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.