The first Defending Life Day in Richmond, held Wednesday, Feb. 9, was an invitation for the people of Virginia to come together in prayer and to meet with their legislators and encourage them to defend human life.
“We were so blessed to have more than 300 participants in the first-ever Defending Life Day,” said Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference. “They prayed, advocated and inspired! Through perseverance and determination, these efforts and efforts that build on this foundation will change minds and hearts and save lives.”
Defending Life Day began with an interfaith prayer at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, which was attended by Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington. Bishop Knestout delivered the invocation.
“There have been many efforts over these many years to try to expand and help convince people around us of the importance of the life of the unborn and the dignity of human life in all of its stages through natural death,” Bishop Knestout said.
He noted that although there have been setbacks, “we see in recent years as well progress being made because of that advocacy and resistance and that dedication” as witnessed by the presence of so many people at the event.
He concluded with a prayer for the cause of life composed by St. John Paul II and asked God to grant grace and patience for those participating in the events of the day.
Bishop Burbidge said the closing prayers before those gathered set off for Capitol Square to meet with lawmakers in person.
Among those who attended the advocacy day were 40 students from Catholic High School in Virginia Beach.
Katrina Fabian, CHS campus minister, said many of her students were “super bummed” that CHS was unable to send students to the National March for Life in January due to restrictions. She explained that youth were able to attend the march through their parishes, not school.
“We have a very robust Students for Life club at the school, and they were bummed to miss that, so this is a really great secondary opportunity to have a group of kids come out and do this,” she said.
Connor Edgington, junior theology teacher at CHS, said he felt that students having the opportunity to see their peers from around their own diocese and Arlington was very important.
“To see both bishops together and to see students from all over the state, to be able to recognize this isn’t just something that they’re fighting for individually, but as a whole, throughout our state, throughout our nation,” he said.
Some of the CHS students met with State Senator Bill R. DeSteph Jr. (R), who represents District 8 of the commonwealth.
Fabian described DeSteph as passionate about being pro-life and passionate about the Catholic faith.
“He really interacted well with our students and was encouraging them to continue to stick to their principles, and that was just really great to see someone in such an influential role to be encouraging the students in that way,” she said.
Edgington said that being able to attend Defending Life Day was a good lesson for his students on “perseverance and understanding” of the elements of advocacy for respecting all life.
“Especially with the students that didn’t get to go in and see the senators,” he explained. “When we were out in the park, they were offering up the rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet for Respect Life and to focus, not only on going and talking (to lawmakers), but even on the effect that our prayer can have.”
The opportunity to pray was continued at the Pro-Cathedral of St. Peter, where eucharistic adoration was held prior to the Mass.
More than 200 Virginians were in attendance at St. Peter, where Bishop Knestout and Bishop Burbidge concelebrated Mass along with Father Michael Boehling, vicar general for the Diocese of Richmond; Father Jamie Workman, vicar general for the Diocese of Arlington; Father Maxwell Appiagyei, administrator of St. Peter; Father Brian Capuano, director of vocations and interim director of worship for the Diocese of Richmond.
In his homily, Bishop Knestout spoke of the confidence and perseverance in advocating for human life, which is grounded in the Gospel. He also thanked those who participated in Defending Life Day for their presence and devotion, calling it “a gift to our country and to the good of humanity.”
“If or when the court overturns Roe, it will be important for us in Virginia to double our efforts to seek protection for the unborn in the commonwealth. No matter what the outcome at the federal level, the battle is far from over,” he said. “It may seem that the political winds have turned in our favor, but there are still great hurdles and many who do not yet see the value or good of human life as needing protection.”
He concluded by reminding the faithful that “‘grace upon grace’ gives us courage, and the ability to never grow weary in our work and our prayer. These both go hand in hand. Our prayer and our work strengthen one another. Our prayer keeps us grounded in the source of love and life. This grounding enables and perfects our work of advocacy and service.”