About 15,000 Southern Californians joined Archbishop José H. Gomez at the fifth annual OneLife LA, on Saturday, January 19, at Los Angeles State Historic Park in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the beauty and dignity of every human life from conception to natural death.

“OneLife LA is about the light, not the darkness. We believe in overcoming the evil that we see by the good that we do,” said Archbishop Gomez. “OneLife LA is not only an event, it is a vision. In a society that promotes a selfish ‘me against you’ individualism, OneLife LA celebrates people who are living lives of self-sacrifice, generosity, and service.”

The event kicked off at noon at the city’s birthplace, La Placita, with a welcome from Archbishop Gomez, who led a walk for life together with the Archdiocese’s auxiliary bishops from Olvera Street to LA State Historic Park for the official program and celebration. 

Keynote speaker Lizzie Velasquez, a global motivational speaker, YouTube personality, anti-bullying activist and author, shared her story of overcoming bullying, which she started to suffer at a young age due to her appearance caused by a rare disorder that prevents her from gaining weight. The fact that she is vision-impaired only added to the challenges she faced. Velasquez shared how the unconditional support of her family helped her become a strong woman and motivate others to speak up against bullying.

“When I was born, I had a lot of medical issues. The doctors told my parents basically, ‘Expect nothing,’ and right then, my parents said, ‘God sent her to us for a reason and we’re going to love her to the best of our ability,’” Vasquez said. “Whenever bad things happen, I don’t have that instant, ‘Why God?’ question that comes into my mind like it did when I was younger. Now, when something bad happens or I see something bad happening to other people, I instantly ask myself, ‘What is the lesson? What are you trying to teach me in this?’”

Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director who became a prominent anti-abortion activist after resigning in 2009 also addressed the audience. “For me, it’s been a journey of healing to know that the world is seeing me when I was at my worst but also gets to see my heart changing and the ultimate redemption through the grace of God,” said Johnson, who will be portrayed in the movie “Unplanned,” based on her book with the same name.

Beatriz Sandoval, formerly a homeless mother who uses her experience to fight homelessness and poverty in LA, shared in Spanish her story of financial and mental struggles that she and her family overcame in part with the support of their church community.

“Thanks to my treatment, to our friends and to my work, I was able to start my life again and that of my family,” said Sandoval. “Even though I forbade my daughters to talk about this, they shared it with people from our church and with their counselors at school. That began another learning process to receive the generosity, compassion and love of others, who were not our blood family, but they behaved as if they were. Before and after our loss our family had been very involved in matters of social justice in our community. I never thought that I would need the services that I always advised people to get in order to have a safe and decent place to live.”

The event was emceed by Gloria Purvis, host of EWTN Radio’s Morning Glory, and by Damon Clarke Owens, founder and executive director of JoyToB, a ministry centered on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Other speakers and performers included Dr. José Villela Vizcaya, a Mexican psychiatrist who, as a medical student, faced a car accident that left him without mobility and sensitivity in most of his body. He became a renowned public speaker, and is currently a Paralympic swimmer, ranked in the top 10 within his category. Rick Smith, founder of Hope Story, an organization based on his own family’s experience, which provides inspiration and encouragement to parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Two-time Grammy nominated singer and songwriter Jamie Grace, winner of the Dove Award for a new artist. Barbara Padilla, a soprano born in Guadalajara, Mexico, who received a bone marrow transplant after being diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. With her husband Kyle they adopted their daughter Elizabeth. Nancy Sanchez, a three-time award-winning Jazz vocalist who combines pop and traditional Mexican musical elements to create a unique style. Mario Alberto Perez, a singer and songwriter who uses his talents to evangelize through music. Connor Flanagan, a hip-hop artist with a new take on music, who provides an authentic stage presence and unique musical experience. Ryan O’Hara, content director for Saint Paul’s Outreach, a national Catholic organization that ministers to college students on campus. He is a foster adoptive father of three sons.

OneLife LA partners with local community service and outreach organizations to inspire positive action among participants. These organizations provide life-affirming support to pregnant women, assist the homeless, trafficking survivors, the elderly, the disabled and the dying, and help foster children find adoptive families. Partners this year included 40 Days for Life, By Your Side LA, CAST: Human Trafficking Coalition, Catholic Charities Esperanza, Covenant House, Family Promise, Foster All, Harvest Home, Los Angeles Pregnancy Centers, Olive Crest, Options United, and Santa Teresita: Carmelite Sisters End of Life.

“OneLife LA is a very simple concept,” said Kathleen Domingo, senior director of the Archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, which spearheads the event. “Woven through the stories of OneLife LA speakers is the story of human dignity. The inherent dignity of the child in foster care, the dignity of the person with special needs, the dignity of our homeless neighbor, the dignity of the sick and the elderly, and the incarcerated. And, sometimes most difficult to see, the dignity of the preborn child from the first moment of conception.”

Start your day with Always Forward, our award-winning e-newsletter. Get this smart, handpicked selection of the day’s top news, analysis and opinion, delivered to your inbox. Sign up absolutely free today!