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Speakers testified that abortion "hurts" women, and warned of proposed legislation to legalize assisted suicide.
BY JOAN FRAWLEY DESMOND
SAN FRANCISCO — Days before an estimated 50,000 people joined the 11th annual Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, two California state senators proposed a “right-to-die” bill that is expected to gain traction in the months ahead.
Catholic leaders and pro-life activists at the Jan. 24 event marked the ominous news and warned the vast crowd gathered under a sunny sky in downtown San Francisco that they could never relax their vigilant defense of the sanctity of human life.
“The Christian imperative to stand up and protect life is uniting Christians all over the country,” Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland told the Register.
“We started by protecting the unborn. Now, in California, we need to protect the elderly or those who have serious illness. Their lives are threatened by proposed new legislation giving doctors permission to euthanize them. The sick and elderly deserve so much better than poisoning.”
“The two most important issues facing the pro-life movement are abortion and euthanasia,” threats to the sanctity of human life that often involve “misplaced compassion,” Bishop Thomas Daly, the auxiliary bishop of San Jose, who joined the Sisters of Life at the annual prayer vigil at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, told the Register.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco echoed similar themes during his homily for a standing-room-only Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral preceding the Walk for Life, which was broadcast on EWTN. The archbishop was joined by the U.S. papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, and a large number of bishops and priests from across the region.
Archbishop Cordileone spoke about the need to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing abortion. But he also called for a spiritual and moral transformation of American culture anchored in a deep love for Jesus Christ.
“Our goal is not simply to make abortion illegal,” said Archbishop Cordileone, but to “build a culture of life” that reverences the inalienable dignity of each person, from conception to natural death.
Archbishop Cordileone directed much of his homily to the young people gathered in the cathedral, from a large cohort of seminarians and college students to clusters of high school and elementary students in the pews and standing in the aisles.
“You understand that a third of your generation isn’t here” because of legal abortion, he told them.
He explained how young people can share the pro-life message and offer assistance to women facing crisis pregnancies.
“Speak the truth in love while enduring hatred for doing so,” he said.
During the outdoor rally preceding the Walk for Life, speakers sponsored by the Silent No More Awareness Campaign described the personal struggles and cultural values that led them to choose abortion and then to suppress the grief and guilt that consumed them.
Julia Holcomb told her story of being pressured to have an abortion while she was a minor and involved with Steven Tyler, the lead singer of the band Aerosmith. Years later, after an account of her abortion was published in a tabloid, Holcomb, now a Catholic mother with a large family, had to share with her children the circumstances that led to that fateful choice.
Another speaker, Rebekah Buell, addressed the growing danger posed by chemical abortions that now constitute about a fourth of all abortions in the U.S.
Though Buell considered herself pro-life and had even participated in the Walk for Life in previous years, an unexpected pregnancy following the collapse of her marriage led her to take the first of two prescribed RU486 pills used to complete a chemical abortion.
After she took the first dose, she immediately regretted her decision. An Internet search brought her to a website that offered help, based on new research by pro-life physicians, to reverse chemical abortions. Buell was able to give birth to a healthy boy, whom she introduced to the crowd.
The joyful applause that greeted Buell’s young son highlighted a striking feature of the Walk for Life — the youth of many of the marchers.
Sea of Young Faces
In San Francisco, which has the lowest percentage of people under 18 of any major city in the United States, the sea of young faces in the crowd turned heads in downtown neighborhoods.
Mary Rose Short, 26, the director of outreach for Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, a group that sends teams to share the pro-life message at high schools and colleges, was among the crowd of young people.
“We brought about 39 team members and are here to march against abortion,” Short told the Register.
It had been a busy week for Short, who also attended the March for Life in Washington and was the first woman to cross the finish line for the Washington event’s 5K race.
“The Walk for Life has gotten way bigger, and it reflects what we have seen on campus,” said Short. “People are proud to be against abortion and see it as a social-justice issue.”
Deacon Dominick Peloso, and his wife, Mary Ellen, who have come every year with a busload of parishioners from the Church of the Nativity in Menlo Park, Calif., were at the other end of the generational spectrum represented at the event.
Deacon Peloso celebrated both the surge of people joining the march as well as the decline in “verbal aggressiveness” from local abortion-rights activists.
“You get the electricity of having so many Christians, mostly Catholics, trying to do the Lord’s work, standing up for life,” said Deacon Peloso, who works with his wife to organize full-time Eucharistic adoration in their parish and also leads a regular prayer vigil at a local abortion facility.
