LOS ANGELES (CNS) — One of the country’s top African-American Christian leaders and head of the fifth largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. urged more than 15,000 Southern Californians to “stand for justice for the unborn” and “proclaim that all babies deserve the right to life.”
“Abortion is the deliberate destruction of a human being before birth,” said Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop of the . “As such, it is contrary both to biblical principle and to natural law, both of which prohibit the taking of innocent human life.”
“Our commitment as Christians to defending human dignity and proclaiming the equal rights of all impels us to speak out forcefully against abortion,” the bishop said in remarks to kick off OneLife LA Jan. 23 in downtown Los Angeles.
OneLife LA is the only large-scale event that celebrates the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez welcomed the crowd and also addressed the event, which drew a diverse roster of local and international speakers and celebrities. Afterward, the archbishop celebrated a “One Life, One Light Requiem for the Unborn” Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
The special Mass included a candlelight memorial with 220 candles representing each unborn baby of Los Angeles in 2015.
In his remarks, Bishop Blake said that the black faith community feels a special responsibility to speak out against the destruction of innocent life.
“For centuries in America, our people have been victims of the denial of human dignity and equal rights. Even after the abolition of slavery, we were treated in law and practice as inherently inferior because of our race,” he said. “This was manifested in an appalling variety of ways.
“When we speak out in defense of completely vulnerable babies, we do so from conviction shaped by the tragic experience of the black community in the United States.”
That human embryos are human beings “in the earliest stages of their natural development” is “no mere sectarian religious conviction or piece of metaphysical speculation,” he said. “It is a fact of science fully demonstrated by the disciplines of human embryology and developmental biology.”
“Each of us acquired human rights, including the right to life, at conception since this is the point at which we became human. From the embryonic stage forward, each of us has been a human being,” Bishop Blake said.
The Church of God in Christ, he said, holds that “just as we condemn discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and sex, so too we must condemn discrimination based on age, size, stage of development and condition of dependency.”
“Abortion treats the lives of the most dependent members of the human family as inferior, subhuman creatures,” he added.
Abortion “undermines the sacred trust of motherhood,” he said. The bishop said fathers as well as mothers must fulfill their responsibility to their family, ,but at the same time all churches must reach out to help women in need.
“All of us must do everything we can to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies,” he said. “And we must provide financial, emotional and practical support for those who must bear children in poverty, or under other challenging circumstances. The support we offer must be long term and systemic to meet a wide variety of needs that mothers and their children will face.”
Organizers of OneLife LA said the event is inspired by the example of Pope Francis and seeks to promote a culture of life, where every human life is valued, especially the marginalized.
This year’s theme was “Who Do You Live For?”
“OneLife LA means sharing the love of God with others — especially those who are poor and forgotten, and those who are alone and excluded,” said Archbishop Gomez. “With God’s love — there are no boundaries, no borders, no barriers.
“Let’s keep building our friendships and together let us build a Los Angeles that welcomes life and serves life and celebrates life,” he said.
International pop star Alexander Acha took the stage to introduce keynote speaker, Nick Vujicic, who travels around the world sharing his challenges and blessings despite being born without limbs. He spoke about his passion for life and achieving victory over his struggles through faith.
“If God can use a man without arms and legs to be his hands and feet, then he will certainly use any willing heart,” said Vujicic, who founded the nonprofit organization Life Without Limbs when he was 17.
A local hero, retired Los Angeles public school teacher, Millicent “Mama” Hill spoke about founding Mama Hill’s Help out of her living room in the Watts section of Los Angeles to keep kids off the streets and focused on education.
The public also got a sneak peek of “The True Meaning of Love,” a short film written, produced and directed by international Latina actress and pro-life advocate Karyme Lozano.
In his homily at the requiem Mass, Archbishop Gomez said the day “was a great time for laughing and dancing — a beautiful, joyful celebration of the Gospel of life and God’s plan of love for creation.”
But he noted there was “a darker, quieter beauty to our liturgy tonight, as tonight we mourn the lives that will never be — because of abortion.”
“We weep tonight, not only for these little ones who were lost. We weep for their mothers and fathers<” he continued. “We weep for our city and our country — where the routine taking of innocent life goes on every day, year-in and year-out. Even as we worship tonight, more innocent lives are being claimed by the evil of abortion.”
Archbishop Gomez urged the congregation to pledge to work together and prayer together “in the memory of these little ones … until our society is free from every slavery and every injustice, every poverty and every form of exclusion.”
“This is our beautiful duty, our beautiful calling, my brothers and sisters,” he said.
He called for building “a great force of love in the world.”
“Love can begin again in every moment. All we need to do is open our hearts, and open our eyes to see — the beauty of human life, the sanctity of the human person, the mystery of the love of God,” he said.
Tying the pro-life event to the Year of Mercy, he said, “We need to restore the sense of mercy in our own lives and in our society. Mercy for those who make mistakes. Mercy for those who are inconvenient and unexpected. Mercy for those who impose a burden on our way of life.”
He urged those at the Mass to ask Mary “to help us to follow Jesus and proclaim his Gospel of life. Until death is no more and every tear is wiped away. And our mourning is turned into joy.”