A survivor of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 will visit Downtown Los Angeles later this month to give energy to a growing movement of pro-life supporters as they gather together to celebrate the dignity of human life.
On Jan. 21, OneLife LA will celebrate its third year as an estimated 20,000 pro-life activists march through the streets, beginning at La Placita Olvera. The event will culminate in a family-friendly picnic, where participants can enjoy music, entertainment, food trucks and exhibits from community organizers.
Those watching the event unfold may have different views about abortion, but the event hopes to show these people that, at the end of the day, most people can agree that life is sacred.
“We want strong families, we want people to feel love and support. So let’s come and celebrate our strength and celebrate the unique dignity of every human life,” said Kathleen Domingo, associate director for the archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. “We want everyone to feel welcome at the event.”
Guest speaker Immaculée Ilibagiza will share her story of persecution and forgiveness, recounting the events that led to the murder of her entire family in Rwanda — save only her eldest brother — and her willingness to forgive her enemies.
During the genocide, Ilibagiza hid in a tiny bathroom, crammed together with seven other women. After 91 days of scant food and many recitations of the rosary, Ilibagiza was able to come out of hiding — only to learn that an estimated 800,000 people in her country had been killed.
“Immaculée is just an incredible example of someone who took a hardship in her life and just turned it around,” said Domingo. “Her story is so compelling because she was a child, and she was a victim of something that is still going on today. We don’t like to look at the face of political persecution and yet it is happening all around the world.”
Raising awareness of human suffering and getting people active in service ministries is one of the goals of the event. “OneLife LA is not a one-day event. It’s not just a big party that we throw. It’s meant to be a catalyst for change,” added Domingo.
The event draws community partners involved in life-affirming work — Habitat for Humanity, pregnancy centers, foster support groups, etc. — and encourages participants to sign up as volunteers.
All of the planned speakers will share messages about the value of human life — among them the first person in United States history to be exonerated from death row as a result of DNA testing. Kirk Bloodsworth was sentenced to death for murder in 1985. Seven years later he successfully lobbied for “DNA fingerprinting” to be used on the crime scene evidence, which led to incontrovertibly establishing his innocence.
In 1994, Maryland’s governor granted Bloodsworth a full pardon. Today he works with Witness to Innocence, an organization that helps to empower death-row exonerees to speak up for an end to the death penalty.
One of the day’s entertainers will be Christopher Duffley, a 15-year-old boy who has sung for Pope Francis. Duffley is autistic and was born blind, but he has already released two CDs, sung the national anthem for the Red Sox at Boston’s Fenway Park and released YouTube videos that have reached tens of millions of views.
“We just want to celebrate how great he is,” said Domingo. “No one’s challenges are so insurmountable that they can’t bring love and joy to their little corner of the world, and that is really what OneLife LA is all about.”
Domingo added that respecting human life begins in the home.
“The most important pro-life stuff happens at the level of the family,” she said. “You have to go home and be pro-life in your family.”
Event participants will gather at noon for the welcoming remarks. The march will begin at 12:30 p.m. The speakers and entertainment will be presented from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. At 5 p.m. all are invited to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for the annual Requiem Mass for the Unborn.
Meanwhile, the message of OneLife LA continues to build momentum. This year, many will be visiting from out of state, including Colorado and Illinois, with many others coming over from the East Coast, noted Domingo.
“We have visitors coming just to see what we are up to and how maybe they can replicate this model in other places,” she said. “What we do in L.A. has a huge effect on how people are thinking of the pro-life movement … and I think that’s really exciting.”
For more information, go to www.onelifela.org.