As they waited in the shade next to the Pico House, watching the crowd swell in size in anticipation of the sixth annual OneLife LA Walk for Life outside La Placita in downtown Los Angeles, Monica and John Meier did their best to make their daughter, Veronica, as comfortable as possible.
Afflicted with cerebral palsy, Veronica, who will be 15 in March, clutched a stuffed animal for comfort, moving around in her wheelchair to the rhythm of the music at the nearby youth rally.
“She is our gift and our blessing,” said Monica, Veronica’s mother, a regional marketing manager for the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN). “Every time I’m asked about how hard it must be to take care of her, I think of all the meaning she brings and the bridges she helps us to build in our family: unity, love, sacrifice, selflessness, and she pays it all back with a beautiful smile that fills our hearts.”
Meanwhile, Veronica’s younger brother, Thomas, stayed very active nearby, tossing around a small inflatable OneLife LA beach ball that, more than once, bounced somewhere off his mother as she spoke.
“He is also a blessing; he’s very caring and helpful when his sister is having a seizure,” Monica added with a patient smile.
The Meier family felt it was a natural place for them to be part of the thousands who walked in solidarity on the cool, sunny Saturday, Jan. 18 afternoon from Olvera Street through Chinatown and gathered into the Los Angeles State Historic Park.
During the walk, parts of the group prayed the rosary — a large reproduction of a rosary made of yellow and white balloons — or sang aloud hymns such as “How Great Thou Art.” Some chanted a refrain: “We are … pro-life! Pro-life generation!”
From there, several hours of witness talks, guest speakers, and musical entertainment tied together the value of the human condition and reinforced the 2020 event’s theme, “One Mission, One Family.”
Organized by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Life, Justice, and Peace, OneLife LA was once again held the same day as — and just blocks away from — the Women’s March, a demonstration in favor of abortion rights, which, like OneLife LA, is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. (The first OneLife event was held in 2015, while the first Women's March was in 2017.)
Contrary to initial media reports, the Los Angeles Police Department estimated that OneLife attendance actually exceeded that of the Women's March by several thousand this year, Angelus News learned.
The event attracted legions of pro-lifers from beyond LA, from places as far as San Diego, San Bernardino, and even Fresno.
“This celebrates life, and we’re here to fight for life, for everyone — yes, for the unborn, but also for those with disabilities,” added Monica, one of the hundreds of Catholics from Orange County who showed up along with their bishop, Kevin Vann.
“Our society can try to make us believe life is only important and has meaning if it comes with some certain utility. That’s not true. My daughter may not walk or talk but she is very special and we are here to defend that, the dignity of the human being.”
Not far from a large red banner lining the park fence that simply read “Choose Love,” Archbishop José H. Gomez spoke in English and Spanish about how those words resonate.
“We have a purpose in this world and that purpose is to love and to give life to others,” said Archbishop Gomez. “We are one family, and we have one mission. God is calling us to sanctify the world, to redeem this world through our works of love, through our deeds of compassion.
“We cannot remain indifferent when we see all the suffering and injustice in the world. This is not God’s way, this is not what God wants for his children.
“So God gave us this mission. He is calling us to oppose and overcome the evils we see around us. Our God will not let us rest until every human life is respected, and that begins with the life of the child who wants to be born.”
That message of all human dignity was also reflected in the variety of nearly 20 booths that circled the park, ranging from assistance and information about foster care, sheltering the homeless, combating human trafficking, pregnancy services, care for creation, supporting immigrants and refugees, and ministering to families of the incarcerated.
Later, at the Requiem Mass for the Unborn, the day wrapped up with a more solemn tone. Thousands packed the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for the liturgy, a quarter century-old Catholic LA tradition, held in memory of all who died from abortion in the past year. Some 175 candles were lit during the Mass and placed in the window of the cathedral colonnade to remain on display.
“Every time a child dies in the womb, something of our humanity dies as well,” said Archbishop Gomez in his homily at the Mass. “And over these long decades of legalized abortion, we all know we have fallen short of what is expected of us.”
Inviting faithful to pray “in sorrow and repentance,” the archbishop emphasized that building a culture of life is a responsibility shared by all.
“The existence of abortion tells us that we still have not created a culture of life, that we still don’t have a society or an economy that values the human person and the family as the essential foundation of society.”
Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, was one of many who posted their experiences about the event on social media, using his Twitter account to express how “it was a joy to walk with my brother bishops” in the pro-life event that emphasized life’s sacred nature from conception to natural death.
“Catholic social teaching is a pro-life teaching covering the whole range of belonging to God and God’s purposes, so we can’t reduce any of this to one issue,” said Bishop Barron, who serves the archdiocese’s Santa Barbara Pastoral Region. “We’re not just ‘against,’ we are fundamentally ‘for.’ When the Church says no, it’s always a ‘no’ to a no. So the Church is always saying ‘yes.’ ”
Barron stressed that as “one of the great events of the year,” OneLife LA was a perfect example of the Church’s long tradition of witness in the public square.