“It is so much fun to be here with 50,000 pro-lifers.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.
The San Francisco walk has grown considerably since it began in 2005. Also: interview with U.S. papal nuncio Archbishop Viganò, who attended the events.
BY Joan Frawley DesmondSenior Editor
SAN FRANCISCO — In 2005, the first year of the Walk for Life West Coast, 7,000 pro-life marchers in downtown San Francisco confronted a counterdemonstration of about 1,000 protesters, drawing a strong police presence.
This year, an estimated 50,000 pro-lifers converged on the city Jan. 26 to mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. They marched through city streets past about 100 opposing demonstrators waving signs and demanding abortion rights.
The mood among pro-lifers was enthusiastic and relaxed, energized by the presence of Catholic leaders, leading pro-life activists and a deep-blue California sky.
The sharp increase in pro-life marchers raised spirits after the 2012 campaign season featured partisan battles over federal funding of Planned Parenthood and dire warnings from abortion-rights supporters that Roe could be overturned if a Democratic president was not in place to appoint future justices.
"There are those who celebrate this ruling, while others mourn it," acknowledged Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco during the Mass celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption before the walk. There, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, 14 bishops and a large number of priests and women religious gathered with lay Catholics from across the West Coast to prepare for the day’s events and seek strength from the Eucharist.
Archbishop Cordileone referenced the day’s Scripture readings during a homily that recalled the commissioning of the first Christians who faced daunting challenges as they brought the gospel of life to a "dark world."
Today, many Americans view the gift of fertility as a "disease," noted Archbishop Cordileone, and the symptoms of a pervasive culture of death suggest "we are up against cosmic forces."
"But we can take heart," he said, from the example of Sts. Timothy and Titus. They testified to the courage of the first Christians, who "set forth on the Great Commission the Lord has given us to make disciples of all the nations."
By mid-day, a vast crowd had gathered for the pre-march rally at Civic Center Plaza, before heading down Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza. Featured speakers included Archbishop Cordileone, Archbishop Viganò, Rev. Clenard Childress, director of L.E.A.R.N., the largest black pro-life group in the U.S., actress Jennifer O’Neill and members of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
Since the first walk, the event has been broadcast live by Eternal Word Television Network to viewers around the country. EWTN also broadcasts the Washington March for Life.
It was the first year that Archbishop Cordileone, installed in 2012 as archbishop of San Francisco, played a leading role in the Walk for Life. But he began attending the march back in 2008, while still an auxiliary bishop in San Diego and before his subsequent three-year appointment as the bishop of Oakland.
"In 2008, the walkers numbered about 20,000. Last year’s walk drew over 40,000 participants," Archbishop Cordileone told the Register.
"The pro-life message," he said, is "filling the void that secular society creates when it excludes God, morality and sensitivity to the beauty of human life."
The event drew huge numbers of young people, from elementary-school students to 20-something professionals. They are especially "receptive to the walk’s message that abortion hurts women and that women deserve better than abortion," suggested the archbishop.
Help for Women
The destructive impact of abortion on women has remained a central theme of the Walk for Life since its inception, with those who have undergone abortions testifying to the grief that shadowed their fateful decisions to end the lives of their unborn children, while other speakers at the event often challenged efforts to dismiss the impact of post-abortion syndrome.
"We are all about getting resources to women in need, especially those in crisis pregnancies," said Eva Muntean, the co-chair of the Walk for Life, who noted that a number of pro-life outreach groups provide materials during the pre-march rally, including Rachel’s Vineyard, Silent No More, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project and 40 Days for Life.
"From the beginning, I loved the mission of this walk: The focus was on women. The approach the organizers wanted was non-confrontational, emphasizing that women often choose abortion because they feel they have no other choice," said Sally Brien Holper, the president of the Joanne Pang Foundation, which promotes the collection of umbilical cord blood for medical treatment.
Holper said she witnessed the struggles of women dealing with crisis pregnancies while serving as a longtime volunteer at Birthright. Such women "felt lost and abandoned" and needed compassionate care and help considering other options to abortion, she told the Register.
Archbishop Viganò, the first papal nuncio to attend the Walk for Life, read a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI that called on pro-life activists "to witness the most precious gift that God has given us: the gift of human life … made in his image and likeness."
