Walk for Life West Coast: “Bigger, younger, and more energetic every year”

The annual pro-life event, which drew an estimated 50,000 Marchers this past Saturday, is one of the five largest public events in San Francisco

On Saturday, January 24, downtown San Francisco echoed with pro-life chants, the rosary in English and Spanish, the Salve Regina, and joyful mariachi music at the 11th Annual Walk for Life West Coast. As always, the day began at 9:30 a.m. at St. Mary’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, joined by 11 brother bishops, celebrated the Walk for Life Mass. The Cathedral was over-packed, with nearly 5,000 people—standing room only. “Our goal is not simply to make abortion illegal,” Cordileone told the worshippers, “but to build a culture of life.” He took one of the themes of the youth in attendance and made it his own: “My young people, you are the prolife generation.”

Tens of thousands of pro-lifers overflowed the city’s Civic Center Plaza as the pre-Walk Rally took place. The invocation was given by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. The Archbishop also shared a message of thanks and support from Pope Francis to “…all who came out to the Walk for Life West Coast and all who supported it through their sacrifices and prayers.” The Holy Father called the inviolability of the right-to-life the “essential condition” for the building of a just society. The audience responded with cries of “Viva Papa!”

A poignant moment came at the presentation of the annual St. Gianna Molla award for pro-life heroism. The recipient was the late George Wesolek, who had served for years as the Director of the Office of Public Policy for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and who was instrumental in the creation and success of the Walk. The award was presented to Wesolek’s grandchildren by Vicki Evans, the Director of the Pro-Life Ministry of the Archdiocese, and a decades-long friend of Wesolek.

archbishop salvatore cordileone of san francisco (photo: darwin sayo)

Speakers included Julia Holcomb, who told the story of her abortion during a relationship as a teenager with Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, and Rebekah Buell, a young woman who attempted to abort her second child with the abortion pill RU486. This was an act of desperation and Ms. Buell had a change of heart and mind, and used a newly available technique, which saved the baby. She concluded her talk by saying, “With medical advancements like this we are closer to ending this war on the unborn!” She then surprised the crowd by saying, “It is my greatest joy to introduce you to my son Zechariah!”, as a friend brought the little fellow to the podium, to roars of approval from the audience. EWTN television hosts and crisis pregnancy center volunteers, Jim and Joy Pinto, followed. Joy stirred the crowd, declaring, “There is a war on women but we are not declaring war, we have come to set women free!’

The final speaker, as is traditional with the Walk, was the Reverend Clenard Childress. Childress, a Baptist minister, is one of the most prominent pro-life voices in America, especially within the black community. His soaring oratory energized the crowd as the Walk began: “You cannot back up and you cannot compromise. That is a baby! This movement will stand till Every child, Every child Every child Every child Every child Every child Every child … has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!… The civil rights movement of this present age is the prolife movement and we are nearing our victory and we cannot compromise!”

Following the rally, Walkers headed out down Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza. The crowd appeared to be the largest yet—witnesses at the Plaza said Walkers continues to arrive steadily for at least an hour. Attendees were from all over the country, as well as Canada, although the majority were from California and the western States. As always, the Walk was defined by the youth in attendance, although people of all ages, races, and creeds were present. Walkers processed under the Walk’s now famous “Abortion Hurts Women!” banners—the same banners condemned last year in an official resolution by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Following the backlash to that resolution, even among the liberal media, the Supervisors this year decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and remained silent.

walkers in downtown san francisco (photo: john herreid)

As has become common, the Walk was protested at Powell and Market Streets by Stop Patriarchy, an off-shoot of the Revolutionary Communist Party. About 50 protestors were there. They attempted to get into Market Street to hinder the Walk, but the San Francisco Police Department quickly restored order. One arrest was reported. In a first, a breakaway group of about 100 members of the Students for Life with very large signs formed a human chain by the RCP protest, inserting themselves between the Walk and the protestors (the action was in violation of the Walk’s “non-confrontational” guidelines). As the Walk entered Justin Herman Plaza they were met by the Mariachi Juvenil Real de San Pablo, a mariachi youth band, and the young pro-lifers ended the Walk dancing to mariachi music.

This local press did their best job yet of covering the Walk. Local ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX affiliates all had televised coverage, and SF Gate, the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle, had a sizable story with more than 20 photographs. The AP’s Lisa Leff covered the Walk, meaning that many newspapers that rely on AP for content ran her story, from Seattle to Greenwich, CT, and many places in between. A number of the local stories focused on the gridlock in downtown San Francisco caused by the size of the Walk.
Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, founder of Ignatius Press, at the Walk for Life West Coast, San Francisco (Photo: John Herreid) Walk co-chair Eva Muntean was happy about the press coverage, but noted that the local press “… should at least mention the Walk the week before, if for no other reason than to prevent the kind of gridlock, and angry motorists we saw Saturday. It is amazing how many San Franciscans do not know the Walk for Life West Coast, one of the five biggest annual events in San Francisco, exists!” Muntean’s co-chair, Dolores Meehan, had commented on this last year, saying, “You may try to avoid the truth, but you can’t avoid the traffic!”

Ms. Muntean said, “I’d say we exceeded 50,000 for sure. We never even count anymore, frankly. We just know the Walk is getting bigger, younger, and more energetic every year … I was thrilled with everything, frankly. Our speakers were great, the police were great, the message from the Holy Father was great, and the Walkers were great!”

• For more information and photos, visit the Walk for Life West Coast blog.

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About Gibbons J. Cooney 9 Articles
Gibbons J. Cooney is the Parish Secretary at Saints Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco and volunteers with the Walk for Life West Coast.