The first annual OneLife LA, heralded as a celebration of the dignity of every human life from conception to natural death, drew thousands from all over Southern California to downtown Los Angeles.

The Jan. 17 event began in the historic La Placita Olvera, where the rapidly growing crowd encircled the gazebo at the plaza's center.

After a prayer from Archbishop José H. Gomez, the assembled crowds began a walk through downtown. They processed along the barricaded route past the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and ended at Grand Park.

OneLife LA posters depicting pregnant women, families, the elderly, and the disabled bobbed above the sea of walkers.

Attendees from every part of Southern California sported t-shirts or carried banners labeled with their home parish, city or organization.

Jessica Bois, who attends Christian Assembly church in Eagle Rock, hoped that the event would raise awareness.

"Obviously people know that the pro-life movement exists, but I appreciate that they are having speakers share their experiences today, especially for those who are uncertain about their views on different life issues."

Ethan Southard, a seminarian in his sixth of seven years of formation at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, has been to the Walk for Life in San Francisco several times, but valued the holistic and celebratory aspects of OneLife LA.

"It's really beautiful. What I really love about this one is the inclusivity of all human life from conception to natural death," Southard said. "We've got the whole city of Los Angeles surrounding us and we're here in the middle just celebrating life."

Beyond the food trucks at the park's entrance, many of the walkers unfurled blankets upon the grass. To escape the intense sunshine some sought shade behind the sparse foliage of the trees in Grand Park.

Community organizations focused on dignity of life issues set up booths along Grand Park's perimeter to encourage future volunteers.

Sylvia Aimerito, beloved LA DJ most recently from KEARTH, emceed a program of speakers and musical performances on the main stage in front of Los Angeles City Hall.

Archbishop Gomez started the program with his opening address, in which he summarized the purpose of the event.

"In God's eyes, no one is a stranger. And there are no lives that are not worth living. No lives that we can leave behind or throw away. That is the beautiful truth that we are here to celebrate today. That's what OneLife LA is all about."

One of the speakers, actor Eduardo Verastegui, recounted how he dissuaded a young mother from terminating her pregnancy while researching his role in the movie "Bella" at an abortion clinic.

"I never thought in a million years that by me going there to do my homework as an actor I was going to be used by the grace of God as an instrument to save a life."

Inspired by this miracle, Verastegui proceeded to found a pro-life pregnancy clinic in Los Angeles.

Brandi Moore, 22, recounted how she bounced between different homes within the LA foster care system. Having miraculously survived her attempted suicide, Moore now promotes mentorship programs for foster children through KidSave, the organization that encouraged and supported her.

"I intended to take my life that day, but the universe had other plans for me," Moore said. "That day woke me up and made me realize that I'm on this earth for a reason. That day made me realize that I have a purpose, and I just have to figure it out."

Ryan Bomberger, who served as the event's keynote speaker, is co-founder of The Radiance Foundation, a life-affirming organization that addresses social issues through media content. Bomberger, an adoptee and adoptive father, tied together many of the event's themes by emphasizing the value and beauty of each individual life.

"We live in a culture that is deceived into thinking that we can define the value of human life. All we have to do is look at history and see what happens when men or women or governmental institution decides who has value and who doesn't. It's not exactly a good turnout: the Holocaust, slavery, and abortion in America."

The audience enjoyed performances from musicians Paulina Cerrilla and Miriam Jackeline Solis. The event concluded with a concert performed by Josh Garrels, a singer-songwriter originally from South Bend, Ind., whose orchestral folk music incorporates Christian themes.

Among those in attendance was Lisa Ebiner Gavit, who founded USC Students for Life and served as president for two years. Now a graduate student, she has retired from that role but still lends support at pro-life events.

"As college students, we face a lot of bias on campus, especially from fellow peers. We've been openly mocked in class for what we do. So it's really inspiring to see all the support, especially from young people."

Clyde Allen from St. Peter Claver Parish in Simi Valley came with his wife, youngest child, and two buses full of fellow parishioners, all wearing matching t-shirts imprinted with the OneLife LA logo. Allen said his hope is "that we expose our youth to an awareness and understanding of the importance of respecting life."

Nearly 20 of the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Los Angeles were in attendance. They came from all over the greater L.A. area, some from as far as Orange County. One sister, who requested to remain nameless, spoke of the significance of the event for her order.

"Our community is very focused on the dignity of life, especially at the end of life, because we run a skilled nursing facility in Duarte. This is what we live and breathe every day so we wanted to support that, because it's part of who we are."

Sandra Proaño-Montañez and her husband Esteban (a Knight of Columbus) are parents to five children. For years they had wished to attend pro-life events such as the March for Life in D.C., an almost impossible undertaking for a large family on the West Coast. They were delighted to learn that Los Angeles would be hosting its own pro-life event and they showed up with the whole family.

"This is an opportunity for us to surface ourselves in the midst of such a progressive city," said Sandra, commenting on her children's excitement at encountering other large families at the event.

"We've never been able to show our public support for something as meaningful as this. So we're just completely on board and excited."

Both Sandra and Esteban are teachers in downtown L.A. Often they must contend with scorn from their coworkers for their pro-life opinions.

But Sandra recalled the hopeful message voiced by Patricia Heaton, Emmy-award winning actress and one of OneLife LA's featured speakers. Heaton quoted Winston Churchill: "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

Reprinted with permission from Angelus News, the online publication of LA's archdiocesan newspaper, The Tidings.