Scroll down for slideshow featuring images of local priests and seminarians at the vigil Mass. 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned that if the sanctuary of the womb is violated, then other sanctuaries are at risk.

“Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother’s womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?” he asked in his homily during the Jan. 26 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil always precedes the annual March for Life, which takes place on the National Mall.

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the womb “a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother’s tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity.”

He summoned up a montage of sanctuaries throughout human history, including those used by the Israelites, the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph took Jesus each year, the use of cathedrals and churches as sanctuaries from violence, and the United States — first as a sanctuary for the Pilgrims fleeing religious violence in England, later for Catholics with little to their name but “clinging within to that ‘pearl of great price,’ their faith,” and today’s immigrants and refugees.

When life in the womb is threatened, “should it shock us” that “such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth’s environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers,” Cardinal Dolan lamented.

Shrine officials estimated that 12,000 attended the Jan. 26 Mass, which was shown on three cable channels and broadcast on two radio networks. Among the faithful were 545 seminarians, 90 deacons, 320 priests, 40 bishops and five cardinals in a 20-minute entrance procession.

Slideshow below features images of local priests and seminarians at the vigil Mass. Photos by Gregory A. Shemitz