SAN DIEGO – The ninth annual San Diego Walk for Life has had to make some big changes to comply with COVID-19 safety rules.
But the event’s organizers have decided to roll with them – literally.
The centerpiece of the annual pro-life gathering, a prayerful walk along a half-mile route in Balboa Park, will be replaced this year by a caravan of cars festooned with life-affirming messages that will circle the block in downtown San Diego where the County Administration Building is located.
With the procession led by a mobile ultrasound vehicle from Silent Voices, a pregnancy care center in Chula Vista, the caravan is scheduled to take place from 1-1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16. Participants will simply merge into the caravan as it travels clockwise around the block bounded by Ash Street, North Harbor Drive, Grape Street and Pacific Highway.
The caravan will be the conclusion of a weeklong hybrid event – another significant change for the San Diego Walk for Life, which previously had been a one-day affair that included a line-up of dynamic speakers, musical entertainment, and an assortment of exhibitor booths. This year’s event will run from Jan. 11 to 16 and include webinars, a concert and Masses celebrated by two of San Diego’s bishops.
As of press time, because of another surge in COVID-19 cases in December, the coordinators of Imperial Valley’s Walk for Life were uncertain whether they would be able to host an event this year.
Roger Lopez, a member of the pro-life community for more than 15 years, is overseeing the caravan portion of the San Diego Walk for Life.
Lopez, who was “heartbroken” that the annual Good Friday Pro-Life Stations of the Cross had to be canceled last March because of COVID-19, is glad that the Walk for Life did not suffer the same fate.
“I’m very happy that we came up with an alternative because it would be very sad to see the continuity broken,” said Lopez, who predicts that the caravan might also attract even more attention than the traditional walk was able to do.
“I think our exposure and public witness may actually be higher with the car caravan,” he said.
Those interested in participating are asked to register at sandiegowalkforlife.org, so that organizers will have a sense of how many vehicles to expect. The website will include information, such as sample car decorations and a list of do’s and don’ts. For example, participants are asked not to use any graphic signs.
After signing up, caravan participants will receive a link to a Zoom call so that they can join in prayer with the other drivers and passengers. The caravan is also expected to be livestreamed, so that the event can be experienced virtually.
“I’m glad that we can have this event with the circumstances that we are living,” said Maria Valencia, associate director of the diocesan Office for Life, Peace and Justice, with a focus on the culture of life.
Valencia, who heads the San Diego Walk for Life Planning Committee, said, “We want to take this opportunity to join as a faithful community to celebrate life, to pray for life and, at the same time, to publicly stand up for the more vulnerable, the unborn, as we commemorate the Roe v. Wade anniversary.”
The theme of this year’s San Diego Walk for Life is “Never Alone: Meeting Their Needs at Every Turn.” Various aspects of that theme will explored in a series of one-hour webinars in English, Monday to Wednesday, Jan. 11-13, beginning at 7 p.m. A Spanish webinar will be held at the same time on Friday, Jan. 15.
On Thursday, Jan. 14, in place of a webinar, there will be a virtual concert at 7 p.m., featuring Christian singer and songwriter Ryan Ellis.
On Saturday, Jan. 16, before the car caravan, both Bishop Robert McElroy and Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan will celebrate outdoor Masses at 10 a.m. – Bishop McElroy at The Immaculata Parish on the campus of the University of San Diego and Bishop Dolan at Cathedral Catholic High School.
Both liturgies will be bilingual. Those attending one of the Masses in person are asked to wear a face mask, bring a chair and put on blue clothing in a show of solidarity. The liturgies also will be livestreamed at sdcatholic.org/walkforlife.
Because the San Diego Walk for Life is an ecumenical event, non-denominational prayer services will also be conducted at 10 a.m. on Jan. 16 for non-Catholic participants.
Lynda MacFarland’s first experience with the San Diego Walk for Life was last January, when she attended the event only about a week after she and her husband moved to San Diego. Within five months, she was the newest member of the San Diego Walk for Life Planning Committee.
What are the chances that this year’s virtual Walk for Life could have the same impact on first-time participants, serving as the stepping stone to a deeper commitment to the pro-life cause?
“I would actually argue that it’s even more of a possibility this year because of the weeklong webinars,” MacFarland said, noting the ease with which people can go online each night and watch these informative panels on a variety of pro-life topics.
“I almost feel like God has brought beauty from ashes here,” she said, because what would have been a gathering of only a few hours’ duration “is turning into a multi-day event with lots of opportunities for people to learn more about how the pro-life movement supports and loves women and their babies.”
Schedule of Events
Monday, Jan. 11
— 7-8 p.m., Webinar: “A Place for Every Child.” Presented by Noah Homes and Adoption Center of San Diego.
Tuesday, Jan. 12
— 7-8 p.m., Webinar: “Stronger Together.” Presented by Birth Choice and Culture of Life Family Services.
Wednesday, Jan. 13
— 7-8 p.m., Webinar: “Equipping the Church to Serve Their Needs.” How the Church can do to help parents choose life. Presented by Delaiah Luna from Silent Voices.
Thursday, Jan. 14
— 7-7:45 p.m., Virtual concert: “An Evening with Ryan Ellis”
Friday, Jan. 15
— 7-8 p.m., Webinar: “El Poder Divino de la Gracia.” Talk by Astrid Bennett-Gutierrez, executive director of Los Angeles Pregnancy Services (LAPS), on human life and dignity. (Spanish)
Saturday, Jan. 16
— 10-11 a.m., Mass with Bishop Robert McElroy, at The Immaculata Parish (attend outdoor Mass or view livestream)
— 10-11 a.m., Mass with Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan, at Cathedral Catholic High School (attend outdoor Mass or view livestream)
— 10-11 a.m., Evangelical prayer service/sermon, at Memorial Bowl & Park in Chula Vista
— 1-1:30 p.m., Car caravan at County Administration Building in downtown San Diego.