By Catherine Fournier
It’s only been a few weeks since Andrew began his Pilgrimage for Life, walking across Canada to raise money and awareness for two pro-life organizations, but it’s already been an adventure, a lesson in the workings of Providence and the generosity of people.
His trip actually started on February 28, when we took him to the Ottawa train station in plenty of time to buy his ticket and say all our good-byes. He had booked a train from Ottawa to Truro where he was to be met by Herm Wills, president of Campaign Life Coalition Nova Scotia. He would transfer to a sleeper car in Montréal. Peter and I were dreading the good-bye, seeing our son walk away from us, alone, as he will be so often in the coming year. We were also a little worried about our country-bred son, unfamiliar with train stations, making the transfer in Montréal.
Imagine our delight when the smiling man sitting at the far side of our bench turned out to be someone that Andrew met when he spend a month at Madonna House in Combermere, Ont. Douglas was taking the same train to New Brunswick! This small reminder of God’s hand in Andrew’s Pilgrimage made it a little easier for all of us. Andrew hugged us both hard and walked away onto the platform. Thirty hours later, he called to say that he had arrived safely in Sydney, Cape Breton and was looking forward to starting his walk.
In January and February, Andrew spent weeks poring over maps and a spreadsheet, planning his walk, calculating distances and determining the nearest communities for each day. Sensibly, to break in his feet and get in final condition, he planned to walk 20 kilometers a day for the first week of his pilgrimage, 30 kilometers a day the second week, and finally reach “cruising speed” of 40 kilometers a day by the third week, resting every fourth day. According to that schedule, he should have reached Barachois, by the end of his first day. Imagine my surprise when his phone call came from Boisdale – another 20 kilometers down the road!
“It was interesting, so I just kept walking,” he explained.
Endlessly patient and generously accommodating, Herm Wills and the host families of Rod Farrell, Joe and Cella MacLellan, Mr. and Mrs. Buddy MacMaster, Fr. Paul Murphy, Linda Rankin, and Fr. John Webb, adjusted their schedules to Andrew’s unexpectedly rapid progress and bought bandages and moleskin to treat the inevitable resultant blisters.
By March 14 he reached New Glasgow, and planned to push on to Truro the next day. He had already visited New Glasgow, in fact, but by car. Andrew’s hiking boots, bought for walking on cross-country trails, proved too stiff and hard for walking along the highway. Not only were the boots giving him serious blisters, walking in them on paved roads was beginning to hurt his hips and knees. The MacLellands, after discovering that Antigonish didn’t have any shoes in size 14 to fit 6-foot-6-inch Andrew, handed him the keys to their brand new car so that he could drive to New Glasgow to search for walking shoes there.
“Our Lady’s really looking after me,” exclaimed Andrew. “Imagine giving your car keys to a complete stranger!”
Andrew’s Pilgrimage for Life has two parts; the walking and the witnessing. The walking, once blisters, route and billeting were worked out, has presented no great surprises or challenges.
The witnessing, on the other hand, turned out to be more of a challenge than Andrew expected. Andrew has spend many years defending the pro-life position in discussions with peers and others, but he discovered to his surprise that speaking to a friendly, pro-life audience is a completely different thing! Fortunately, the audience who braved freezing rain to hear him was sympathetic, and though disappointed with his presentation, remained friendly. Andrew quickly rewrote his speech and will have many opportunities to perfect it in the months to come. Interviews with local news reporters have been more successful, and he is receiving good representation in the media.
What remains a problem?
“Every house I visit, the cutlery drawer’s never in the same place! I can never find it!” he laughs. “I think I’m going to work out a formula for cutlery drawer placement prediction.”
Everyday, in many ways, Andrew is discovering the open-heartedness and kindness of people. He is learning first-hand that almost everyone he encounters is pro-life, whether they’re aware of it or not. He’s discovering, in dozens of small confirmations, that no matter how difficult, the Pilgrimage for Life is God’s plan for him for the next 285 days.