The community of Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother in Rome, accompanied by a small group of university students, started the Advent season, in union with the Universal Church, with the celebration of Vespers (or Evening Prayer) for the First Sunday of Advent presided by Pope Benedict XVI, in St. Peter’s Basilica, on November 27. The evening of prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was also a Pro-Life Vigil for unborn children. The vigil was promoted on an international level and was observed on this same night in parishes throughout the world, once again manifesting the singular beauty of the universal attribute of the Catholic Church!
The evening began with a brief prelude before the recitation of Vespers. Paragraphs taken from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, were read aloud, each of them followed by a moment of silence and personal prayer, and then, a hymn and a brief prayer of petition to the Lord. This was followed by the Pope’s entrance, which was immediately followed by the entrance of the Blessed Sacrament in procession from the Chapel of Adoration. A reverent hush came over the crowd of faithful and non-alike.
The Basilica was overflowing with people, especially young families with several children, many of them still in diapers. In fact, we saw one baby that was so tiny that he looked like he had just opened his eyes for the first time the day beforehand and at the end of the Vespers, as he was processing back to the Sacristy, the Pope blessed him by tracing the sign of the cross on his little head.
In his homily during the celebration of Vespers, Pope Benedict focused on the unborn and the human person in general, associating him with the unborn Child Jesus conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Our Blessed Mother. The Pope emphasized how the person “has the right not to be treated as an object to be possessed or as a thing that can be manipulated at will, not to be reduced to a pure instrument for others' advantage and interests.” Speaking of the new individual formed in the womb of a mother, the Pope said: “This is how Jesus was in Mary's womb... This is how it was for each of us in our mother's womb.” In concluding his homily, the Pope recalled the great care Our Mother Mary showed the Son of God while He was in her womb and also demonstrated the profound connection between the Eucharist, “this Body that took flesh in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit,” and the cause for the unborn.
Throughout the homily and moments of silence, the sounds of babies cooing and crying could be heard, a vibrant reminder of the many unborn children whose voices are never heard on this earth, but whose cry reaches heaven. May these little intercessors before God help us all to continue building a culture of life!