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Pivotal moment for San Diego Walk for Life

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SAN DIEGO — The 10th annual San Diego Walk for Life couldn’t come at a more critical time for the pro-life movement, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers its first major abortion case in decades.

In mid-January, when an estimated 3,000 people will converge on Waterfront Park, it will have been about a month and a half since the court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Recent changes in the make-up of the court, including the appointment of three justices by the pro-life Trump Administration, have given pro-life advocates hope that this case might return to states the power to restrict or prohibit abortion. The court’s ruling is expected in July.

The San Diego Walk for Life is the region’s largest pro-life event. It will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Jan. 15, at Waterfront Park, located downtown beside the San Diego County Administration Building.

Last year, when the Walk for Life was reimagined as a socially-distanced car caravan in light of the pandemic, about 150 vehicles decorated with pro-life messages drove in procession around Waterfront Park. All previous walks had been held along the western edge of Balboa Park. The relocation to Waterfront Park, an area with heavy traffic, means greater visibility for the event.

The centerpiece will be a half-mile walk with pro-life signs and banners along city sidewalks. There will also be a line-up of inspiring speeches and testimonials, live music, and about 60 exhibitor booths representing an array of pro-life and pro-family organizations.

Shawn Carney, president and co-founder of 40 Days for Life, will deliver the keynote address. Other speakers will include Bishop Robert McElroy; Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano; Dr. George Delgado, medical director of Culture of Life Family Services; and registered nurse Debbie Bradel. Music will be provided by Santiago Fernández, one of the Catholic Church’s leading Spanish-language liturgical composers.

Simultaneous translation into Spanish will be provided for the speeches.

This year’s theme is “Celebrating All Stages of Life.”

“The (pro-life) community is ready to gather again and to celebrate life,” said Maria Valencia, associate director of culture of life in the diocese’s Office for Life, Peace and Justice.

Valencia, who has been involved with the walk since the beginning, noted that the loss of life that many experienced as a result of COVID-19 adds another dimension to this year’s event, serving as a reminder that “life is fragile and invaluable.”

But, as always, the event primarily represents an opportunity “to stand up and to witness for the most vulnerable, which are the unborn,” she said.

Since 2013, the San Diego Walk for Life has been held every year around the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which on Jan. 22, 1973, took away a state’s right to prohibit abortion and established a right to abortion nationwide.

The event took inspiration from the March for Life, which has been held in Washington, D.C., every year since 1974, and the Walk for Life West Coast, which has taken place annually in San Francisco since 2005.

Kent Peters, who retired in 2018 as director of the diocesan Office for Social Ministry, recalled the event’s humble origins as a “grassroots” effort of lay Catholics who felt that San Diego should have its own pro-life walk.

Once it became clear that their idea would come to fruition, Peters said, the diocese “jumped in with both feet.” Today, it continues to be one of the main organizers of the annual event.

Planning for the San Diego Walk for Life is overseen by a 10-member committee that meets every month of the year. Within two months of each year’s walk, committee members already are discussing themes and possible speakers for the next year’s.

Over the past decade, the San Diego Walk for Life has produced many memorable moments.

For example, in 2017, there had been talk of canceling the event after several days of heavy rain and a forecast predicting even more on the morning of the walk.

Peters recalled visiting the site in the late afternoon of the preceding day and seeing large, muddy puddles throughout the area where participants would gather and where the stage and exhibitor booths were to be erected.

“It was like a giant swimming pool,” Peters said, humorously making allusions to the biblical account of Moses parting the Red Sea.

Fortuitously, the puddles were gone the next morning, Peters said, describing it as “a miracle” that the walk was able to proceed that year.

Even so, there was a torrential downpour. Organizers distributed hundreds of disposable rain ponchos, while other participants bundled up in hooded jackets or stood beneath umbrellas.

“We still had a huge turnout (that year),” recalled Roger Lopez, leader of the local chapter of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, who has been involved with the San Diego Walk for Life since its inaugural year.

“It showed that people are dedicated and, if they want to attend the event, weather is not going to stop them,” he said.

Lopez said that pro-life advocates tend to feel that theirs is “a minority view.” But when they see the large number of like-minded people at the Walk for Life, he said, it “invigorates” them “to know that they’re not alone.”

For the 2019 walk, organizers decided to spotlight people with Down syndrome. The theme, “All Are Welcome,” was inspired by statistics showing that three-quarters of pregnant women in the United States and more than 90 percent of their counterparts in some European countries choose abortion if prenatal testing suggests that their unborn child will have Down syndrome.

Entertainment that year was provided by twin brothers Tommy and Jimmy Kuebler, who have Down syndrome.

“That particular theme was … very inspiring. I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes,” said Scott Maxwell, a member of the planning committee, who has been involved for all 10 years.

With its new location, this year’s walk seems poised to create even more memories.

“We’ve had a lot of people saying they wanted to see us walking in the streets,” said Lopez. “This is the next closest thing because we’re on the sidewalk along busy streets. We’re going to get a lot of exposure.”

Maxwell said, “As people see us walking with our signs and with several thousand people gathering together, hopefully, that will encourage others to attend next year.”

More information about the San Diego Walk for Life on Jan. 15, 2022, can be found at sdcatholic.org/walkforlife.

Volunteers Needed

The San Diego Walk for Life needs 60 volunteers to set up tables, help exhibitors, collect a free-will offering from attendees, distribute snacks, clean up, and tear down. The volunteer orientation will be held at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 5, at the diocesan Pastoral Center. Refreshments will be provided. Register at https://bit.ly/3cNhpYp. For more information, email mvalencia@sdcatholic.org or call (858) 490-8323.

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