The 15th annual Walk for Life West Coast will be held in the streets of downtown San Francisco on Saturday, Jan. 26. The central events of the event include a 12:30 p.m. rally at Civic Center Plaza, followed by a 1:30 p.m. 1.8-mile walk from the plaza down Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza. The annual event draws 50,000 peaceful pro-life demonstrators and roughly coincides with the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
“This is an important time to stand up for life,” said Eva Muntean, a co-founder and key organizer of the walk. “We’ve made some headway in recent years, but events can change, and our momentum can quickly be taken away.”
The Walk for Life’s goals include, according to its website, walkforlifewc.com, “to be a vocal and visual message that people of the West Coast stand for life” and to reach out to women harmed by abortion, and to the community and society as a whole with the pro-life message. While many smaller events related to the Walk for Life West Coast occur throughout the weekend, the centerpiece is a peaceful walk on or near Jan. 22, the day the Roe decision was announced. The event is also a West Coast alternative for those unable to travel to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, which was to be held this year on Jan. 18.
Highlights of the Walk for Life West Coast include rally speaker Patricia Sandoval, a former employee of abortion provider Planned Parenthood, who herself had three abortions. Sandoval has since had a change of heart on the abortion issue and works as a pro-life and chastity speaker. Other speakers include Walter Hoye, a black Baptist preacher and founder of the Issues4Life Foundation, and Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International.
There will be many companion events that participants are welcome to attend. On the morning of the walk, Georgette Forney, president of Anglicans for Life, will help lead a Silent No More Awareness Campaign at the Civic Center Plaza, which features testimonials from people harmed by abortion. Also on the morning of the event, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone will celebrate Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral with a special emphasis for the success of the Walk for Life and the pro-life cause.
The evening before the walk, the Dominican Fathers of St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco, will hold a Walk for Life Prayer Vigil. The evening after the event, Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco will host an All Night Adoration for Life.
Father Joseph Illo of Star of the Sea Parish poses with Eva Muntean (in glasses) and Dolores Meehan (center), the co-founders of the Walk for Life West Coast. Courtesy photo
Unified and energized
Star of the Sea Parish, led by pastor Father Joseph Illo, sees an impressive 60-70 parishioners join in the Walk for Life each year. The parish was established in 1894 and is the closest in the city to the Golden Gate Bridge. Father Illo is motivated to participate, he said, because “I’ve always been personally dedicated to the pro-life movement.”
He noted that at a previous assignment at a larger parish two hours away, as many as six buses of parishioners participated. Since coming to Star of the Sea, he’s welcomed as many as 200 high school students from six or seven western states to sleep in the parish hall and avoid the high cost of a hotel room. They’re provided with food, bathroom facilities and a comfortable floor on which to sleep; they’re also welcome to attend a parish BBQ (this year, noodles also will be served, and the event is called a “Wok for Life”) the evening of the walk. About 400 attend the BBQ, which includes testimonies and personal time with four Sisters of Life, whom the parish has flown out from New York with lodging provided by a convent nearby.
Gibbons Cooney is parish secretary at iconic Sts. Peter and Paul Church in San Francisco’s North Beach, which serves as “home parish” of the Walk for Life West Coast. He said the parish has played a prominent role in the event since its beginning. The Walk for Life began with the Rally in Defense of Marriage at the parish in 2004, followed by the walk in 2005. Cooney noted, “The late, great Father John Malloy, our then-pastor, was the walk’s first chaplain and recipient of the first St. Gianna Molla Award for pro-life heroism.”
The parish sends 12-15 walkers, but its strongest participation, Cooney believes, “has been in providing a spiritual and physical home to the attendees from other places.” Like Star of the Sea, the parish provides sleeping accommodations for 200 young pilgrims. The pilgrims include students from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, as well as parish groups from different western states. Sts. Peter and Paul has an ongoing relationship hosting Thomas Aquinas students; Father Illo hopes to establish a similar relationship between his parish and students from Wyoming Catholic College.
The pilgrims are invited to participate in an all-night adoration the Friday before the Walk, which has been a tradition for 15 years, and in the past two years priests of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colorado, have celebrated a Mass for the pilgrims the Friday afternoon before the walk. Cooney noted, “Having our older parishioners see all these happy, healthy, enthusiastic young Catholics at Mass does everyone’s heart and faith good.”
Although in past years, walkers have encountered some unpleasant protesters, Father Illo noted, he describes the Walk for Life West Coast as “like World Youth Day,” in that it helps to unify and energize people, particularly Catholics.
“It builds community and faith, as we all have a common goal of celebrating life,” he said. “It is not a negative cause, but a joyful experience, centered on the beauty of the child, motherhood and family life.”
Jim Graves writes from California.