More than 40,000 take a Walk for Life on the West Coast

By Mark McElrath

Saturday January 23rd, 2010 was the date of the sixth annual West Coast Walk for Life, officially known as “Walk for Life WC”. This year’s event drew by far, the largest crowd in history of the event and estimates pegged the total number at just over 40,000 participants. The City of St Francis was alive with Pro-Life spirit and it took the shape of every age, race, gender and socio-economic status imaginable—including a blind walker led along the 2-plus mile route by two companions, and several individuals walking with canes and a limp. As one participant with a cane told me, “Yes it’s painful, but worth it! We’re speaking for those who never got a chance to speak, let alone walk!” But that’s not all…

Walk for Life, WC photo blog

Report by photo journalist, Zombie - "I’ve been to anti-war rallies which were estimated to have in excess of 100,000 people, and they all seemed smaller than the one seen here. Only 40,000? If you say so…."

See Walk for Life song/video Angels to the Rescue by Jordan Sax.  Complete album, Child of Love.

College students bused in from Wyoming, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Southern California and all parts in between. Religious orders were represented in force and included diocesan priests and seminarians, more than six Bishops!, women religious from such recognizable habits as the Missionaries of Charity, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, the Sisters of Life and the Carmelites. The overwhelming witness to life, however, clearly belonged to the laity, whose not-so-silent witness was evident the sheer size of their collective presence.

I arrived with others late the night before the Saturday Walk for Life, and after a quick dinner in the North Beach (Italian) section of town, made my way to the majestic Sts. Peter and Paul church on the edge of North Beach to join the Sisters of Life in a guided meditation on Life and Love before Our Lord in Eucharist Adoration. And I was not alone. This night, hundreds braved the cold and rain to pay a visit to Our Lord to beg Him for support on our walk the next day.

Walk for Life West Coast 2010

Pre-walk prayers continued during all-night Eucharistic adoration. The beautiful ethnic parish could not have been more perfectly suited for the devotion. Splendid artwork from early in the previous century adorns the grand parish walls and The Presence was exposed in a stunning sunburst monstrance. the darkened church nave, drew your gaze to the altar. Lifting your heart in prayer for the millions who were not given the chance to pray, One could not help but understand that all good works must begin with prayer.

Saturday morning the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption was the location for the beginning of the day’s events. Archbishop George Niederauer was the principal concelebrant in a Eucharistic celebration that included Bishop Salvatore Cordelione from Diocese of Oakland, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Auxiliary Bishops Ignatius Wong and William Justice from San Francisco and Dominic Luong from the Diocese of Orange. Fr Frank Pavone of Priests for Life was spotted amidst the dozens of priests concelebrating this special mass.

A Powerful sermon underscored the day’s beginning

Archbishop Niederauer preached very effectively, drawing an obvious comparison for that day’s work with that day’s gospel which was Mark 3:20-21. In this reading, Jesus’ relatives, when confronted with the reality of his overwhelming popularity, so much so that the crowds pressed in from every side making it impossible for him even to eat, responded with disgust. Their response to the unbelievable scene, “He is out of his mind.”

As a pro-lifer, I can testify first-hand that this same attitude comes from family and friends not yet convinced of either the morality or the critical importance of the Pro-Life movement. is not unique. What was unique was the pressing throng, the crowd, surrounding Jesus. And so it was as we headed to the rally preceding the walk; the pressing crowd alone gave wordless witness to the morality and the importance of our efforts.

The unexpected throng, pressing from every side

When we gathered at the Ferry Building, a famous San Francisco landmark located just off the Embarcadero, it was a sight to behold! Wall-to-wall people, despite the heavy rain that had been falling over California for the better part of a week. Thousands upon thousands stood side by side in the mud. Uncomplaining, we braved the rain and listened attentively as we heard from Fr Joseph Fessio SJ of Ignatius Press, Abby Johnson the former Planned Parenthood Clinic Director from Bryan, Texas, who was converted to the truth of abortion through the efforts of 40 Days for Life, Lila Rose the undercover investigator who has blown the doors off Planned Parenthood clinic’s duplicitous efforts to cover up perpetrators of statutory rape, Paul Genoux-Defermont the leader of the Paris Walk for Life that drew over 25,000 French and European pro-lifers to the City of Lights.

The walk and the metaphor

And then it was the walk itself. 2.6 miles along the beautiful San Francisco Bay under a most brilliant post-rain sunshine. The Golden Gate Bridge shone like a beacon, a beautiful metaphor for what we must cross, a Threshold of Hope, to the day when abortion will be relegated to the same ash heap of history that American slavery has been deposited into.

Two and a half hours of trekking later, we arrived at the Marina Green where various apostolates had set up information booths, Immaculate Heart Radio sponsored a concert and speakers such as courageous Evangelical Rev. Walter Hoyes and Fr Frank Pavone encouraged the crowd with talks on the effectiveness of our 37-plus years of pro-life witness.

The Marina Green looked like a giant family reunion picnic where relatives had a chance to catch up on the various comings and goings since the last time the clan had gathered. Meanwhile, the transportation busses began to roll, taking home the college students, the grandparents, the home school families, the young urban professionals, all of whom were clearly inspired and motivated by the large public gathering of like-minded individuals and who surely felt interiorly strengthened, realizing they are not alone in standing for the unborn. We have each other and, most importantly, we have Jesus Christ.

For my part, I was reminded of another public throng, 31 years ago, when a Polish Bishop came and stood on a famous balcony in Rome and boldly admonished us, “Be Not Afraid!”

Mark McElrath is Vice President of the Magis Insitute, President of Catholics at Work, Orange County, and a member of the Board of Catholics for the Common Good.

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