LOS ANGELES — Thousands gathered in Los Angeles on Saturday for a rally and march supporting the dignity of every human life and proclaiming that every human person is “made for greater.”
“God made a decision to make each one of you. He decided to make you, to make me. This is how special we are to him,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez in his homily during the requiem Mass for the Unborn, which concluded the Jan. 20 OneLife LA event.
“[God] comes to us to proclaim the gospel of life,” he said. “We are called to announce this good news to every person that we are made for greater things,” he said, citing the event’s theme, “Made for Greater.”
Archbishop Gomez told CNA that the event was created four years ago. The archbishop said he saw the need for both an annual celebration of life and an opportunity to address the challenges in the culture of death, such as abortion and assisted suicide.
The day began with a youth rally at 11am, where young people from Southern California gathered at La Placita Olvera.
There, bands led the crowd in praise and worship, and Daniel Rangel-Santos, executive board vice president of the USC Caruso Catholic Center, shared the story of how his parents were advised to abort him when doctors discovered a likely birth defect.
“Immediately, my parents strongly refused to have the abortion. For them, despite their financially humble situation at the time, a birth defect was neither an issue nor an excuse for an abortion. They loved me, and they wanted to meet the new son God sent them,” he told CNA.
Shortly after noon, dozens of students, families, seminarians, clergy and religious made their way to the Los Angeles State Historic Park, chanting along the way, “We are the pro-life generation” and “OneLife LA.”
Karen Gaffney, worldwide pro-life speaker and the first person with Down syndrome to ever swim the 21-mile stretch of the English Channel, was the keynote speaker at the event. She decried the abortion industry’s effort to target babies with Down syndrome, saying, “They want to screen us out.”
However, she also expressed gratitude for the steps taken by schools, businesses and individuals to work toward greater inclusion for people with Down syndrome.
“We are musicians and artists, actors and fashion models. We own black belts in Taekwondo. And some of us have even escaped from Alcatraz … 15 times,” she said jokingly, referring to her own accomplishments of crossing the San Francisco Bay 15 times.
Gaffney encouraged the crowd to take the time to learn more about Down syndrome.
Also in attendance was Bishop W.C. Martin, pastor at Bennet Chapel Baptist Church who has helped members of his parish adopt 76 children; Jose Arellano, who aids Homeboy Ministries, which helps teens escape gang violence; and Patricia Heaton, pro-life advocate and star in ABC’s sitcom The Middle.
“I love the fact that so many of these diverse groups can all get together and support each other. … I think that’s also the other important thing: to look around and see how much support there is from all kinds of people — everybody has a stake in this,” said Heaton.
The day concluded with Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. After the liturgy, 180 candles were lit and processed to the base of the altar in memory of the 180 unborn lives aborted that day in Southern California alone.
For many OneLife LA attendees, the march is just one way to witness to the dignity of life all year.
Father Alan Benander, a Norbertine priest, prays for the unborn at every Mass he celebrates. He is also the right-to-life moderator at St. Michael’s Preparatory School in Silverado, California, where he is also a teacher and coach.
When Father Benander leads his students on pro-life outings, he reassures them of the power of prayer and fasting.
“On this trip I took 20 students, and I said, ‘We are going to pray for an end to abortion, and we might not be able to stop every abortion from happening … but pray for one particular girl right now who is thinking of killing her unborn child,’” he told CNA.
In addition to prayer, Father Benander said Catholics should aim to educate themselves more thoroughly, so that they can be sources of catechesis for those who support abortion and aid them in choosing life and making wise choices.
Rangel-Santos, from the USC Caruso Catholic Center, agreed. He told CNA that he worked to support “The Real Sex Week” at the USC, where he is a senior. As part of the initiative, he spoke to students at the secular college about “the effects of pornography, developing healthy relationships, resources for reproductive health, support for victims of sexual assault, self-defense classes and the effects of sex in the media.”
In addition to advocating and praying for an end to abortion, march participants also focused on end-of-life care. California legalized assisted suicide in a high-profile bill in 2016.
Sister Isabella, a Carmelite of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus of Los Angeles, has spent the last seven years caring for the elderly in the area. Those she works with often face suffering and depression, and Sister Isabella said the answer lies in encouraging them as God’s children.
“We are God’s hands and feet in this world, and we have to say Yes to the love,” she told CNA. She recalled how an elderly man once told her, “When you all are near, the suffering doesn’t matter anymore, because the love is greater.”
“That’s what we have to do when someone is suffering. It’s a call for help, it’s a call to love to a greater degree, and if we don’t listen to that call, our brothers and sisters … won’t feel God’s love for them.”