January 27, 2023

Pro-life Mass with three bishops and 1,100 people is ‘largest since pre-pandemic days’

Bishop Joseph M. Siegel of the Evansville, Ind., Diocese, left, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, center, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, of the Lafayette, Ind., Diocese, right, and several priests concelebrate a Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis before the Indiana March for Life on Jan. 23. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Bishop Joseph M. Siegel of the Evansville, Ind., Diocese, left, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, center, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, of the Lafayette, Ind., Diocese, right, and several priests concelebrate a Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis before the Indiana March for Life on Jan. 23. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Mass was close to starting when 120 youths and chaperones from the Evansville, Ind., Diocese arrived at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis on Jan. 23.

Fortunately, there was still sitting room—on the floor.

“The church capacity in the pews is 850,” said Father Rick Nagel, the parish’s pastor. “We set up over 100 chairs and still had people standing and sitting on the floor.”

He estimated there were 1,100 people from throughout the state in the church to worship at the Mass before the Indiana March for Life that day. (Related story: Indiana March for Life speakers tell participants the ‘fight for lives starts now’)

“This is the largest gathering we have had at St. John’s since pre-pandemic days,” he noted enthusiastically.

It was also the greatest number of bishops present to concelebrate the pre-Indiana March for Life Mass: Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of the Lafayette, Ind., Diocese and Bishop Joseph M. Siegel of Evansville, as well as numerous priests.

Jeremy Goebel, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Evansville Diocese, said “seeing our predecessor [Archbishop Thompson] and his successor [Bishop Siegel] celebrating the Mass together was just beautiful.”

A call to be united in mission

Archbishop Thompson, who served as shepherd of the Evansville Diocese from 2011-2017 before he was appointed archbishop of the Indianapolis Archdiocese, offered the homily at the Mass.

He noted that, “While the legal landscape has shifted since our last March for Life Mass” due to the U.S. Supreme Court last June overturning the 1973

Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, “the need for vigilance and perseverance in protection of life from the moment of conception to natural death, especially for the unborn, remains ever so essential.

“As the focus on the legal status of abortion volleys between the federal and state courts, as well as being played out in the arena of referendums for voting polls, we must advocate for both woman and fetus, parent and child.”

The archbishop pointed to Scripture as a guide for “how one is called to live a life rooted in faith, hope and charity in discerning and embracing the divine plan of salvation.

“The secret ultimately lies in the ability and willingness to set aside one’s personal will in preferring the will of God in all matters. Rarely does the discernment, ability and willingness come easy,” a fact that is played out in the Old and New Testaments, he added.

“Still, ongoing discernment and conversion, rooted in lifelong formation and education, is essential to the Christian way of life.”

He turned to Pope Francis’ teaching to describe how such a way of life looks: “openness to authentic dialogue, encounter, accompaniment, mutual respect and justice tempered with mercy.”

Archbishop Thompson also looked to the words of the pope’s 2018 apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”): “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.

“Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection” (#101).

Christians have a call to be united in mission, a mission that comes from Christ himself, the archbishop said.

“It is for this reason that we gather for this celebration of Mass before embarking on a march,” he noted. “In this eucharistic banquet, we celebrate the real presence of Jesus Christ—body and blood, soul and divinity—the very source and summit of our identity and mission as Catholics, disciples of the Lord.”

He called for Catholics to “remain docile to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in witnessing to the goodness, truth and beauty of God’s plan of salvation. … We must never tire of caring for people of all nations, persons of every ethnicity, marriage and the family and creation.

“Taking a cue from Mary and Joseph, we must keep Jesus at the center of our lives, homes, relationships and today’s March for Life.”

‘It’s about God … the author of life’

Before the end of the Mass, Brie Anne Varick, archdiocesan director of the Office of Human Life and Dignity, thanked those who helped coordinate the eucharistic celebration—with a special thank you to the choir from Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis for leading the congregation in song.

Varick also offered a few closing comments.

“We are blessed to have witnessed the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but there is still work to be done,” she said.

“Today we march for women who deserve better than abortion, men who deserve fatherhood, and for unborn babies who deserve the gift of life and to fulfill the purpose God has anointed on their life. …

“We march with hope, for we know that the Lord will make a way. And we march with joy, for we know his love for us, and we know his love for all mothers, fathers, and the unborn.

“Let us pray for the conversion of hearts and for Christ to have mercy on us, our state and our nation, that one day we will live in a world where abortion is not only illegal, but unthinkable.”

Bishop Siegel offered a final prayer of blessing upon the congregation.

It was a perfect end to a “beautiful liturgy,” Goebel said.

“I think it’s great to be at a Mass of more than 1,000 with three bishops. And to worship in such a beautiful space was just awesome.”

Goebel said he was also grateful to the archdiocese for inviting members of the Evansville delegation to serve as a lector and present the gifts during the Mass, to have their bishop concelebrate the Mass and an Evansville deacon to proclaim the Gospel.

“So many good people at the archdiocese made that happen, and they welcomed us so warmly. We’re so grateful,” he said.

“We wanted prayer to be our focus” for the day, Goebel added. “We wanted to focus on the altar of life, because when you do that, it brings home the dignity of life.

“It’s not a political thing. It’s about God. He’s the author of life and gives life its meaning and value.” †

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