences compromised. Too many Rachels weeping.

“And,” he added, “our culture of abortion continues to cause new threats to the sanctity of human life [with] experiments on human embryos, the new eugenics, the idea of ‘designer babies,’ and our society’s slow drift to euthanasia. That’s why we need to dedicate ourselves once more tonight to building a culture of life in our nation --- beginning in our own state.”

Archbishop Gomez then said he hoped members of the congregation would join California’s bishops in backing two ballot initiatives being circulated for the upcoming November elections: “Californians for Parental Rights,” supporting an amendment to the state constitution protecting the right of parents to be notified 48 hours prior to a doctor performing an abortion on their underage daughter, and “The SAFE CALIFORNIA” initiative supporting legislation to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

“We believe that both of these measures would strengthen the culture of life in our state,” said Archbishop Gomez.

Reflecting on St. Joseph’s “yes” response to the angel of the Lord’s admonition in his dream to flee to Egypt with the child, Jesus, and his mother, until the death of Herod, the archbishop pointed out that Joseph did exactly what God asked.

“Now this is our duty,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Each one of us must hear the voice of God. Each one of us must rise and take the Child Jesus and his mother Mary into the dark night of our culture. Like St. Joseph, we need to be guardians of the light of life, and shine that light in our world. 

“…Let us pray this evening in this beautiful holy Mass to renew our faith and our dedication to the cause of life. Let us honor the lives of the unborn by our loving service to our brothers and sisters.”

In a post-Communion reflection, Margaret Jacoby from Louisville High School in Woodland Hills, told how her parents, Elizabeth “Libby” and William Goodwin, M.D., founding members of the Right to Life League in Southern California, were activist pro-life educators before and, many years after, the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

“The quest to educate others [about pro-life] is as pressing as ever,” said Jacoby.

Following her talk, the annual “ceremony of light” commemorating local lives lost to abortion on an average day in Los Angeles took place as 150 candles were placed in front of the altar before the church was plunged in darkness for 150 seconds of silence.

“I remember when we began this liturgy here at the Cathedral nine years ago, we had over 400 candles around this altar,” said Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, pastor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. “While the good news is that the candles are fewer, there are still 150 too many, so we continue to pray and to teach.” 

He noted that the candles will remain on display for one week along the Cathedral window colonnade 50 feet above the 101 freeway “as a tribute to these brief lives and shining witness to the City of the Angels and of our commitment to life.” 

“Pray tonight as you leave and you look at the candles [that] the hearts and minds of those who see the flickering lights be touched and moved to life,” said Msgr. Kostelnik.

Nayda Aberdeen, 36, attending from St. Rose of Lima in Maywood with 20 members of Centro Esperanza Ministerio Provida (Hope Center Pro-Life Ministry) established in 2007, said the annual Respect Life Mass is very inspirational to its members who maintain a regular weekly presence in front of local abortion clinics, counsel those considering abortions as well as those who have had abortions, present education workshops on abortion to confirmation students, and hold a baby shower every four months to celebrate life and to promote their services to the community. 

“We were here two years ago, and it was a beautiful experience,” said Aberdeen. “It’s motivating and one of the things that helps us to keep on going forward, regardless of what battles we have to encounter while we’re in this ministry.” 

Andrés Barrero, a senior at Damien High School in La Verne, attending with 45 fellow classmates, said the Mass “was a beautiful expression of what it means to be truly Catholic, truly pro-life and a support of all that is really good and what is holy in our church.”

“We wanted to stand up and show that we do have solidarity with the pro-life cause as a Catholic high school and we wanted to build our Catholic identity and support the important message that this Mass stands for,” said Gary Sullivan, director of campus ministry at Damien who has brought students to the liturgy for the past two years. 

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