The co-founder of the Walk for Life West Coast shares joy with thousands as the pro-life movement strides toward unity near the Golden Gate Bridge
As the pro-life movement continues to grow worldwide, it is fitting that an immigrant survivor from Hungary should bring a mammoth work of organization across the globe to San Francisco. Eva Muntean, who along with Dolores Meehan co-founded the Walk for Life West Coast, escaped from her native Hungary in the trunk of a car at age nine. The year was 1967 — the Iron Curtain still functioning as Eva’s parents, sister, and brother made their way across the border to Austria. For six months they waited for paperwork, so that they could emigrate to New York. Eva’s father brought his entire family through New York, to settle in Columbus, Indiana where he had an instant job with Cummins Diesel as a mechanical engineer. Bravely struggling with a language barrier and a new country, Eva’s mother stayed at home with the children and gave up her former career as an engineer.
Eva made her First Communion, Reconciliation, and Confirmation in America, but during high school she experienced a “drifting away period.” Her family slowly lost their interest in the Faith, until 1986 when a television show about Medjugorje brought her, her mother, and sister together in a profound time of reversion to the Church. Eva’s sister, who now lives in Texas with her husband and eight children, has been a great inspiration in Eva’s pro-life journey. Several years after that TV viewing, Eva knew that God had called her sister to have a large family, and herself to participate in the generous single life. During the early 1990s, Eva had a friend whose sister became pregnant. Eva wanted to adopt this child, but the woman had an abortion. This made Eva realize that Mother Teresa’s famous statement about children was going unanswered. At the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on February 3rd, 1994, Mother Teresa declared that she would take any unwanted child, anywhere, no matter the difficulty.
“Please don’t kill the child”, she said. “I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted, and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child, and be loved by the child. From our children’s home in Calcutta alone, we have saved over 3,000 children from abortions. These children have brought such love and joy to their adopting parents, and have grown up so full of love and joy!” (www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/teresa94.html)
And people in America were not paying attention to her offer, just as Eva’s offer to adopt was rejected. This gave Eva the impetus to get involved in the pro-life movement, and work to assist, organize, call, and offer aid in whatever capacity she can. Her renewed faith in God led her to San Francisco, a city that she had always dreamed of living in. After a few years of working in real estate with very large compensation, Eva took a hefty pay cut and went to work in her dream job at Ignatius Press. She doesn’t regret a single day, or look back at the money she could have made. In her words, God put her in a place where she was needed, and where she needed to be single in order to do the work that He had planned for her. Her MBA from Indiana State University led her to start at Ignatius Press as an assistant, and work her way up to Marketing Manager. Her faith, in moving from Indiana to California was, as she says, “new, passionate, and fragile, and I wanted to protect it. I was so on fire for the Faith, that I desperately wanted to work for the Church, or for my Faith somehow. Ignatius Press has become my family, and my passion. What has been fruitful for me, and my mental growth is the fact that I have been able to implement some of my learning, and with my MBA I have been able to contribute to the mission of Ignatius Press.”
That first year at the Press, Eva decided to volunteer for the Gift of Love AIDS hospice in San Francisco. During the 1980s, when no one wanted to touch or help the men suffering from AIDS, Mother Teresa sent some of her nuns to begin this hospice for dying patients. The AIDS crisis was projected to be far-reaching, with San Francisco at the epicenter. No one knew how to care for people with AIDS, or even how contagious the disease was; according to Eva, the sisters were invaluable. At Gift of Love, Eva met another volunteer, Dolores Meehan. Dolores would become her friend and co-founder of the Walk for Life West Coast. She and Dolores both attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in 2000. “We were both so moved by the experience, it was just phenomenal. That was the seed — it was such a moving experience. We decided to go back and organize a Marriage Rally in 2004 in uptown San Francisco. We organized it in three weeks.” Marriage was being attacked by the promotion of same-sex couples seeking legal status. After the success of the Marriage Rally, Eva and Dolores decided to organize the Walk for Life. Dolores writes, and Eva organizes this event with a group of committee members whose dedication is becoming legendary.
Many people agreed that it was time for the West Coast to organize an event in support of life. However, to differentiate from the political statement of the March for Life in our country’s capital, the Walk for Life West Coast has a mission in support of education. There are speakers at the beginning of the Walk, and an Info Faire and activities at the end. Any pro-life group is allowed to distribute literature at the Faire, and work to help women overcome the challenges they face with unexpected pregnancies. There are also a growing number of people working to help the rest of the family, such as the husbands and boyfriends, grandparents, and siblings involved in every woman’s decision. It is worth quoting their bold Mission Statement, to gain an understanding of the Walk:
Our purpose is to establish a new West Coast tradition of celebrating life. We call for solidarity among women and all people of good will in affirming human life. Our mission is to change the perceptions of a society that thinks abortion is an answer. Abortion does violence to women and to their children, both physically and emotionally. It harms women and men; it divides families and society. Women – and all people – deserve better than abortion. Our mission in establishing the Walk for Life West Coast is to shed light on all issues of life, but particularly to change
hearts hurt by the violence of abortion. Life is the best and only good choice!