Jorge Moncada, a 23-year-old from Oxnard who went to Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula and is currently a student at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, was part of that public display, one of dozens wearing a “Seminarians For A Culture of Life” T-shirt.
“What impresses me most about this is seeing the little kids, who are learning from their parents to speak up and protect us from something that’s such an evil,” said Moncada, one of the more than 100 seminarians from around Southern California attending the event. “They are the next generation, the pro-life generation, the ones who will defend life in the world.”
The mark of that younger generation could be seen in the many homemade signs and banners brought by families to the festivities. Perhaps the one that got the most attention was the Star Wars-inspired creation of Fernando and Cynthia Rocha of Riverside: a picture of the viral sensation “baby Yoda” from the new hit Disney+ series “The Mandalorian,” with the words “Save the babies” and “this is the way,” a clever play on the main character’s mysterious motto.
The Rochas, who have been married for three years and brought their one son along for the day’s festivities, found a pro-life theme in the decision by the show’s namesake character to save the little green creature.
“He sacrificed everything, his code and everything to save this one child’s life,” Cynthia explained. “We were like, ‘he’s pro-life!’ ”
Also among the event’s younger participants were students from USC’s Caruso Catholic Center and Our Savior Church, who stressed the impact they could make by showing solidarity with the pro-life cause.
Michael Uranga, a junior from Yorba Linda studying accounting, said his involvement as co-chair of the Spiritual Life Committee on the Student Executive Board was part of his search to find a Catholic and pro-life community on campus to support his beliefs.
“My family has been involved in the hospice care business, so I am partial to helping those elderly who are facing terminal illness and their fight for the right to the dignity of a natural death,” said Uranga. “That’s what I love about the pro-life movement, being from the womb to the tomb, and we can celebrate it in this setting with music and fellowship. It’s beautiful.”
Jessica Vela, a USC sophomore from Sacramento studying mechanical engineering, said this was her first experience at a public demonstration.
“I think about how every life is important and all the individuals who have had a profound impact on my life,” said Vela. “What if they weren’t there? How many others would miss making an impact if their lives were taken away? Advocating for life is about the right to be able to explore your own potential. By taking away life, you are harming humankind.”
Several important moments were celebrated in the afternoon during the event.
Jess Echeverry, the executive director of the Westchester-based nonprofit organization SOFESA, which has been able to assist the homeless and low-income families with shelter and services, accepted a $10,000 grant that came with her being named the first recipient of the OneLife LA Service Award.
“I’m not alone when I say that if someone hands you a giant check, you feel like you’ve won a lottery, so SOFESA has kind of won a lottery since we had to shut down our outreach program because we ran out of funds to provide immediate assistance to families in need,” said Echeverry.
“It’s also very nerve-racking for me to get up and share the most painful experience of my life, but this crowd’s energy was great. They were cheering and clapping and screaming and it helped me feel I was reaching them and doing God’s will, and they were encountering him in what I was saying.”
The archdiocese also announced a partnership with Venice-based Harvest Home, which serves women who are homeless and pregnant. A 20-bedroom repurposed convent in West LA was donated to the nonprofit to become its second campus in addition to a 10-bed facility it has been operating.
Sarah Wilson, Harvest Home executive director, noted there had been only 70 beds available in LA on a daily basis for pregnant women, but nearly 5,000 need that kind of immediate support. Harvest Home, in existence for more than 35 years, has had some 600 women come through its doors.
“I was able to share a story today about a woman who came to us struggling with addiction and years of turmoil, but now has a baby celebrating its first birthday, they are in housing, she’s working toward her education and she’s maintained sobriety through it all,” said Wilson. “We want to celebrate more stories like that and see both the broad and generational impact that happens.”
Keynote speaker Cyntoia Brown-Long, delivering a powerful 10-minute testimony at the end of the rally, told about how she survived 15 years in prison going back to the age of 16, arrested for killing a man who solicited her for sex. She was released from prison last August.
“For much of my life, I was imprisoned by the lie that my life did not matter,” Brown-Long said. “And I’m here today to tell you that God freed me from it all.
“My road to redemption began with a community of people who showed me Jesus loves us irrespective of the labels society puts on us. He loves us despite the worst things we may have done. …
“Every interaction we have is an opportunity for us to be a life of Christ. I hope our interaction today touches the heart of someone who may be feeling their life doesn’t matter. You do matter. And God sees you.
“As you leave today, if you’ve taken nothing from anything I’ve said, I pray you recognize the power to be a light and making a choice to be a light to everyone you encounter. Because one life just may depend on it.”
Editor-in-chief Pablo Kay also contributed to this report.