WOODBURN — Nick Paradis figures he really should have landed a summer job to help pay for college. But, he says, God nudged him to be an apostle for life instead.
Paradis, of St. Luke Parish here, and eight other college students gathered at Seattle’s Space Needle May 21. Wearing T-shirts with “PRO-LIFE” printed in large block letters, the trekkers began walking east. They did not stop until they reached the nation’s capital on Aug. 6 — 3,300 miles later.
“The greatest thing I learned was trusting in God’s will for my life,” says Paradis, a Gonzaga University junior who is majoring in psychology. “I have been so blessed by it. It will be easier next time to go ahead and trust.”
In a rolling relay, they took 10-hour shifts walking two or three at a time, even through the night. Each person stepped about 20 miles per day. A donated RV was available for naps.
The idea is to pray, offer the sacrifice of their work and witness for life in the towns and cities.
Paradis was nervous at first about what people would think of him. But after a week, the fear faded.
He and the other walkers discovered something they did not expect. America is largely pro-life. A solid majority welcomed the message.
“There were some negative reactions,” Paradis says. “But nine out of 10 people were giving us positive responses.”
On each day it was possible, walkers attended Mass. On Sundays, they spoke at parishes. The most powerful witness, though, happened during chance encounters on quiet roadsides, between grocery aisles and in city parks.
As the walkers made their way across the nation, some who met them were inspired enough to join for a few hours or a few days or a few weeks.
Like many pro-lifers born since 1973, Paradis considers himself an abortion survivor who has lost a third of his generation to Roe v. Wade.
He sees colleges as places like no other in the nation where pro-choice ideology thrives. But he notes a trend and believes that there is a quiet pro-life majority, even on campuses.
“Most people are pro-life,” Paradis says. “It’s just that people who aren’t are vocal about it.”
But more and more young people are becoming increasingly pro-life, he says.
The idea for the witness walks came from Pope John Paul.
At World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, the late pope challenged young people worldwide to spread what he called the “Gospel of Life.”
Speaking to a million people, the pope said, “The Church needs your enthusiasm, your youthful ideas, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society…go out into the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the square of cities, towns and villages.”
In 1995, a group of students from Franciscan University of Steubenville took up the call. They gathered in San Francisco, hand-lettered some T-shirts and began hoofing it, with very little money.
By the time the 11-week trek was over, the group had spoken to an estimated 100,000 people.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote those first walkers a letter praising them for their efforts in the defense of the unborn.
As of this summer, more than 300 young people have taken the cross-country witness plunge.
In addition to Paradis’ Seattle group, pods of walkers began in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In the nation’s capital, the three tracks converged. There, walkers ran in celebration up the steps of the National Shrine, then prayed peacefully at a Planned Parenthood Clinic, the Capitol and the Supreme Court. They numbered 40 in all and they were happy but exhausted.
Half the group went on to Europe for World Youth Day. Paradis, short on funds, came back home to prepare for school.
His career choices include law, marriage and family counseling and possibly political office.
Paradis found out about the Crossroads project during a January pro-life youth conference in Washington, D.C.
He signed up just for information and when he returned to school started getting invitations to commit for the summer.
It seemed like too big a move, and he knew his family was expecting him to get a summer job. So he refused two or three times. But organizers persisted.
Then the notion itself took on new energy inside Paradis.
“The idea wouldn’t leave me alone,” he says. “I felt God was calling me to it.”
A 2003 graduate of La Salle High School, Paradis was active in the youth group at St. Luke Parish. At Gonzaga this year, he will be vice-president of the pro-life student group, which brings speakers to campus and raises funds for a local crisis pregnancy agency.
The group gets support from Gonzaga’s president, Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, who has written widely on the pro-life cause and who is becoming a hero in the movement. Paradis has consulted with him on occasion.
Paradis may walk again for life. There is a spring break trek that covers the length of Florida.
Charlotte Brosnan, a teacher in St. Luke School’s seventh and eighth grade for 25 years, recalls Paradis as a serious student and a “service-oriented” person.
“I would expect him to choose something that deals with people,” Brosnan said of her inklings about his future. “That ties in with a very strong religious belief.”
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