WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With the pro-life landscape shifting to the states after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, events in the Washington Archdiocese connected to the annual March for Life in the nation's capital will have a different focus this January.
In one change, the archdiocese has canceled its long-running arena-size Youth Rally and Mass for Life to instead host a smaller Youth Mass of Celebration and Thanksgiving for Life Jan. 20.
For more than 25 years, the archdiocese welcomed youth from around the country to the rally and Mass, held before the annual March for Life in January.
The traditional rally and Mass had already become smaller and more local during the last two years due to the pandemic. January's events will be more in keeping with those events, which were held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle instead of the Capital One Arena.
Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington will be the main celebrant of the Jan. 20 Mass at the cathedral.
The change for 2023 was announced in a Nov. 15 statement on the archdiocesan website. It described the decision to cancel the rally as difficult and one that was reached only after consulting with all the dioceses that previously sent busloads of youth to the event.
The landscape for opposing abortion has changed since June 24, when the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturned its nearly 50-year-old Roe decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
After the Dobbs ruling, which leaves it up to the states to determine their abortion laws, Catholic bishops across the country have emphasized local efforts to build a culture of life and expand outreach to women facing crisis pregnancies and to families in need as well as opposing legislative efforts to drop abortion restrictions and/or allow abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.
"We heard from many dioceses who shared that they are turning their efforts to their state's March for Life now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned," the archdiocese said in its statement. "We certainly support their local work and pray for their success."
The statement encouraged groups traveling to Washington to participate in the March for Life, which begins at noon (EST) Jan. 20 with a rally at the National Mall.
The archdiocese also encouraged people to attend the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which includes an opening Mass at 5 p.m. (EST) Jan. 19. The closing Mass for the vigil will be at 8 a.m. (EST) Jan. 20.
Like the rest of the country, pro-life efforts in the Washington Archdiocese are becoming more focused on legislation at the state level, rather than on the federal courts.
Debbie McDonald, the archdiocese's assistant secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns, told the Catholic Standard that the emphasis post-Roe is on "how can our young people engage?"
"How can our families engage in support of other families, in support of young mothers, in support of young fathers, in support of children, in support of families in our parish level," she continued, but it's also about "connecting them and supporting our agencies that serve life issues and to really look at the big picture."
For example, McDonald said, the archdiocese will encourage participation in the Maryland March for Life Feb. 27 in Annapolis, advocating with the Maryland General Assembly and working more with agencies serving mothers, immigrants and families that are struggling.
She described the efforts as "focusing on how we're supporting life from birth to death."
The archdiocesan statement said that Cardinal Gregory "would like to express his deepest gratitude for the support and participation of archdiocesan youth and young people who traveled to Washington, D.C., over these past 25 years."
In interviews, archdiocesan officials emphasized the extensive consultation process that preceded the decision to cancel the multi-diocese rally, and how the local Mass and other activities will offer an opportunity to engage area Catholic youth in life issues.
McDonald said feedback from other dioceses about their plans for January indicated they would be emphasizing a local approach to engaging their youth and advocating for life in their communities and state legislatures.
"So we heard them, and that was a major factor" in the decision to cancel the large-scale rally, McDonald told the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan news outlet.
"Our focus has always been, how do we serve our young people?" said Joaquin Trejo, archdiocesan youth ministry coordinator. "We will just continue doing what we have been doing, but on a smaller scale ... the service to our young people will continue."
The archdiocesan announcement invited young people from local schools and parishes to participate in the Youth Mass of Celebration and Thanksgiving for Life. Registration will open the first week of December.