[Editor’s note: Though the country’s largest pro-life rally each year is the annual March for Life, set for next Saturday, Jan. 27, in Washington, there’s a companion event on the West Coast taking place today. Called “OneLife LA“, the event is expected to draw thousands of people to Exposition Park in Los Angeles for a bilingual program with speakers including Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza and actress Patricia Heaton. Here, Charles Camosy speaks with Kathleen Buckley Domingo, who runs the pro-life stuff in the office of Life, Justice, and Peace for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, about the event.]

Crux: Many Crux readers will not know that the West Coast has already had your “March for Life.” How does it compare with the March for Life in Washington D.C.?

Buckley Domingo: From the beginning, OneLife LA has been different because LA is different. LA, for better or worse, is known for being the heart of our cultural narrative.  Archbishop Gomez had a vision that we could use this model to shift the conversation on life issues. Rather than a rally or a protest, OneLife LA is a celebration that embodies civilization the way it ought to be.

We gather people from every community in Southern California and together give thanks for the great gift of human life in every form and at every stage. We dance and sing; we eat from food trucks! And, we listen to the stories of everyday people who have come to understand their inherent dignity in a way that changed their lives and allows them to now live for others.

OneLife LA is purposefully not just an event but a catalyst for life-affirming action. We invite hand-picked Community Partners each year whose organizations provide direct service to the homeless, foster youth, pregnant women, at-risk families, human trafficking victims, and immigrants.

Participants are challenged to volunteer for upcoming service days in their own communities to help those in need. We follow Pope Francis’s call to get our hands dirty and St. Teresa of Calcutta’s lead to help those in need right outside our front doors first.

To someone walking by, OneLife LA might look like any other family festival taking place on a sunny January Saturday in LA. But, the difference couldn’t be more clear. We are all brothers and sisters together realizing that living our own humanity means realizing the humanity in each person, pre-born or elderly, blessed with perfect health or given a special need. We are all in this together.

And, we only come to fully be ourselves in the giving of ourselves for the good of the other.

The March for Life in D.C. has a theme every year. Did you guys have a theme as well?

Our 2017 theme is “Choose Love,” and we’re having a bit of fun with it. We have set out to beat the world record for the most people forming the shape of a heart!

A bit of a stunt, maybe, but a great way to physically overcome the feeling so many people in the pro-life community have of working “alone.” We hear it all the time, especially in California, and especially after this intense political season. People made to feel that their belief in the right of all people to live is out of touch, or worse, discriminatory or bigoted. Instead, we are choosing love!

But, we have to fill that word with an authentic meaning so it’s not cheesy. Don’t just tell me love is willing the good of the other, show me!

I often hear the following critique of big gatherings like this: “Well, you guys got a lot of people to show up, but this doesn’t really do anything productive.” How would you respond to this?

I have to admit that I sometimes agree with that critique. There are people for whom the sum total of their annual pro-life activity is attending a march or a protest. And, while there is something good about taking a public stand, it doesn’t often end up changing hearts and minds.

OneLife LA is not a protest. Instead, we focus on what we are for. We attempt to model what a culture of life would look and act like. And, we’ve seen amazing results. We are partnering with life-affirming service organizations who would never usually partner with anti-abortion groups.

Best of all, we have developed relationships with city and county agencies who see us as partners with whom they can work for solutions to issues such as human trafficking, homelessness, and foster youth in need of homes.

We have seen countless young adults become energized in a movement they never thought would appeal to or include them. 40 Days for Life campaigns have sprung up; a new comprehensive post abortion healing ministry has been created; and campaigns to stop assisted suicide and end the death penalty saw great influx from people challenged with OneLife LA’s commitment to action.

Many of these same results are happening in other parts of the country too as large-scale protests are realizing that the way to attract people is not always to point to what you are against but to guide people to what you are for.

Trump’s campaign for president highlighted some deep divides in the pro-life community. Do you think something like OneLife LA can work to heal those divides and work toward unity?

OneLife LA invites all people to celebrate the beauty and dignity of every human life from conception to natural death. From the beginning, OneLife LA has not been about issues but about human dignity. The division over what constitutes an “authentic pro-life position” v. what is simply “anti-abortion” is secondary to the conversation of who we are as persons and what we are made for.

Understanding our communion as sons and daughters of our almighty Father, all created for eternal life, puts the fight against abortion or advocacy for trafficking victims in its proper context. Can an event such as OneLife LA accomplish a complete cultural shift such as this? We don’t know.

But, we believe that it is the right place to start and the best goal to have.

If Crux readers would like to attend and/or otherwise support the Walk next year, what’s the best way for them to do so?

OneLife LA is best experienced in person. For our third year, we are welcoming people from cities across the US who want to see what we do here with the goal of replicating it in their own cities. To find out more about OneLife LA, come join us!