Amid "what has been called by many a culture of violence and death," the Holy Father urged the marchers in San Francisco to uphold "the inviolable dignity of each member of the human family … especially the smallest and the most defenseless of our brothers and sisters," and help secure "a more just and compassionate human society."
The night before the Walk for Life, the Sisters of Life offered a similar message during a vigil program that included Mass, confession, a talk and Eucharistic adoration.
"Jesus came to forgive us from our sins and to free us from all that binds us so that we can live in the freedom of the children of God. When we know our identity, we are able to share that with others," Sister of Life Bethany Madonna Burwell told the Register, summarizing the message of the vigil organizers.
Indeed, while speakers at the Washington-based March for Life often highlight legislative and legal goals needed to secure the right to life for the unborn child, the Walk for Life primarily focuses on the nation’s urgent need for spiritual and moral renewal.
"Across the culture we need protection of families, of the pre-born and of religious liberty. We have to find the vehicle and mechanism to educate the people," said Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa, a diocese that borders San Francisco.
"Teachers, bishops and priests can’t presume that the faithful have heard the message, or, if they have, that it has … penetrated their hearts," said Bishop Vasa. "We have to be relentless teachers."
Archbishop Viganò’s Apostolic Walk for Life
SAN FRANCISCO — For the first time ever, the apostolic nuncio to the United States joined the lineup of Catholic and pro-life leaders at the annual Walk for Life West Coast, which this year marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in San Francisco.
At the rally preceding the Jan. 26 walk, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, named the Pope’s personal representative to the U.S. in October 2011, read Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing to the crowd of 50,000 pro-lifers gathered at the city’s Civic Center Plaza. Then, the nuncio told his enthusiastic audience, "I feel with you that you are the best of the United States of America."
Archbishop Viganò’s appearance at the walk prompted an expression of gratitude from San Francisco’s newly installed Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. The nuncio told the Register that he has sought out opportunities to familiarize himself with the Church in the United States.
"One of the duties of the mission of the apostolic nuncio and his staff is to provide and offer [information] to the Pope about the situation of the Church in the United States and to present to him suitable candidates to be bishops," Archbishop Viganò said.
"This is a very important responsibility, and, since the country is so large, I try to be present at any occasion or for an important meeting."
Archbishop Viganò recalled a private audience with Pope Benedict on Nov. 7, 2011, just before the nuncio left to take up his duties in Washington. During the meeting, the Pope "told me, ‘You will find some problems in the United States.’ He said that to make me more realistic in some way," the nuncio told the Register.
He arrived in the U.S. days later, in time for the annual November meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, the conference’s president, rolled out plans for tackling emerging threats to religious freedom.
During Archbishop Viganò’s long career in the Vatican as a diplomat in hot spots like Iraq and Nigeria, the Italian-born archbishop has witnessed an array of political situations that sometimes spark Church-state conflicts.
"Every one of us brings to these gatherings the experience of their years of life and mission. I was affected by my first diplomatic assignment in 1973 in Iraq … before the first Gulf War … [under] the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein," he said during the Jan. 26 interview.
But the ideological struggles that swept through Europe during the 20th century have also informed his present view of Church-state tensions in Western democracies.
"A democracy is not something that is won forever," he said. "As Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict have said, ‘A democracy that is deprived from values very soon will become a dictatorship and a situation of persecution.’"
Notre Dame Address
He expressed similar concerns during a Nov. 4 address at the University of Notre Dame, where he raised the alarm about new political currents in "the great democracies of the world."
"Evidence is emerging which demonstrates that the threat to religious freedom is not solely a concern for non-democratic and totalitarian regimes," he said at Notre Dame. "Unfortunately, it is surfacing with greater regularity in what many consider the great democracies of the world."
Religious persecution is often accompanied by a "reluctance to accept the public role of religion," he said in his address, especially when religious institutions uphold "beliefs that the powerful of the political society do not share."
The Walk for Life, which drew about 100 counterprotesters waving signs that attacked pro-life activists as "fascists," hinted at the polarized politics that increasingly dominate U.S. public life and may result, one day, in measures that dramatically constrain religious freedom.
"During the 20th century, there was democracy in Italy — and at a certain moment, there was a fascist regime," noted Archbishop Viganò, standing close to the stage where Walk for Life speakers addressed the crowd.
Today, he said, "the human values proclaimed in the [International Declaration of Human Rights] after World War II are now being violated in order to create new values."
-- Joan Frawley Desmond
— Joan Frawley Desmond