LOS ANGELES — An estimated 15,000 Southern Californians gathered Saturday in downtown Los Angeles for the fifth-annual OneLife LA, an Archdiocese of Los Angeles event designed “to promote a culture of life, uniting communities and inspiring positive action, where every human life is valued.”
It began on historic Olvera Street, with a noontime welcome by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, after which the archbishop led a mile-long walk through downtown to Los Angeles State Historic Park for speakers and a musical program. After the event concluded, the archbishop celebrated the archdiocese’s annual Respect Life Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
“OneLife LA is a coming together of people of a wide variety of backgrounds to celebrate the gift of life,” said Kathleen Domingo, lead coordinator of OneLife LA. It was the brainchild of Archbishop Gomez, she said, who five years ago wanted to create “something special to celebrate life.”
The archbishop explained in a statement: “OneLife LA started as a dream to bring people together in our great city, to celebrate the beauty and dignity of every human life.”
He continued, “OneLife LA is more than an event. OneLife LA is a movement and a vision. OneLife celebrates the beauty of human life and calls all of us to work together to build a culture of life.”
The event’s keynote speaker was Lizzie Velasquez, who was born with a rare disorder that prevents her from gaining weight. Other speakers included Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood supervisor who became pro-life and converted to Catholicism; Rick Smith, founder of Hope Story, which helps families affected by Down syndrome; and homeless advocate Beatriz Sandoval.
Four singers, including two-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jamie Grace, were also part of the program.
Walkers included Franne Valle, who came with her daughter and 15 members of her parish, Ascension Church in Los Angeles. This was Valle’s fifth year participating. She drew some attention because of the sign she carried: “Keep Praying and Speaking Up, From a Former Planned Parenthood Employee.”
Valle had worked at a Los Angeles Planned Parenthood facility for five years, assisting with abortions. She was a lapsed Catholic at the time, but quit her job after returning to the Church.
She said, “I had joined the young-adult group at my parish, began learning about the faith, praying and reading the Bible. It was a process; it took about a year before I quit my job.”
She had previously thought her work at Planned Parenthood was helping women by offering them choices, but she started questioning this view when she saw the same women returning again and again for abortions. She said, “I saw that abortion was not the right solution.”
Her participation in OneLife LA is her way of helping educate the public about what abortion is, as she believes “many pro-choice people are not educated.”
Seeing Abby Johnson was “a big highlight” for Valle, as the pair had a similar background with Planned Parenthood, and Valle had gone on a healing retreat organized by Johnson for former abortion-industry workers. Johnson, who spoke to the throng Friday at the March for Life in Washington, has brought many talents to the pro-life movement, Valle believes, including her view that “the fight is not going to be won through social media, but by going out and engaging and talking to people.”
Nallely Cortes of Rialto is another former Planned Parenthood employee who attended with her three children. She is a more recent convert to the pro-life view and attended her first OneLife LA as part of her personal “healing process.”
She said, “I love it. Everyone there is gathered together to fight for an end to abortion.”
She plans to make participation in OneLife LA an annual practice in her life.
Mike and Joan Noyes of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Tujunga walked for the first time this year. “We feel strongly that abortion is wrong, and walking was a way to express it,” he said.
He continued, “It was a beautiful event, and people were excited to be there.”
He was impressed with the music and speakers following the walk, as well as the cathedral Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gomez. He noted that after the Mass 180 candles were lit, surrounding the altar, representing the 180 unborn children aborted in Southern California on a typical Saturday.
Sarah Dufresne, an admissions counselor at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, led a group of 40 TAC pilgrims to OneLife LA. The students were among those carrying the banner at the front of the walk.
“As Catholics, I think it is important to offer a public witness about our views on abortion,” she said. “And these events encourage us to go back home, have conversations in our communities, and do what we can to help women who have unplanned pregnancies.”
The Women’s March Los Angeles was held the same day as OneLife LA, also held in downtown Los Angeles a few blocks over from the pro-life event. The “Values & Principles” of the Woman’s March include “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion.” The Women’s March was in the morning; while the two walks were largely separate, a few Women’s March participants stayed for the afternoon OneLife LA walk to heckle the participants.
While the Women’s March made the front page of the city’s newspaper of record, the Los Angeles Times, OneLife LA was not covered. Nor was it covered in most of the other local secular media outlets.
Darlene Pickell, who attended OneLife LA with a busload of parishioners from St. Lawrence Martyr parish in Redondo Beach, was among the walkers who noted the sparse coverage. As she said, “I did not see any local TV coverage of this event — although the Women’s March was covered — only a small paragraph on my KABC 7 news app on my phone. … I would have expected to see more coverage.”
That didn’t stop her from enjoying the event: “The atmosphere was very positive, joyous, in fact. We were all there to present a positive message.”
Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.