By Gibbons J. Cooney
Throughout the week leading up to San Francisco’s 8th Annual Walk for Life West Coast, weather forecasters had predicted the arrival of first major storm of the season. The predictions seemed all too accurate as on Friday January 20 the storm roared into the bay area, bringing high winds, driving rain, and localized flooding. Severe weather alerts were in effect for all bay area counties. Rain continued to fall until nearly dawn on Saturday, January 21.
But as the Saturday sun rose, the winds drove the clouds out of San Francisco and the 8th Annual Walk for Life West Coast began under sunny, clear skies.
The 2012 Walk and Rally for Life began, for the first time, in the heart of San Francisco: the Civic Center Plaza. The new location, larger than the former rally site of Justin Herman Plaza, accommodates the Walk’s ever increasing numbers. The plaza also contains fenced-in playgrounds—a great convenience to the many parents who bring their children to the rally and walk. The playgrounds were being well used by the little ones.
Tens of thousands of dedicated pro-lifers, including bishops from all over the state of California, reverently listened to the invocation given by Greek Orthdox Fr. Aris Metrakos, protopresbyter of San Francisco’s Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, and a longtime champion of life.
Fr. Metrakos was followed by Mrs. Lori Hoye, the wife of pro-life hero the Reverend Walter Hoye, who shared her story, and her special concern for the devastation abortion has caused in the African-American community. Mrs. Hoye was joined on stage by the Sisters of Life.
Mrs. Hoye was followed by OB-GYN Dr. Vansen Wong. Dr. Wong, in his surgical scrubs, was joined on the stage by other pro-life doctors and health professionals. He opened by asking the crowd “If you have taken the life of another human being, raise your hand.” He then revealed that he had previously worked as abortionist, ending the lives of hundreds of unborn babies over a seven year span, but added “What changed is that God got a hold of me….I now regret the loss of every single precious life.” Dr. Wong described his current work as a pro-life physician, and closed by saying “Abortion is intolerable, irrational, and it has no place in civilized society.”
Dr. Wong was followed by Ms. Jacquie Stalnaker, a spokesperson and national coordinator for Silent No More Awareness Campaign. Ms. Stalnaker, a former Miss West Virginia, related an horrific story of being forced by her then-boyfriend, at gunpoint, to an abortion clinic. There, she suffered an abortion while under the impression that she was merely undergoing an examination. To this day, she said, she remembers the abortionist and nurse starting by saying “You have a band-aid problem” and finishing by saying, as she was in terrible pain, “wait, just one more part…” As soon as the “procedure” was finished, Ms. Stalnaker was released, and collapsed in the streets. She was in a hospital for three days. She “survived” but described the 24 year-toll the experience caused. She now devotes her life to helping women in similar situations.
The rally closed with an exhortation by the Reverend Clenard Childress one of America’s great orators. “You are the candle…you are the light…you are the salt of the earth,” Childress told the crowd. “This is more than a pro-life movement. This is a holy spirit movement because the spirit addresses evil.”
Walkers then proceeded down Market Street. The new route, through the heart of San Francisco, provided far more exposure to the Walk, and had some unanticipated benefits. The tall buildings greatly magnified the volume of chants and singing of the walkers until the city’s financial district resounded with pro-life drums, chants, prayers and songs. The chants of the Walkers could be heard at a distance of at least half a mile away. Serious estimates vary from 40-55,000 attendees. Videotape made at the end of the Walk showed tightly packed marchers on Market Street passing for one hour and 10 minutes.
As always, the hallmark of the walk for Life West Coast was the presence of the young. From Thomas Aquinas College, John Paul the Great University, St. Mary’s High school in Phoenix, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, from Stanford University, from USF, and from other boschools and churches all over the western United States and beyond. Devany Anie, a freshman at John Paul the Great University, was there. This is the first time she has attended the Walk for Life West Coast, although she has attended a number of the Marches for Life in Washington DC. She offered a simple and clear explanation for her presence “I am passionate about the issue of abortion, and the dignity of life from conception to natural death. We must stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. We have to be here as a physical witness.”
As of Sunday morning, the cold rain and wind had returned. But the Eighth Annual Walk for Life West Coast was over.