By John Heuertz
Special to The Catholic Key
KANSAS CITY – If you ever see a fit-looking someone wearing a blue tee shirt with Jer.1:5 on the back, you’re probably seeing a LIFE Runner.
LIFE Runners multitask. They combine distance running, love for the unborn and witness to the prophet Jeremiah’s words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah’s prophetic spirit and lots of blue tee shirts were in the Kansas City area last Saturday, April 5, when the second annual LIFE Runners “Run A-Cross America” relay came through town on its way to Sioux Falls, SD.
Starting March 5 at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and also at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the nationwide route goes by abortion facilities for prayer with “40 Days For Life” pro-life groups everywhere along the way, with both legs meeting in Sioux Falls on Palm Sunday.
The 40 day, 4,089 mile coast-to-coast event is designed to raise awareness of our nation’s ongoing abortion holocaust.
Local activities included prayer in front of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic on Vivion Road and a potluck dinner at St. Charles Borromeo parish Saturday evening, where about two dozen people shared fellowship, great homemade lasagna and funny, inspiring stories that any distance sport person could relate to.
The potluck idea “really got started as a way to honor out-of-towners who came here for the run,” said St. Charles parishioner Mary Ann Barlett.
“Sorry we don’t have our blue shirts on,” said Joe Craven of St. Louis. “We’ve been wearing them for two days straight.”
Grant Fenske of Lafayette, La. read about LIFE Runners in a Catholic magazine, joined up at once, and then started a chapter that has grown to 27 members in a year.
“It’s a powerful experience to be able to pray and run at the same time for such a great cause,” he said.
St. Charles pastor Father Joseph Totton is the LIFE Runners chaplain in this area, and even became a LIFE Runner himself.
“With some coaxing,” he laughs. “But if you need a motivation to do something, a spiritual motivation is best.”
The blue LIFE Runner shirts challenge everyone to “Remember the Unborn,” and several runners at the potluck testified to the overwhelmingly positive responses their shirts have gotten.
“I have never had a negative experience with the shirt,” Mary Ann Barlett said. “We give people a chance to have a voice.”
St. James parishioners Josh and Lindsey Bachman from St. Joseph, Mo. also say the message is always well received.
“It’s really popular at half marathons,” Lindsey Bachman said. “We get lots of positive comments, especially from women.”
When T.D. Dorrell of Greeley, Kan. heard about LIFE Runners on Catholic radio, “It gave me a new sense of purpose for my running.”
Interesting things happened when she started wearing a LIFE Runners jacket. A complete stranger bought her groceries one day in gratitude for it. Then she wanted to promote the group, but had very little money.
A local sign painter didn’t know the situation. But he donated all the signs anyway.
Father Totton himself was wearing his LIFE Runners shirt in a half marathon when a woman saw it and unburdened herself to him while running alongside him. She told him a heartbreaking story. But it could have had a much worse ending.
“She didn’t know I’m a priest,” he said. “I just had the shirt on. It gives people a chance to talk about things.”
Some runners also talked about redemptive running, and about the conversions that had taken place in their own lives.
“A lot of LIFE Runners have been involved with abortion,” said one. “So a lot of us run to make amends for past mistakes, and maybe help others not to make that same mistake. It’s a powerful apostolate.”
The witness is sorely needed. In the time it will take anyone with average adult reading speed to read this article, about six or seven unborn people will be killed in the United States because they are unwanted.
According to the Planned Parenthood-funded but generally reliable Alan Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion, nearly 53 million surgical and medical abortions have taken place in the USA from 1973 through 2011. Adding chemical abortions from 1965 on raises the total about eleven-fold.
Just over one million abortions took place in 2012. The victims, both mothers and children, are nearly four times as likely to be black as white. About 28 percent are Catholics. Forty percent of minors report neither parent knew about their abortion. None of these numbers represents cherry-picking.
The good news is that the overall trend is down. Like all pro-life groups, LIFE Runners make a dent in these numbers by their ongoing witness, and in a way that irresistibly reminds one of St. Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)
Groups like LIFE Runners make a difference partly because “keeping the faith” means to them what it meant to St. Paul. And not just in perseverance.
“We are not here to judge anyone,” Fenske reminded the group Saturday night. “We are to approach everyone in mercy and love.
“We all have only one judge, and that is Jesus Christ.”