A Walk for Life conversion story

San Francisco – a rough city
TAC students at the Walk

TAC students at the Walk

The following diary by Michael Masteller was published January 29 on Zenit.com.

My own walk for life started before I had even left the campus of Thomas Aquinas College.  For me, it was the sermon that one of our college chaplains gave Friday morning before we left that began this journey.  It was the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul that we were celebrating.  In his sermon, Fr. Illo compared our drive to San Francisco with St. Paul’s trip to Damascus.  He stressed that we should concentrate on our journey as a pilgrimage, and that just as St. Paul was converted, we too should be converted and strive to make this a prayerful event.

Although there was no doubt about our mission—we were going to march for life and stand up for the rights of the unborn—I was glad Fr. Illo clarified what this meant.  It is easy to participate in an external way; it’s the internal participation that is a bit more difficult.  We were not going merely to enjoy the city, nor to convert abortionists; we were embarking on a journey of prayer and penance to bear witness to the Truth and hopefully to be changed by this experience.

With this in mind, we set off for San Francisco after classes in two buses, with many more students taking their own cars.  Our drive went very smoothly.  We amused ourselves with sleeping and watching Star Wars movies; to keep a balance in the force, we also prayed a rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet to keep ourselves focused on our mission.

We arrived in the city around midnight and all piled into the basement gymnasia of Saints Peter and Paul church, which was generously opened for us to use as a temporary dormitory for our weekend stay.  One could not ask for a better location:  not only were we within walking distance of downtown and other popular parts of the city, we also had access to Adoration all night.  After we got situated in the basement, many students went upstairs to the church to pray and prepare ourselves for the Walk for Life the next day.  It was very peaceful praying in the dead of night, and it was comforting to know that many people in various churches throughout the city were also praying through the night for the same cause.

The next morning we headed to St. Mary’s Cathedral for the pro-life Mass.  As we approached the cathedral, we could see that the whole block was surrounded with buses dropping off people for Mass.  I was lucky to get a seat, for the Cathedral was literally packed to the walls, and many people had to stand in the back.  As Mass started, the procession of priests and bishops stretched further than I could see.  The sermon was given by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who focused on the same theme that our chaplain had set out for us.  The heart of the archbishop’s sermon was that the best way to convert and change people is through our own holiness, that it is only through changing our own hearts that we will be able to change the hearts of others.  I felt this was not a coincidence, and I began to see this idea of self-conversion as a theme for this Walk.

Archbishop Vigano with Stephanie and Khya, mother and baby saved by sidewalk counselors

Archbishop Vigano with Stephanie and Khya, mother and baby saved by Sacramento sidewalk counselors

After Mass, we headed to the City Hall at Justin Herman Plaza where the march would begin.  When we arrived there were already many people assembled; during the rally I heard mentioned that we were about 50,000 strong.  All of us were encouraged by our numbers, but the best encouragement of all was when Pope Benedict XVI’s representative, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Vigano, read a blessing that the Pope had given specifically for our march.  As we got under way, Thomas Aquinas College students were honored by leading the Walk for Life with the responsibility of keeping a good pace and formation for the rest of the walk.  While in past years we had to worry about pushing through protestors, this year we had a fleet of police cars and motorcycles to pave the way for us down Market Street and through downtown.

Once the walk got started, we began to sing religious hymns and patriotic songs, and with each one I felt that we were becoming more unified.  After about ten minutes we began to hear loud shouts, and in the distance we could see people gathering to protest our march.  I braced myself, for having been in the Walk before, I knew what to expect from these protestors.  As we drew closer, I could not help but feel a certain heaviness come over me.  Having so much anger and hate being directed at you is not an easy thing, especially when it is entirely unjust.  But we raised our voices in song, and with smiles, pushed through.  There was a stark contrast between the wild ferocity and anger of the protesters and our calm peacefulness and prayer.

There was one protestor’s banner that stuck out from all the rest.  On it was written: “This walk hates women!”  Naturally, my first response was to think: “That’s a lie! Clearly we treat women better than you do.”  Just then, though, the words of Fr. Illo and Archbishop Cordileone appeared in my mind.  I knew that even though we might not commit abortions, we are not totally innocent of dishonoring women—we too are guilty and stand in need of conversion.  Even if we might not be guilty of committing this sin of abortion, how many of us have neglected to defend women from being dishonored?  For myself, I knew that I could be doing a better job at this, for it is usually through a lack of loving on my part that others are not brought to see the Truth.

