ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The men and women gathered Jan. 22 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul were not alone in their prayers to end abortion, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda said at the annual Prayer Service for Life, which took place ahead of the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life virtual march.

He noted they were united with “so many saintly witnesses to faith and to life” such as Sts. John Paul II, Teresa of Kolkata and Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian pediatrician and mother.

“We know we are united as well with the prayers of the 62 million brothers and sisters whose lives have been cut short by abortion since the passage of Roe v. Wade,” said the prelate, who heads the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Organized by the archdiocese’s Office of Marriage, Family and Life, the service was held on the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states.

Archbishop Hebda began his homily by recalling the song “Miracle of Miracles” from the 1971 musical film Fiddler on the Roof, where Motel, a tailor, sings of God’s great works after he receives permission from the film’s central character, Tevye, to marry his daughter Tzeitel. In his song, Tevye praises God for rescuing Daniel from the lion’s den, taking down Jericho’s wall and parting the Red Sea.

“We have a God who works miracles, who rescues us at our low points, just as discouragement is about to take over, when we think that defeat is all but inevitable,” Hebda said of the miracles Tevye listed.

“And that’s just from the Hebrew Scriptures. Those who know and love Jesus can give many other examples — how Jesus gave sight to the blind, how he gave life to the lifeless.”

He said that those gathered at the cathedral were “united in our desire to ask for God’s strength as we as a nation combat the evil of abortion.”

“We gather here this morning with confidence, because as men and women of faith, we know that we have a God who can work miracles,” he said. “We gather to storm heaven. While the societal clouds these days might look a bit dark, and the thunder indeed may be rumbling, we cannot be deterred.”

Calling abortion “the greatest human rights issue that faces our global society in 2021,” he said, “the greatest reason for our confidence is that we know God loves babies.”

“God loves babies,” he repeated.

“If you saw the two infants in the fourth row on both sides, I know God would be smiling,” he said, grinning and gesturing to two families in the pews who brought babies to the prayer service.

“God loves life,” Hebda continued. “How could the Author of Life — the one who has a plan for every life, not only from the moment of conception but from the beginning of time, before the dawn — how could the Author of Life not love each life and desire for an end to abortion?”

Pro-life advocates “are on the right side of this battle, because it’s the Lord’s battle,” he said. “And we can trust that victory will be his.”

He said that they must not forget that Jesus loves children and loves life so much that he asked the little children to come to him.

“They’re not an inconvenience, they’re not a simple mass of cells,” he said of preborn children in the womb. “They are children loved by Jesus.”

He said Jesus, however, will be the one to decide how, exactly, the “battle” will be won.

“What we can do is offer our lives and humble service to the Gospel of life,” Hebda said. “Whether Jesus chooses to win the battle by changing laws, or through the courts or simply by changing hearts, that’s his choice, but we know that whenever we are willing to defend life, no matter the stage, whenever we’re willing to witness to the dignity of each human life, it’s then that the Lord can use us to work his miracle, to change hearts and to change lives.”

He continued: “There’s no other work in the world or church that is more important than defending life.”

“While that’s true at every stage of life, there’s a real imperative to defending the very right to life,” he said.

Hebda quoted St. John Paul’s 1988 document on the role of the laity, Christifideles Laici, saying, “the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights — for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture–— is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

“If we want to see change in our world, change in our society, it’s going to require a deeper sensitivity to the right to life,” Hebda said.

Hebda said that the past 48 years since Roe v. Wade have provided many opportunities to witness to the value of each human life, born and unborn.

“We gain credibility in our defense of the unborn when we show a deep respect for all human life, especially our brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable,” he said.

“When we are able to give a consistent witness to life, when we are able to show compassion and understanding, when we are able to respond to hatred with love, when we are able to offer God’s tender love to a desperate young woman,” he continued. “It’s then that the Lord is going to be able to use us to have a real impact in this battle.”

He ended his homily with an exhortation and prayer: “Let us offer ourselves to the Lord this day, to the Lord that loves babies, the Lord that loves life, the Lord who alone can work the miracles that we need, the Lord that can bring true victory when we least expect it. May the Lord’s will be done in our lives and in our world. Amen.”

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.