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LIFE Runners kneel for prayer outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Overland Park, Kansas, before finishing the A-Cross America Relay Aug. 11. The 5,359-mile relay kicked off July 4 at four starting points – New York City, San Antonio, San Francisco and Grand Forks, North Dakota – and culminated in Overland Park with about 50 LIFE Runners representing the four arms of the relay coming together to walk across the finish line. COURTESY PHOTO

LIFE Runners pause to huddle and cheer near the finish line of the A-Cross America Relay Aug. 11 in Overland Park, Kansas. COURTESY PHOTO

Nationwide run spreads pro-life message

They run, they walk, they pray, they cheer.
 
They embrace the gift of life.
 
LIFE Runners, a global team of pro-life advocates with more than 12,000 members, including 1,500 in the Omaha archdiocese, is conveying its message in a very public way.  
 
Sharing the message “Remember the Unborn – Jer. 1-5” on their shirts, LIFE Runners recently completed their seventh annual A-Cross America Relay, estimated to be the geographically largest pro-life event in the world.
 
“Our efforts are all based on the idea of trying to change hearts and minds and understand there are options out there. Life is precious,” said LIFE Runner Matt Pohren, a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha.
 
The 5,359-mile relay kicked off July 4 at four starting points –New York City, San Antonio, San Francisco and Grand Forks, North Dakota. It culminated Aug. 11 with approximately 50 LIFE Runners representing the four arms of the relay coming together to walk to the finish line in Overland Park, Kansas.  
 
Patrick Castle, LIFE Runners founder and a member of both St. Matthew Parish in Bellevue and St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion, said participants at the finish line represented teammates from 38 countries and more than 100 chapters, many of whom took part in remote legs of the 39-day relay in their local communities.
 
“We had people gathered at the finish line from Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Omaha, Sioux Falls and the Kansas-Missouri region,” Castle said. “One of our bishops came from San Diego – Bishop Joe Coffey, the auxiliary bishop to the military archdiocese.”
 
Castle pointed out that only about half of all LIFE Runners are actually runners. Some are walkers and some contribute in other ways, such as serving as pro-life sidewalk advocates, offering vocal encouragement to participants along the route of a running event or simply wearing their LIFE Runners shirts at work or in a public setting.
 
The organization’s relay and marathon events include pauses for prayer, fellowship and rally huddles at strategic locations along the routes where participants recite the LIFE Runners Creed, based on a quote from St. Mother Teresa and the word “peace” (Prayer, Endurance, Awareness, Charity, End Abortion).
 
LIFE Runners also have a cheer – “All in Christ – for pro-life,” which they chant in unison at various times during their running events and public gatherings. 
 
VARIED REACTIONS
 
Pohren said LIFE Runners encounter positive and negative reactions to their public witness.
 
“I’ve gotten honks and people say, ‘I love your jersey’ or ‘I love your message,’” he said, “but I’ve also had some people say, ‘How dare you tell me what I can or cannot do with my body – you don’t know what I’m going through.’”
 
LIFE Runner Bernadette Costello, a member of St. Gerald Parish in Ralston, was at the finish line in Overland Park and also took part in the Omaha leg of the relay on July 31, which included pauses for prayer near Planned Parenthood facilities and at the “Remember The Unborn Child” memorial outside St. Mary School in Bellevue, located across the street from a clinic where abortions are performed.
 
“Life is precious and it’s special. This is a loving way to say that and promote that,” Costello said.
 
In addition to participating in public events, LIFE Runners typically wear their shirts on the first Wednesday of each month, but Costello, who is employed at a pharmacy, wears hers more frequently.
 
“I wear my LIFE Runner shirt at work all the time and give out bracelets (bearing the organization’s pro-life message),” she said. “I’ve never gotten any negative feedback. It’s a conversation starter and people often thank me for wearing it.”
 
STUDENT INVOLVEMENT
 
Several LIFE Runners in the Omaha archdiocese, including Costello, have started student chapters of the organization at their parishes and schools.
 
Nicole Janssen is the leader of a chapter at Ss. Peter and Paul School in Omaha, where she teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math and science. A member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha, she has students in grades K-8 in her Ss. Peter and Paul chapter.
 
“Every first Wednesday of the month, our students are allowed to wear their LIFE Runners shirts with their uniforms,” she said. “After school, we have about a 45-minute or hour-long meeting.”
 
A typical meeting starts with prayer and the LIFE Runners Creed, along with a meditation that usually includes a monthly challenge for the students. After the meditation, they break into two groups (K-4 and 5-8) for an activity, such as playing basketball, soccer or kickball.
 
“The activity is really what the kids decide, because the vision I have for our school is getting kids excited about the pro-life movement,” she said. “Obviously, we want to see an end to abortion and change hearts through that, but I think that’s best done by embracing the gift of life – getting kids excited about their own life and the things they love to do and sharing that joy with each other, their families and anyone they may encounter.”
 
Pohren said seeing young people being excited and involved with LIFE Runners is encouraging.
 
“The organization is a wonderful thing and it continues to grow,” he said. “The goal is to have a chapter in every parish and every school in the Omaha metro and see that whole idea and model continue to expand across the country.”

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