ST. LOUIS — By the time it is completed, the A-Cross the Country Relay for Pro-Life will have covered 4,089 miles and coincided with the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign to raise awareness of abortion and life issues.

More than 300 runners signed up for the event that began Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, at simultaneous starting points – at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Both legs of the run will come together at St. Joseph Cathedral in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Palm Sunday, March 24.

The East Coast leg goes down through Philadelphia, dips into Maryland, on to the southwest corner of Pennsylvania, then to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. The route goes through St. Louis March 10 before heading west toward Kansas City. It will then make its way north through Omaha, Neb., and on to Sioux Falls.

The West Coast leg goes east from San Francisco through the northern part of Nevada and Utah and on to Denver. From there the route heads north to Wyoming, then east through South Dakota and to the final stop in Sioux Falls.

Founded in 2008 by Air Force Lt. Cols. Rich Reich and Pat Castle, Life Runners is a national team that runs to raise awareness of life issues and funding for pregnancy resource centers across the country. There are approximately 947 members in 38 chapters in the United States and seven other countries.

Chapter members from across the country convene in one city to participate in one half-full marathon each year. Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., is the group's national chaplain.

"We want to change the culture … to make abortion unthinkable," said Life Runners vice president Jeff Pauls, who also heads the group's Belleville, Ill., chapter. "I believe we are entering the time when that can be achieved.

"Life Runners is going to do it through prayer, awareness and sacrifice. In the process of all of that, we help empower pregnancy help centers with the funds we raise through our efforts," he added.

Runners have signed up to cover more than 1,100 portions equivalent to a 5K (3.1 miles) during the cross-country race. For example, Missouri chapters will fill 121 legs, covering 420 miles.

Life Runners conceived the idea of the cross-country race with the help of Jeff Grabosky, who completed a four-month, 3,700-mile run across the country in 2011 to encourage people to pray.

Grabosky, who lives in Alexandria, Va., said: "Large endeavors can seem overwhelming, but together as the body of Christ, we can accomplish anything. Each and every way we contribute to the pro-life cause is significant and the Life Runners give people many ways in which we can take an active role in promoting a culture of life."

Co-founder Castle previously told the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the St. Louis Archdiocese, that "just by nature of our pro-life apostolate – meaning training and running marathons as a vehicle to promote pro-life – there's something inherently inspirational in just running a marathon."
"These same virtues that get you to the finish line of a marathon are the same virtues that keep us close to Christ," he said. "We do it all with a very focused mission for the unborn, and for the mothers and their families."

A memo released by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice of St. Louis and Bishop Paprocki noted that "for all who wish to be a part of the A-Cross the Country Relay, it is a journey of body, mind and spirit as a prayer from one individual to touch the heart of another. … We are to be love for the unloved – to the aborted and the mother and the father than they can and will receive peace through mercy and forgiveness."

Brinker is a reporter at the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the St. Louis Archdiocese