From humble beginnings in 2005 during the first Walk, this event has grown to a conservative estimate of 35,000 people in 2010. It is awfully hard to count people hiding under umbrellas in the rain, which inevitably plagued this last Walk, but volunteers on the ground generously gave their time and tried to count everybody, and project numbers on blocks of people. Eva considers the number of people irrelevant when compared with the solidarity among the disparate groups who have been attending. There are plenty of Hispanics, Latinos, students, children, and others who make a truly colorful banner of humanity coming together for the cause of the unborn and their families. And, in the arena of interesting trivia, the city of Paris, France started a pro-life Walk in the same year as the West Coasters. Paris and San Francisco are now sister cities in this endeavor, with people from Paris actually traveling to the Golden Gate City to participate in the Walk for Life West Coast. Canadians have come out in droves to walk also, from as far away as Toronto.
Eva is excited that people have made the Walk their own by advertising it in their local communities. There were over 165 busloads of people this year, and the west coast, from Bakersfield to Oregon has been extremely supportive. Not just churches, but groups and entire cities have gotten behind the organizers to make it happen.
Thanks is partly due to the dwindling wave of counter-protestors who number only in the low hundreds. In 2005, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Board of Supervisors declared the date of the Walk “Stand Up for Choice Day.” There was a counter rally at City Hall, with Planned Parenthood and other angry feminists in attendance. Newsom even put forth an official San Francisco proclamation, stating that the city was pro-choice. The counter-protestors were encouraged to “throw the pro-lifers out of town,” so to speak, and their behavior was so abominable that even the mainstream media took notice of the flying epithets and fingers. This backfired, of course, and now the powers that be at PP refuse to acknowledge the Walk’s continuing success. Silence is their only option, for who wants to be portrayed yelling at children? And there were plenty of children walking and in strollers as a testimony to the power of love. To see more of the first walk controversy, you can visit http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/01/23/MNGVSAV32H1.DTL. For anyone worried about security, though, Eva hastens to add that there were no problems in 2010, and the San Francisco Police Department has been just wonderful — even with fewer officers due to budget cuts. The Walk also has its own security team.
The best part is that it is getting easier for Eva and Dolores to manage the Walk year after year. There are many generous sponsors, advocates, and even an occasional famous face, like Fr. Joseph Fessio. Fr. Fessio has walked in all of them, and this year traveled from Florida to San Francisco, participated in the Walk, and flew back the same day — a grueling schedule! (No pressure, Father!) But Fessio isn’t the only priest with frequent flyer miles. That honor must be shared by Fr. Frank Pavone, who attended both the March for Life in Washington, D.C. and the Walk for Life West Coast this year. Currently, it takes about $65,000 to put on the Walk, and the organizers do all their own fundraising. As the number of walkers increases, the fees will go up for parking, buses, police, etc. Eva mentions that they will always need generous sponsors, so if any readers wish to donate time, talent, or treasure, they may contact her on the website www.walkforlifewc.com.
Like all good endeavors, Eva’s work is buoyed by her rich faith life. She is a third order Carmelite, and enjoys daily Mass in the offices of Ignatius Press, or at her home parish of St. Ignatius Church. The Carmelite convent is across the street from this church, and both are within easy walking distance for Eva. St. Thérèse is her favorite saint, and St. Francis, according to this passionate Hungarian, “is going to win this city back for life and light.” Eva basks in the beautiful Catholic art and architecture of her dream city — something that often, tourists miss in their headlong rush. The catholicity of St. Francis’ town should be no surprise, but many people don’t know that “there are more good Catholics per capita in the Bay Area than almost anywhere else,” a quote that Eva attributes to Fr. Fessio. One stellar example of this demographic would be the three Missionaries of Charity houses, which still help to heal the sick and tend the unwanted. Eva is also proud of the work constantly put out by Ignatius Press, and says that reading the Magnificat, and the lives of the saints has helped her on her spiritual journey. And, she hastens to add, the Walk would be stalled were it not for the efforts of the people of Ignatius Press who come together to make it all happen year after year.
The Walk schedule can be found on their homepage, but it should be noted that if you want to hear the inspirational speeches, they start at 11 a.m. at the Justin Herman Plaza, which only has room for about 8,000 people. The Walk itself begins at noon at the Plaza, and continues through Fisherman’s Wharf to Marina Green. The Info Faire and activities are held at the end of the Walk, and the time varies with the number of walkers. Eva can be found at the front, walkie-talkie in hand as she is the liason with the police and security team. She loves seeing the crowd of people streaming into the Green non-stop at the end, especially all the youth. The happy, normal young people who dominate the Walk are a sign that the pro-life cause is growing, energizing, and educating for the future. The 7th Annual Walk for Life West Coast will be on January 22, 2011.