By, Patrick Goodenough
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) – An Australian Catholic priest has led a group of pro-life young people, many of them Americans, to Toronto, where the church’s World Youth Day celebrations are taking place this week. The youngsters have spent the summer crossing the U.S. to spread a pro-life message.
Father Hilary Flynn, who hails from a tiny island community off the coast of northeastern Australia, participated in the Crossroads walk with youngsters some 40 years his junior because, he said Tuesday, he enjoys spending time with “holy kids.”
For the past seven years college-age students have walked across the U.S. each summer promoting a pro-life message, praying outside abortion clinics and speaking at public meetings.
The idea was a direct response to Pope John Paul II’s challenge at the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, when he urged young people not to be afraid to “go out on the streets and into public places” to show the world “the path to life.”
According to Crossroads director Adam Redmon, the walk is aimed at exposing “the most evil force on earth today – the Culture of Death.” Crossroads is a division of the Stafford, Va.-based American Life League.
The team that Flynn accompanied as chaplain left Tampa on May 20, and headed through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. At New Orleans earlier this month, they were joined by other young people, with whom they formed a bus caravan.
(Another team set out from San Francisco on the long haul east. At the outset, that group was stopped by security officials at the Golden Gate Bridge and prevented from crossing because of their conspicuous pro-life T-shirts. The officials later said it had been an error and apologized.)
Together, the two teams have walked more than 4,000 miles.
The highways and byways of the U.S. could hardly be further from Flynn’s home parish, a tiny community in the Torres Strait (between northern Australia and Papua New Guinea).
Thursday Island is less than 5 square kilometers, does not even boast a airstrip, and has a population of just 4,000 people. It’s not unusual to hold mass for a dozen congregants, he said.
Flynn participated in the first march, in 1995, and walked for a week during last year’s event. This year, at age 62, he did the whole thing – blisters and all – “trying to keep up with 22-year olds.”
The group comprised a day team and a night team, walking 60-70 miles a day.
“To some extent it’s a political protest march, but mostly it’s a prayer walk. We walk, say prayers, talk to each other, and when we bump into people, we talk to them about the sacredness of life. In the Catholic tradition, we believe the pain we suffer can be used by God to conquer evil.”
Flynn said the group had encountered some abuse, some of it happened when their pro-life T-shirts upset people inside food stores.
But the young people, he said, had enthusiastically and articulately presented the pro-life argument whenever possible.
As under-30s, the “kids” would note that they were born after abortion was legalized in the U.S. in 1973, and describe themselves as “survivors” of an assault that kills one-third of American babies in the womb.
On the whole, Flynn said the response was positive, and he enjoyed meeting “some lovely Catholic families.”
“There’s a lot of holiness in the U.S.A. I think God’s more visible here than He is in my homeland, although it saddens me to say it. There’s a lot of good things happening in the United States.”
Of the young people he has spent the last two months with, the Australian said he found them “very holy, very prayerful – they challenged me in lots of ways, and I was supposed to be their chaplain.”
But of course there were difficulties too.
“Going camping with university students for eight or nine weeks, confined in a big RV caravan – a different culture, a different sense of humor, different eating habits, a different noise level … coming back at two in the morning and finding your sleeping bag’s disappeared and there’s nowhere to sleep …”
One of Flynn’s fellow walkers, 19-year-old New Jersey native J.D. Flynn (no relation), said the “amazing priest” had been a real asset to the team.
“I think it’s a result of his being an Australian – he’s amazingly laid-back, relaxed and calm and collected, taking things as they come. That’s been a real calming influence on all of us.”
Having someone from so far away participating in the walk, Flynn said, had also helped to reinforce the “universality of our message.”
“Having the father with us reminds us that the culture of death is not something that’s just in our own country,” added the student, who is studying philosophy and theology.
The walk had been a wonderful experience, he said. “The church calls on us to help bring about a culture of life. Knowing we’re doing God’s work is a really rewarding feeling.”
Around 300,000 youths are expected to participate in this week’s WYD events in Toronto. Pope John Paul II arrived Tuesday to join the young pilgrims.
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