The Walk for Life is a Walk for Love

From Boulder to San Francisco, this is a pro-life movement that can truly bring about change

(photo: Photo by Nicholas Wolfram Smith)

Boulder, Colorado. It is a city home to one of the only doctors in the country who will perform third-trimester abortions, a place where a 15-year-old girl who is seven months pregnant can come from across the Atlantic to end her child’s life. A place that bombards you with people and posters and flyers claiming that “abortion rights are human rights.” A place where angry honks and dirty looks punctuate the prayer of the students on the sidewalk in front of the abortion clinic. Boulder is a cultural and spiritual battlefield, and the casualties are countless.  

So when I traveled to San Francisco to participate in the Walk for Life with a group of 40 fellow students from the University of Colorado, I was expecting to experience an extension of this battle, a futile clash of ideologies similar to so many other political conflicts in our society. Although I had worked many long hours to fundraise for the trip, I couldn’t even articulate exactly why I was going. In Boulder, standing up for the pro-life cause often feels like shouting hopelessly into a void, and I saw no reason that the Walk would be any different. Those who agreed with us would be walking with us. Those who didn’t would be yelling or waving signs or ignoring us altogether. Words would fly through the air — some angry, some joyful and merciful — but few, if any, would effect change. While I saw the importance of exercising free speech and being a prayerful witness, I couldn’t imagine that anyone would be swayed to the pro-life cause merely by watching us walk down Market Street.

But despite my misgivings, God had much more in store for me than I had anticipated.

The fruit that I experienced in San Francisco was rooted in our group’s approach to the Walk. Organized by the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, our trip was treated not as an isolated event but as a pilgrimage, and our weekend was filled with prayer, the sacraments, and a series of beautiful talks and testimonies. It was through these sources of grace that my attitude towards the Walk, and toward the pro-life movement as a whole, began to shift. This began during a holy hour on Friday evening, when a mother shared the story of the many blessings poured out on her and her family when she chose life and adoption upon becoming pregnant after sexual assault. The impact of her joyful message deepened when contrasted with the poignant sorrow of the family in front of me at the Walk the next day, carrying signs that mourned the loved one they had lost to abortion.

Such experiences continued, one after another. One of the Sisters of Life shared with our group what she knew of the hearts of pregnant women, of their fear and uncertainty and their need for affirmation and support. The gospel reading at Mass on Saturday told of the Annunciation, of Mary opening her heart and womb to our Savior. One of our FOCUS missionaries reflected that those who oppose us are not the enemy but rather hearts that must be won for Christ.

Through prayer, these encounters began to crystallize into one realization. Prior to the Walk, being pro-life had been, to me, an ideological stance played out in politics and in prayer (insofar as prayer brought about change). But as I meditated on the joy of that mother who welcomed a child not expected, the sorrow of the family missing a member, the openness of Our Lady, and our call to love both vulnerable mothers and vehement pro-choice protesters, I realized that being pro-life is not a label or an opinion or even a lifestyle, but an attitude of the heart. It is interior, not exterior.

Being pro-life means, fundamentally, carving out space in our hearts for other human beings. It means making them into a place where others are welcome, where they can rest and discover their dignity.

And how do we do this? We work alongside Christ to excavate and widen our hearts. And then we let His love fill them. So that everyone who looks in can find, reflected back at them, the great worth with which their Father created them and the love that he has for them. Only when we allow ourselves to be transformed in this way can we truly call ourselves pro-life.

Our hearts are for children, the born and the unborn, as we welcome them into our families and our world. Our hearts are for their mothers, as they fight fear and confusion and seek someone who believes in them. Our hearts are for those who have been wounded by abortion, as they long for healing. Our hearts are for the protesters who lined Market Street, as they search for clarity in a culture of death. Our hearts are for the elderly, the terminally ill, and the poor, for the surly Uber driver who took us back to our hotel after Mass one night and for the rapper trying to make it big who tricked us into buying his CD as we walked down the pier.

St. Paul writes that “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1). And without love, without the right interior attitude, the Walk for Life, and indeed the pro-life movement, would be just that: more noise absorbed into the deafening roar of our society. But with love, we become an unstoppable movement of transformed hearts that transform hearts. Of hearts with ample space to receive and love every human being that they encounter.

And this is a pro-life movement that can truly bring about change – in San Francisco, in Washington, D.C., in every city and state of the U.S. Even Boulder, Colorado.