By Catherine Fournier
The Interim

On March 1, our nineteen-year-old son Andrew will leave North Sydney, Nova Scotia on a pilgrimage across Canada to raise awareness and funds for pro-life. The expected 300 days it will take him to cross Canada will be a pilgrimage for the whole family, as we – his parents and five siblings – follow him with our hearts, entrusting his health and safety to God.

This pilgrimage actually began over a year ago, when Andrew first proposed the idea. At first, Peter and I gently mocked his idealism. As his parents, we felt a responsibility to test his convictions. We knew that without God’s backing such an undertaking would be next to impossible and potentially spiritually damaging.

We hoped against hope that this was just another crazy teen idea, here today and gone tomorrow, like orange hair or ripped jeans. We wondered where the idea had come from. We hoped that he would forget it soon. At the same time, we remembered an important point – this child is on loan from God and the loan period is coming to an end. We can’t chart out his life; that’s Andrew’s and God’s work, not ours.

When Campaign Life Coalition Youth agreed to sponsor and help organize the Pilgrimage for Life, we stopped teasing. We took it as a confirming sign that it was God’s plan. “Oh, no,” we said to each other, “he’s really going to do it.” We realized that though we still had (and have) misgivings, now we’d have to support and assist Andrew and his pilgrimage. We also realized we should have seen this coming when Andrew was five.

As a child, his school yard fights were consistently in defense of younger smaller children. When the school telephoned to report his latest battle, we secretly sympathized with Andrew. We tried not to grin while telling him that though his motives were good, his methods weren’t. So now he’s chosen a better method – still one that many will raise their eyebrows at, but better.

Andrew’s wanderlust showed early too. He climbed his first tree at 18 months and got 20 feet up a cedar before he was stopped. He continued rambling, first through our neighbourhood, then the surrounding townships. A year spend in Germany as a Rotary exchange student only whetted his appetite to explore his own country.

Most of Andrew’s Pilgrimage for Life route is on the Trans-Canada Trail, a cross-country trail of existing nature trails, abandoned rail lines and new connecting trail sections. It seems made for Andrew’s journey. Rather than walk on the paved noisy highway, followed by a camper or car, Andrew will be walking alone on the trail. The trail passes many small communities spread along the old rail lines, giving him lots of opportunities to prevail upon people’s charity and hospitality and to explain his pilgrimage to those he meets along the way.

And his explanation will challenge those who hear it. He hopes to change some hearts both with the example of his pilgrimage and by his understanding of what it means to be pro-life. Half the funds raised during his pilgrimage will go to Campaign Life Coalition Youth. The other half will be given to Canadian Food for Children, a volunteer-run organization that sends food and other much needed supplies to Third World children.

As he explains, “Pro-life means supporting ALL life. Anyone who helps the poor, sick or hungry, by sending money to Third World organizations or giving to food banks is pro-life whether they know it or not. I’m taking a cause that everyone finds easy to support – sending food to already-born poor children – and connecting to its logical partner, one protecting pre-born children.”

Even though Andrew leaves in less than two weeks, we’re still a bit bemused. He’s an ordinary kid with long hair, big feet, a bit of a temper and a messy room, but he’s doing this extraordinary thing. Even though his experience and temperament are well suited to conceiving and carrying out a Pilgrimage for Life, we’re still a bit worried about how he’ll manage. He’s disorganized, forgetful, outspoken, and still young. Even though we taught him that the best way to changes someone’s mind isn’t to tell them they’re wrong or stupid, it’s to show them a better way, or get them to question their own thinking, we’re still surprised that he’s putting it into action this way. It wasn’t what we expected, though I can’t tell you what we expected.