Group of teens leads hundreds to live out their faith, defend life

by Juan Guajardo


North Texas Catholic

January 25, 2010

In this January 2010 file photo, Fr. John Casey, pastor of St. Stephen in Weatherford, walks alongside parishioners Bob Kreipe and Terri Gibson, in the parish's first ever Hike for Life.

WEATHERFORD -- Clouds loomed overhead and rain fell steadily as people bundled in raincoats, with umbrellas in hand, gathered to publicly spread a message that was the idea of a most unlikely group — a handful of teenagers.

Despite the cold, blustery day, the rain stopped just in time for those 10 teens from St. Stephen Church to lead almost 150 marchers down Main Street, an arterial road in the heart of Weatherford, for the town’s first ever Hike For Life.

“I always get so touched because these are 15- and 16-year-olds that are leading us, that are leading the way for us to realize that it is our job to stand up for those who have no voice,” said Jeanette Houle, director of Religious Education and youth minister at St. Stephen, before the hike.

People of all ages participated, and youth from St. Paul Church in Fort Worth and teens from the Church of God in Lakeside joined St. Stephen parishioners in the 5K hike. Along the way, several cars slowed down to honk and flash thumbs-up signs at the hikers.

The hike helped to not only raise awareness about the sanctity of life and present a stand against abortion in a town of almost 26,000, but also raised more than $6,700 for a local crisis pregnancy center.

“I think it is significant because [the youth] have reflected on it, and they realize that life is special and not to be taken for granted,” Father John Casey, SAC, pastor of St. Stephen said. “Just having them sharing that with their friends and talking about it is significant, because the opposite, that life doesn’t count, that it doesn’t matter, has serious consequences for everybody.”

The idea for a pro-life hike came after Houle took a group of teens to a youth leadership retreat in July. After the retreat, the teens returned to St. Stephen and formed different groups dealing with areas like music, liturgy, and sports, for other parish youth to participate in. Amy Gibson, 17, took the reins for the newly formed pro-life group, The Voice. Within the first few meetings, the teens in the group decided they should do a pro-life march to raise awareness.

The youth took the idea to Houle, who began making calls to find out how to start a local march. A week afterward, she met Tom Clark, president of Hike for Life, at a diocesan conference, and Clark agreed to help them set up the first hike in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Hikes for Life are annual five- or 10K fundraising marches held in several North Texas cities. The profits from the hikes go toward crisis pregnancy centers chosen by the hikers. Hike For Life, Inc., a non-profit organization started by the Knights of Columbus, sponsors the events.

The hikers aren’t just raising money though, Clark said. Rather, the hike is often a “seed” that leads them to become more involved in other pro-life activities.

“They’re doing something physical; they’re using their bodies, every step is a prayer, so as they’re hiking, they’re enjoying life,” said Clark, who is also state pro-life chairman for the Knights of Columbus. “They may be praying; they may be silently reflecting; they may be chatting with their friends: It’s all about celebrating life and allowing people to know that life is a gift.”

Usually, the hikes are held in the fall, but the youth wanted this hike to be held in January, on the same weekend as the national March for Life in Washington, D.C.

A lot of work went into setting it up for that date, Houle said. The teens had to raise funds and spread the word about the hike, aside from meeting every Sunday to plan. Some of the teens went to businesses, asking for donations and permission to post flyers. Other youth spread flyers in neighboring towns, including Springtown, Aledo, and Hudson Oaks. Some teens even spoke after Masses one weekend, inviting parishioners to support the effort.

“About the only thing that’s gotten in their way is the fact that they don’t all have the ability to drive,” Houle said.

James McCreery, 17, also a member of The Voice, said a lot of time was donated for the hike, but he felt that “somebody has to speak up,” so posting flyers with Gibson after school wasn’t a chore for him.

The money raised from the Hike will go towards Grace House Ministries, a Christian crisis pregnancy center started 15 years ago by three women.

“We’re just so grateful that a church was willing to take a stand and do something about what they believe in,” said Susie Hackleman, executive director of Grace House Ministries. “Oftentimes, whether you’re an evangelical Christian or a Catholic, you may say you’re pro-life, but saying and doing are two different things. They’re living out what they believe and I’m grateful that they want to do that.”

Hackleman sees hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young women — often in their teens — come to Grace House each year. Many of them come to The Options Clinic, the medical branch of Grace House, thinking that abortion is the solution. But several women, actually almost nine out of 10, leave wanting to keep their baby, thanks to the free sonograms and pregnancy information offered at the clinic, she said.

Grace House has its hands full, being the only crisis pregnancy center of its kind in Parker County. The services it provides to the roughly 160 women coming in each month are free. The mission of the center, Hackleman says, is simply “to empower individuals to make life-affirming choices.” But that mission is expensive too.

“They’re providing an opportunity for us to be in this place,” Hackleman said of the youth’s effort.

WEATHERFORD -- Clouds loomed overhead and rain fell steadily as people bundled in raincoats, with umbrellas in hand, gathered to publicly spread a message that was the idea of a most unlikely group — a handful of teenagers.

Published (until 12/25/2037)