Taking It to the Streets: Pro-Life Marches Create a Coast-to-Coast Groundswell of Action
Events in Los Angeles and Washington are encouraging pro-lifers to commit to do something to build a culture of life in their communities.
LOS ANGELES — Internationally acclaimed Christian speaker Nick Vujicic has no arms and legs, but he has changed thousands of lives with his personal testimony. This weekend at OneLife LA, Los Angeles’ annual pro-life celebration, Vujicic will remind thousands of people that they, too, can be powerful agents of change.
“If God can use a man without arms and legs to be his hands and feet, then God can use any willing heart,” he told the Register.
“We really want people to be that one voice where actions speak louder than words.”
Both OneLife LA and the national March for Life in Washington, in their own respective ways, are providing opportunities to channel the energy of the march into a personal commitment for participants to get involved in their communities and build a life-affirming culture.
Kathleen Domingo, the pro-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Life, Justice and Peace, told the Register that they have made an intentional push to make OneLife LA — just in its second year — a celebration of life that keeps on giving life in southern California.
“We’re taking our cue from Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy and his call to do works of mercy. We see that as a real call to build a culture of life through hands-on direct service to those most in need in our community,” she said.
OneLife LA will feature some special service opportunities as part of the pro-life event: Participants are invited to bring diapers to support L.A.’s pregnancy-help centers, clothing and toiletry items to help human trafficking victims or even donate their hair to Locks of Love to make wigs for cancer patients.
“What we want to do with OneLife LA is not just make it a destination event, but make it a time where we are connecting people concretely with service opportunities and action in the community, so that they walk away saying, ‘You know what? Next week I’m signed up to do this,’” Domingo said.
All the community partners at the OneLife LA celebration have committed to sign people up for some kind of direct life-affirming action they can take. Since OneLife LA promotes life from conception to natural death, Domingo said it is important to show how all these activities build a culture that is truly life-affirming.
She added that the increase of volunteers to help victims of human trafficking or to serve as foster parents that came out of last year’s OneLife LA celebration caught the attention of the Los Angeles Police Department’s human-trafficking task force and Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services. Both offered to work more closely with parishes and the Catholic community about how they could do more.
Susan Durik, author of How You Can Fight Human Trafficking: Over 50 Ways to Join the Fight and a representative of the Human Trafficking Coalition that is one of the community partners at OneLife LA, told the Register that the different agencies under their coalition’s umbrella are looking forward to the opportunity to engage more people at OneLife LA in the fight against human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is the second-largest illegal enterprise in the U.S.,” she said, adding that it is on its way to surpassing the illegal drug trade.
“We have a porn pandemic that is driving the demand,” she added, explaining that many young girls are getting caught up by child-pornography rings, and boys are being victimized, too, by being paid to recruit them in L.A.’s public schools.
Durik said her coalition is encouraging people to volunteer with the various anti-human-trafficking organizations, join their collaborative meetings developing specific projects or support the effort in any way they can.
“We’ll teach you how, as an individual, as a faith community or as a business, you can fight human trafficking,” she said.
Vujicic, who has taken his message to high-schoolers and heads of states, said his Life Without Limbs organization has a mission to tell youth “that life is not a mistake.” The message was also echoed creatively in an award-winning short film Vujicic acted in called The Butterfly Circus.
“Our passion is to reach out to youth and let them know that they are beautiful, they are valuable and to never give up, no matter what, knowing that God has a plan for every single person,” he said.
The message is needed desperately, he said, because many youth come from broken families and situations and face the temptation to conclude that their circumstances and past choices have made life no longer worth living.
Vujicic noted that too many teens have attempted suicide. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, claiming 4,600 lives in 2012. Another national study showed one in 25 U.S. teens has tried to commit suicide, and one out of eight teens has thought about killing him or herself.
“When you look at the broken world and broken hearts around the country — and it is not just the United States; it’s everywhere — people are needing the truth of three things: the truth of their value, the truth of their purpose and the truth of their destiny,” he said.
March for Life
This year’s March for Life has a new theme: “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand,” which will be discussed by presenters and panelists at its Thursday conference. But the march has seen a steady increase in the number of pro-life conferences held around it. Evangelicals for Life is among the latest to join a list that has grown to include Students for Life’s East Coast Conference and Latinos Pro Vida (Latinos for Life). Despite a major winter snowstorm expected to pummel the greater Washington metropolitan area on Friday afternoon and Saturday, the march is continuing as scheduled, although the severity of the storm may affect other events if local transportation systems shut down.
Students for Life sent out a tweet with a picture expressing their plucky determination to be in D.C. this weekend: “Epic snowstorm headed for D.C. Nothing compared to the #prolifegen that’s about to arrive there.”
But the march also has a lot of new complementary conferences and activity that expand the pro-life message into other interconnected areas.
One of the events preceding the march was the Christ Medicus Foundation CURO, Samaritan Ministries International and Charlotte Lozier Institute media conference on Jan. 20 at the Heritage Foundation.
Louis Brown, director of Christ Medicus, told the Register that the gospel of life needs to be advanced culturally, not just legislatively or politically. He said his organization at the conference sought to highlight the “really innovative and revolutionary things going on in American health-care culture to maintain and advance life-affirming health-care options, not just protect religious liberty.”
Two main developments are the growth of health-care sharing ministries and building Catholic community in health care, linking Catholics to Christ-centered medical providers.
“What we’re talking about is a vision of the New Evangelization in health care: Catholics coming together in community to care for each other’s medical needs, depending on the body of Christ to provide for each other,” he said.
Another major conference is the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which kicks off its annual five-day meeting this year with a round-table symposium immediately following the march on Jan. 22, called “Creating a Culture of Life and Dignity — Confronting a Throw-Away Culture.”
Kimberly Baker, programs and projects coordinator for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the social-ministry gathering’s organizers “saw it as a great opportunity for meeting and collaboration.”
“The march helps remind us of the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death,” Baker said of the commemoration of the Roe v. Wade anniversary. “The connection is that common focus on the dignity of the human person … so it provides an opportunity to collaborate and emphasize what we have in common.”
Baker pointed out that Pope Francis, in his ecological encyclical Laudato Si, illustrated how these issues of human dignity and different ministries that address them are all interconnected.
“When you devalue the human person, there is the tendency to take material resources for granted,” she said.
Baker added that having the march and the social-ministry gathering together this year also helps strengthen the connections between pro-life work and other efforts to build a just and life-affirming society.
“Whether a person is doing pro-life work or is involved in any one of the other social-justice ministries, all of this work is for the dignity of the human person,” she said.
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told the Register that it “makes good sense” for different groups to capitalize on the march’s ability to gather all the pro-life groups annually in one united front.
“I’m delighted by the growth of formative events and gatherings around the March for Life,” she said. “Pro-lifers benefit greatly from the diversity and wealth of experience and formation offered, including our own March for Life Conference and Expo, where we study the theme — this year it is ‘Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand’ — and provide tools to encourage marchers to meet with their members of Congress.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.