I could not shake off this thought the rest of the day.  I knew that what had been presented to me was more than a chance to participate in an annual Walk for Life—I was shown another way to be pro-life:  to be pro-life with one’s whole life.  To walk once a year is not enough to relieve us of our obligation to fight abortion.  Our lives must be a witness to the truth, the goodness, and the beauty that can be found in Christ’s love.  Yet for us to radiate all this, a greater conversion through prayer and penance is needed.

Later that night, I went with a group of friends to an Italian restaurant for dinner.  As we were about to leave, a man there asked us what group we were and why we were here.  We told him that we were students of Thomas Aquinas College and that we had come to San Francisco for the Walk for Life.  He responded by saying he admired our courage for coming to such a rough city in order to stand up for the truth, and we could see that our actions had a deep impact on him.  He told us that it is hard for him and others to stand up in such an aggressively backward city, and that he was strengthened by our example.  He told us that he was filled with hope to see that there were still people who were willing to step up and defend life….

* * *

Michael Masteller is a member of the class of 2013 at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California.

To read original story, click here.




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  1. Abeca Christian says:

    This is a beautiful piece of writing! It was uplifting and is inspirational!

    Sometimes we have some of our elders that when they were young, they would of fight for the unborn more, but after years of being run down from feeling like in a rut from standing up for life and seeing no positive results in this culture of death, I’m sure when they see our youth standing up for life, it brings back their youthfulness and re-ignites in them that yearning once again to get up and do more, it just takes something this positive to light up that fire once again.

    Re-kindle us Oh Lord so that we never grow weary fighting the good fight, thank you for using the right people to encourage us once again to get up and keep going. A little encouragement once in a while, really helps. Thank you CalCatholic for your passion to report these beautiful, encouraging and hope fulled articles!

  2. Maryanne Leonard says:

    This story brought tears to my eyes. This is why you want to send your precious children to Thomas Aquinas College, my friends. They are worth it.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      That is true Maryanne. It’s always up to them, if they get the grade point to attend and if it’s part of their career path. : )

  3. God Bless all those who attended the march for life in SFO or DC. We should all start planning now to attend the march closest to us next January, 2014.

    Over 55,000,000 innocents have been murdered and tortured in the USA since 1973. This is pure evil.

  4. What a wonderful testimony “I believe that the future for unborn babies and the protection of women will be in good hands.” Thank you Michael for your witness!

  5. Editor — thank YOU for printing such a beautiful testimony to one student’s experience!

    Good for the soul!!!

  6. …and speaking of conversions, look at what the Church of England is doing with THEIR new leader, THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY:

    Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, a father of six and onetime oil company executive who became an Anglican priest in 1992 and Bishop of Durham in 2011, was confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury on February 4. In comments made to reporters, Welby, who supports the ordination of women bishops but opposes the ordination of homosexual bishops, stated that he stood with the Anglican episcopate in its opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

    {from Catholic World News on Febr. 5, 2013}

  7. There was a stark contrast between the wild ferocity and anger of the protesters and our calm peacefulness and prayer… a perfect example of showing how the satanic influences the pro-abortion thugs.

  8. The man in the restaurant said, “….that it is hard for him and others to stand up in such an aggressively backward city.” Well said. When will the “progressives” and “enlightened” ones realize that their behaviors are in line with the heathens of past centuries. How many of these people realize that truly they are living in an aggressively backward city?

    • Every city is a mess.

      If they had been walking in Bahgdad, they would have been shot or blown up.

      Same thing in Aleppo.

      Every city needs conversion, including the cities of Orange County, Podunk County, and Weedpatch — near Bakersfield.

  9. What a wonderfully inspiring and uplifting story! Thank you Michael Masteller!

    “Each of you has a personal vocation which He has given you for your own joy and sanctity. When a person is conquered by the fire of His gaze, no sacrifice seems too great to follow Him and give Him the best of ourselves. This is what the saints have always done, spreading the light of the Lord … and transforming the world into a welcoming home for everyone.”
    ― Pope Benedict XVI

  10. annienonimouse says:

    You are a “Master story teller”

  11. Despite the sinning that goes on in San Francisco, St. Francis doesn’t like having his city dissed. A native San Franciscan and daughter of an 1890 born San Franciscan.

  12. The world will get serious about abortion when WE get serious about abortion.

    The top photo does not express any sense of concern in the minds of these students for the murder of the unborn that’s going on all around them. But that’s not really the fault of these young people because they have few examples to follow; this is so typical of the attitude of the people at the San Francisco Walk for Life — just a big social outing, field trip or political rally.

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