Twenty Years of 'Evangelium Vitae': Vatican Announces Prayer Vigil, Rosary for Life

The vigil, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, will be held in dioceses throughout the world today.

VATICAN CITY — An international prayer vigil prepared by the Vatican will recognize the 20th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the encyclical of St. John Paul II dedicated to the value and inviolable nature of human life.

The vigil, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, will be held in dioceses throughout the world on March 24 with the purpose of giving thanks to God for the fruits produced by the encyclical on life, making known to the world the benefits of prayer and recalling that eternal life is the destiny of all the faithful.

Father Jose Guillermo Gutierrez Fernandez, an official with the Pontifical Council for the Family and one of the main promoters of the event, told CNA that Evangelium Vitae, promulgated on March 25, 1995 — on the Solemnity of the Annunciation — has still not been applied in all of its facets and needs to be studied more deeply.

“You have to be watchful so that this struggle for life is not only applied to abortion and euthanasia, but accompanies human life in all of its stages, recognizing it above all as a gift from God,” he said.

“We have to speak of it in catechesis because it is possible that some group of laypeople would direct their efforts only toward having laws consistent with the sacredness of human life, but then would abandon the continual effort to catechize and to be thankful for this gift, and that’s not good,” he explained. “You have to be pastorally committed.”

Father Gutierrez stated that Evangelium Vitae “was prophetic and providential, a profoundly biblical document on the gift and sacredness of human life. In the midst of this year of reflection for the synod, we would like to remember this anniversary, re-launching this pastoral letter on life.”

The vigil for worldwide prayer for life will begin the afternoon of March 24 in the Basilica of St. Mary Major before the Marian icon to which the Pope entrusts his travels, Salus Populi Romani, which means “Help of the People of Rome.” The vigil will have an especially Marian character.

The event will be divided into three stages: At 5pm local time in Rome, a moment of reflection on some of the artistic elements of the basilica related to life will begin; then, at 6pm, the recitation of the Rosary will begin, focusing on the Gospel passages connected with life and interspersed with brief testimonies. At 7pm, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, will celebrate the Eucharist.

The official announcement calls for similar vigils taking place in other parts of the world, such as the Marian shrines of Fatima, Lourdes and Guadalupe.

Additionally, the Italian Movement for Life, the Association for the Defense of Life With Mary and the Donum Vitae (Gift of Life) Association invited the faithful to a noon Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, concelebrated by Cardinal Angelo Comastri and the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Cardinal Elio Sgreccia. 

Horace Vernet, “The Angel of Death,” 1851

Don’t Wait to Cram for Your ‘Final Exam’

“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (CCC 1022)

Francisco de Zurbarán, “The Family of the Virgin,” ca. 1650

Why Do We Ask Mary to Pray for Us?

“After her Son’s Ascension, Mary ‘aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.’ In her association with the apostles and several women, ‘we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation.’” (CCC 965)