The U.S. Catholic bishops have launched "Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage" to take place Jan. 19-27 as part of events marking the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion virtually on demand in the U.S.Jan. 22 is the actual anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision, but because this year it is the day after public ceremonies for the presidential inauguration, the annual March for Life in Washington will take place Jan. 25.Materials about the "Nine Days" program posted on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops suggests prayers, activities and other ways U.S. Catholics can mark the Roe anniversary, whether they planned to come to Washington or to attend local or regional pro-life rallies, events and liturgies.A signature event of the program is a novena, which participants can receive via a daily email by signing up at or by texting "9days" to 99000 to receive a daily text message. Described as "youth-friendly," the daily message will include: an intercession; simple prayers; a brief reflection on the saint of the day or a lesson from the daily readings; suggestions for concrete acts of prayer, penance and charity; and "a powerful myth/reality comment related to abortion."The novena of prayer and fasting will "spark a renewal of love and commitment to the true good of others," Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said in a statement Jan. 18. He urged all Catholics to participate."Only a love that seeks to serve those most in need ... is strong enough to overcome a culture of death," he said.The daily prayer intentions are for the "healing and conversion of our nation, for elected officials who support abortion and for all people whose lives have forever been changed by an abortion," he said. The cardinal noted that in the 40 years since Roe and its companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, "55 million children have never had the chance to be born."The scope of this loss is staggering, yet the court and many in our society relegate it to a matter of personal choice," Cardinal O'Malley said.Jesus offers healing, he said, and "came not to condemn us, but to free us from the burden of the wrongs we have done so that all might be saved."In other "Nine Days" suggestions:—On the weekend of Jan. 19-20, diocesan pro-life and youth ministry directors are invited to assemble local students/pilgrims who will be making a pilgrimage to Masses, rallies, marches and other events marking the Roe anniversary. Bishops are encouraged to preside at Mass or a holy hour for the pilgrims, and to formally bless them before their journey.—Parishes are encouraged to hold a "40 Hours Devotion," or a holy hour for Life, including a "Prayer Service for Forgiveness and Healing."—Pro-life and youth ministry directors are encouraged to sponsor a video contest for high school-age pilgrims, with 30- to 60-second video footage to be shot at pro-life events that take place during the "Nine Days" observance. For example, the videos could illustrate what it means personally to take part in a pro-life pilgrimage or in the pro-life movement generally.—A blessing of pilgrims may also be offered on their return from various events.—To conclude "Nine Days," parishes are asked to offer a holy hour for Reparation and Healing Jan. 27 for all those impacted by abortion."May we respond to 40 years of the culture of death with great confidence and hope," Tom Grenchik, executive director of the U.S. bishops' pro-life secretariat, said in a Jan. 4 statement. "In addition to our current everyday pro-life efforts, a nationwide commitment to prayer and penance is essential to ushering in a culture of life."In addition to the March for Life, Roe anniversary events planned in Washington include the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which opens with an evening Mass Jan. 24; Cardinal O'Malley will be the main celebrant. The vigil closes with early morning Mass Jan. 25. The March for Life begins at noon on the National Mall.According to the USCCB, the "Nine Days" program is part of a pastoral strategy the U.S. bishops approved during their fall general assembly in Baltimore to address life, marriage and religious liberty concerns.Components include monthly eucharistic holy hours in cathedrals and parishes, daily family rosary, special Prayers of the Faithful at all Masses, and fasting and abstinence on Fridays. A second "Fortnight for Freedom" event is planned for 2013 to raise concern about infringements to religious freedom.In 2012, the first "Fortnight" was held June 21 to July 4, and Catholics around the country responded by participating in Masses, devotions, holy hours, educational presentations and rallies.—CNSMore information about the "Nine Days" program is available at{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0125/lifeprayer/{/gallery}