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Walk across America aims to change hearts of young

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WASHINGTON - Since March 1, Jon Leonetti and Jesse Weiler have been walking across America to call on young Catholics and people of all faiths to live life in a new way.

Leonetti and Weiler have been speaking at churches, schools and youth gatherings, encouraging young people to turn away from the false messages offered by the popular media and turn their lives toward Christ through prayer.

Leonetti, who once thought he would become a priest, later came to believe he was being called to follow a different path.

"I felt inspired to do this walk in order to really touch the hearts of youths, parents and friends," he told Catholic News Service.

When he first told Weiler, a fellow graduate of Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, about his plan to walk across the country, "Weiler's response was no way, that he had too many things to do," Leonetti said.

Three days later, Leonetti received a call from Weiler saying he couldn't get this idea out of his head, and he wanted to join Leonetti in the walk.

Leonetti and Weiler, both 23, intend to walk nearly 3,600 miles across America through 12 states. They left Los Angeles March 1 and hope to reach Ocean City, N.J., sometime in August.

Housing arrangements vary day to day. Although they raised enough money to stay in motels, Leonetti said, "We typically stay with anyone willing to open their home to us, and we have spent nights in our car."

During the journey, Leonetti and Weiler have witnessed brokenness and alienation from God in the lives of many.

"Walking to Mass on Easter Sunday, we were offered drugs," he said.

After he and Weiler told the young man who they were and what they were doing, the man quickly apologized and spoke about the Book of Job.

"He knew the entire story and said that despite the life he is living, he knows that Jesus is the light of his life," Leonetti said. "We just sat there and listened and sometimes that's all you can do."

Leonetti and Weiler have received endorsements from Bishop Robert E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, and Father Jim Kubicki, SJ, U.S. director of the Apostleship of Prayer. In Denver they met with Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley.

Leonetti and Weiler post blogs almost every day about their journey, triumphs, hardships and experiences with people, especially those in need of a spiritual lift.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this MTV generation is as prominent as ever," Leonetti said. "They're doing an excellent job in telling us that we are inadequate if we don't take the next drink, the next drug, have certain types of clothes and so on.

"Jesse and I are strong believers that it's destroying our young people, dragging people into depression and hopelessness," he added. "We're out here walking to let people know we're going to stand against this MTV generation by raising awareness that this is not the life originally intended for us to lead."

Since Leonetti took a serious fall near the California-Arizona border that resulted in a dislocated knee cap, the two decided after prayer and on the advice of doctors that they would walk in shifts. While one is walking, the other drives Leonetti's car.

"This was a very difficult decision to make, but one that needed to be done," Leonetti said.

"It is often during those periods of walking alone that we find ourselves being drawn closer to God."

Through Omaha

Jon Leonetti and Jesse Weilers will walk through Omaha May 22-24.

For more infomation, visit their Web site, www.soulwalking.com.

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