In San Francisco: Standing up for life 350 miles from home
Neither rain nor distance nor hard floors nor more-aggressive-than-in-the-past protestors could deter more than 200 Thomas Aquinas College students --- more than half the student body --- from joining more than 50,000 others in the eighth annual Walk for Life West Coast held Jan. 21 in San Francisco.
Indeed, the 350-mile, seven-hour trek from their Santa Paula campus --- in chartered buses and private cars --- has become an annual event for many students at the small liberal arts college that promotes fidelity to the faith through a curriculum that emphasizes the great philosophers and thinkers of civilization, and teaches the importance of how to dialogue and encounter one another intellectually.
On Jan. 20, following the end of classes, students (accompanied by chaplains) drove on a rainy Highway 101 to San Francisco, where they stayed at several host parishes (including Sts. Peter and Paul in Little Italy) and took part in all-night adoration vigils at various churches.
“Yeah, we slept on floors,” chuckled Chris Sebastian, a 21-year-old junior from Michigan. “Not the most comfortable thing to do, but we’re willing to make the sacrifice. It’s a hardship that can be offered up, because we’re willing to stand up for life.”
Not simply stand up, but walk several miles through downtown San Francisco, a city not known for hospitality to those representing viewpoints described in the secular media as “conservative.” And this year, protestors against the life-walkers seemed not only more numerous but more vocal, according to some students.
“This is the first time I’d ever seen the protestors this aggressive,” noted Andrea Florez of Chico, a 32-year-old sophomore who --- as a youth minister in her Northern California hometown --- had participated in this march a half-dozen times. “Up ahead of us, in fact, there seemed to be an altercation with some protestors trying to break through the barriers. So we tried not to engage them, but to simply smile, pray and sing. It really brought into focus what the purpose of the walk was all about.”
Before participating in the walk, students attended Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral that Saturday morning, and then made their way to the Civic Center for the march to Justin Herman Plaza. As in years past, Thomas Aquinas College students were asked to assist event organizers with security during the Walk for Life.
One of those was Sebastian, who held a rosary during the walk and, like his fellow walkers, was surprised at how the protestors “seemed so angry, using, let’s say, irrational words to complain about what we were doing --- like ‘get out of our city, we don’t want you here.’ I told people, ‘Don’t confront them, just smile.’ We’re not fighting them; we’re fighting the evil of abortion, but it saddens me when people seem so driven by hate.”
“For me, seeing the protestors was a personal motivation to proclaim the sanctity of life,” added Kayla Kermode, a senior from Michigan participating in her third San Francisco Walk for Life. “As a Catholic, I feel that the right to life needs to be protected. Our goal was to be a presence of joy, to be a witness for life, to stand up for our cause and our faith. And to have 55,000 people walking together, not yelling back but proudly standing up for the dignity of human life, was a very powerful response.”
On Sunday, after attending Mass at various parishes, students traveled back to campus the following day to prepare for a new week of classes. And, to commit to returning to San Francisco next year.
“I definitely will do it again,” said Sebastian, who as a teenager travelled to Washington, D.C., for the nation’s largest March for Life. “The march in D.C. has maybe ten times as many people, and nowhere near as many protestors, but this one in San Francisco is getting larger every year, and you can’t help but be energized and motivated because you have a wonderful chance to witness for life.”
Florez, whose work as a youth minister has strengthened her belief in “the goodness of sex within the sacrament of marriage,” said she will continue to participate in the walk as well as other efforts which promote a culture of life. “It’s all about praying for a conversion of hearts,” she said.