Strengthened in prayer, pilgrims witness to the Gospel of Life in San Francisco

By Mary Powers

Prayers of thanksgiving, renewed hope and a spirit of perseverance infused the 2023 Walk for Life weekend, beginning with the Vigil for Life Mass on Jan. 20, followed by the Walk for Life Mass, rally and walk the following day.

Speaking to the faithful gathered at the Vigil for Life at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, His Excellency Jaime Soto, Bishop of Sacramento, spoke of the new moment in the pro-life movement following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, and the opportunity for political leadership in California to imagine a “society without abortion and craft a new path to offer life and liberty for all.”

“With a stubborn, recalcitrant blindness, they campaigned for the lies and deceptions of Proposition One to imbed the destruction of innocent lives into the Constitution of California, forging an intolerant blockade against any hopeful alternative for women and their children.”

Bishop Soto encouraged those present to return to the mountain of the Lord in this new moment on the journey to the Kingdom of God.

“We were born for this. He has called us for this moment.”

Bishop Soto celebrated the Vigil for Life Mass at St. Dominic’s in San Francisco.

Students from St. Benedict Parish in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, felt the call in this new moment to come to San Francisco to join the Walk for Life. When considering whether to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C. or to go to a state-level event instead, the decision came down to discerning that attending a state-level event would make more of an impact than the national level march, because the battle in the pro-life movement has shifted from Washington, D.C. to the states.

“I had the opportunity to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C.,” said Emma Lafayette, a member of the St. Benedict parish youth group after the vigil Mass. “It really made an impact in my life because I was able to stand up for what I believed in.”

This year, the youth group chose California as their state to support. “We ended up, thinking that we should go to San Francisco, because they need a lot of positive impact in their city,” Lafayette said.

A youth group from St. Benedict Parish in OK is pictured with the Sisters of Life and the Dominican friars.

The Vigil for Life was founded over a decade ago at Star of the Sea Catholic Church, but was moved to St. Dominic’s to accommodate the large number of pilgrims. This year, the church was full and nine priests offering the Sacrament of Penance.

The inspiration and founding for the Walk for Life Vigil was from Mother Agnes Donovan and the Sisters of Life. Lisa Hamrick, a member of the Walk for Life Committee and who has assisted the sisters since the beginning, thought that the 2023 event represented the largest crowd she had seen at the Mass.

“Prayer is really the most important part of the Walk,” said Hamrick.

Prayer not only is the foundation of the Walk and witness to the Gospel of Life, but it also changes hearts.

Hamrick recounted a story from a previous Walk for Life where a woman approached her looking angry. She said the woman looked her squarely in the eyes and said, “I was your opposition. For the first time, this year, I’m walking with you.”

“We try to have both the spiritual and the physical presence—but the spiritual presence to accompany the person who is thinking about abortion, that changes their heart,” said Hamrick. “Having both, I think, is crucial. That’s why I love to see the church packed. It’s a good crowd.”

Lisa Hamrick prays at St. Dominic’s during Adoration following the Walk for Life Vigil Mass.

The message of prayerful encounter and witness to the uniqueness and beauty of each human life was echoed by Sister of Life  Magnificat Rose who provided a reflection during Adoration following the vVigil Mass

“Who we are, at the core of our being, is gift. God chose you. Love willed you into existence. He created you unique. There will never be another you. And you weren’t just created to survive and push through this life, but to have abundant life, eternal life, with Him. Your life has meaning, it has purpose, and you’re called to greatness.”

Sr. Magnificat Rose went on to share a story of a teenage girl named Brittany who would visit a nursing home regularly. Each time she visited, she would play cards with the same elderly woman. One day while they were playing cards, the woman told Britany that she was thinking about assisted suicide. The elderly woman felt like she was a burden and that no one really cared about her. Brittany, stunned by the woman’s pain and vulnerable admission, said with tears in her eyes, “Who would I play cards with every time I come? I love our conversations, and I love being around you.” The woman reconsidered her decision.

“Each of our lives affects another’s,” said Sr. Magnificat Rose.

Sisters of Life visiting from Colorado and Arizona are pictured at St. Dominic’s following the Walk for Life Vigil Mass.

At the Walk for Life Mass the following morning, the Most Reverend Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, also spoke about the call to greatness. Addressing the young people as the “pro-life generation,” the Archbishop challenged them to live a life of virtue and sacrifice in building a culture of life, taking St. Agnes as a model.

“Greatness does not come from power or wealth, or from what St. Paul calls wisdom by human standards….It comes from being foolish enough to be chosen by God to shame the wise of this world, that is, those who perpetrate the destructive myths of the culture of death; by being weak enough to shame the strong, having the spiritual strength to speak truth to power and endure the ridicule, insults and rejection that will come with it; by being lowly, humble and even despised so that God can use you to bring down those who are high and mighty in the eyes of the world but who, by word and example, lead others down the path of self-destruction.  Greatness comes from the humility, innocence and spiritual strength that enables one to become a lamb of sacrifice.

Let the teenager St. Agnes be your model, your guide, and your inspiration.  Imitate her virtues of purity, courage, and joy in living her life for the love of Christ.  Like her and St. Paul, let your only boast be our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His all for us, for our sanctification and redemption, even though He did not stand to receive anything in return.  May He be praised forever!  Amen!”

Archbishop Cordileone at the Walk for Life Mass on Jan. 21, 2023.

Mary Powers is the Assistant Director Communications and Media Relations for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Photos: Dennis Callahan and Mary Powers, Archdiocese of San Francisco

Read more about the Walk for Life Mass and walk.