Priest treks across US on pro-life pilgrimage

Rising at dawn and offering Mass is nothing out of the ordinary for any priest. Walking 30-plus miles after the Mass, across America’s highways and byways with a bunch of college students, however, is a little less ordinary — unless you’re Father Dan Pattee. 

In the summer of 2012, Father Pattee, a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, teamed up with Crossroads for the second time (the first was in 2007), and walked across America, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., on a pro-life pilgrimage. 

As in summers past, the four teams of walkers traveled more than 100 miles each day. Unlike in summers past, however, this year’s walk nearly ended when one young pilgrim, Andrew Moore, was killed by a passing car. 

Recently, Our Sunday Visitor spoke with Father Pattee about the tragedy, as well as his own experiences on the road with this new generation of pro-life activists. 

Our Sunday Visitor: How did you end up deciding to walk with Crossroads? After all, it’s rather an unusual way for a priest and professor to spend his summer vacation. 

Father Dan Pattee: For both this past year and the first time I walked in 2007, probably the most accurate answer I can give is to say that the Lord put it on my heart. Now, regarding the discernment process behind that, well, that was a bit like Hosea attempting to discern whether God was calling him to marry a prostitute. I was 50 when I did the first walk. I’m 55 now. I kept asking, “Do you really want me to do this?” But I decided he did. And both times, that call seems to have been verified.

OSV: How so? 

Father Pattee: The walks and the vision behind them have become more and more a part of me. Before I went on the walks, I thought of the pro-life movement as a movement within the Church, an activity that some people did.  

                                                               

Now, I think of the pro-life movement as something that was started by God the day he kicked us out of Eden and death came into the world. He’s been working throughout all of history to help us overcome death. Death is our disease, and all of life has to be a struggle against it by each of us.  

I keep coming back to Paul saying, ‘Woe is me if I don’t preach the Gospel.’ The same applies to us. Woe are we if we don’t preach the Gospel of Life, because the Gospel of Life isn’t just a segment of the Gospel. It is the Gospel. 

OSV: Did spending weekend after weekend praying at abortion centers across the country change how you see the abortion industry? 

Father Pattee: It did. As the weeks went by, I started noticing that these centers tended to be unmarked. You often would have no way of knowing what was going on inside except for the pro-life groups praying outside on the sidewalks. It’s like they’re trying to cultivate a stealth presence.  

Others have very misleading names. In Shreveport, La., the abortion center is called the Hope Family Care Center. There is deception at the heart of the abortion movement, and that comes across even in the way their centers look. Of course, along the way, it came out in far worse ways as well. 

OSV: Like what? 

Father Pattee: The reason they always give for keeping abortion legal is that it’s necessary to keep women safe. But to make that argument, they have to cover up all the ways abortion is not safe for women and all the terrible things that happen to women inside abortion clinics.  

pilgrims
Crossroads pilgrims. CNS photo

For example, in Birmingham, Ala., right before we got there, two ambulances came rushing to the abortion center, and two women were carried out on gurneys. The pro-lifers standing outside took pictures, but if they hadn’t, no one would have known about that. Again, in Jackson, Miss., the day before we arrived, the court permitted the last abortion center in the state to stay open for another 90 days so that it could find a way to bring itself into compliance with the law that requires only OB-GYNs perform abortions. Before that, they were allowing people who weren’t doctors to do abortions. No OB-GYN was present.  

Then, there was the case in Chicago this summer, where a woman died because the clinic workers held off on calling 911. They knew she was in trouble, but they didn’t want it to look bad for the clinic. Again, there is deception at the heart of the pro-abortion movement. They claim they’re all about the health and well-being of the mother, but their actions say otherwise. 

OSV: Before Andrew Moore’s death, what was the hardest moment of the walk for you? 

Father Pattee: That was in El Paso. We had just finished praying a couple of rosaries outside an abortion center, and while the young people were deciding what we were going to do next, I sat down by the dumpster to pray morning prayer. Right at that moment, one of the center’s workers came walking out with refuse from the morning’s procedures, with the bodies of the aborted babies. They were in a trash bag. I watched her as she unlocked the garbage bin. I was stunned and said to her, “Miss, can it stop?” She didn’t acknowledge me. After she threw the bag away and locked up the dumpster, I asked one more time: “Miss, can it please stop?” She just walked away.  

After that, we all gathered around this dumpster and began to pray. I said a prayer of committal for the babies that had been aborted that morning, and it was both a low moment and a high moment for me. On the one hand, I felt privileged I was able to be there to give these babies a proper burial, to give them their due. But I was sad because the masses of babies aren’t that fortunate. No one is there for them. No one cares. They’re just thrown away with the other garbage. No one deserves that. 

OSV: How did Andrew’s death affect the walkers? 

Father Pattee: The initial response, of course, was grief. We also were wondering if the walk would be suspended. But when Jimmy [James Nolan, Crossroads president] asked the walkers what we wanted to do, every single one of us wanted to keep on walking. We knew Andrew would want that, and we wanted to honor him. In a way, the young people were emboldened by Andrew’s sacrifice — not in a reckless way, but in terms of it deepening their commitment. If Andrew could give that much, we all knew we could give more. 

OSV: Nellie Gray, the founder of the annual March for Life in Washington, passed away recently. How do you see these young people carrying her torch? Do you feel confident about the future of the movement in their hands? 

Father Pattee: I do feel confident. The pro-life movement is settling more deeply into the hearts of the young these days than it has in any generation before them. I see in them a level of joyful commitment and a willingness to sacrifice that I haven’t seen before. They’re not being taken in by the lies as much. Like Andrew, who was out praying in front of the clinic near his parish since he was 13, they know they have to do something. They know they can’t stand by silently and watch. From what I can tell, this isn’t just passing youthful exuberance. They’re digging in deep, and they’re not ashamed to be out there, talking about this, praying about this, and doing what they can to change people’s minds. They know the time for sitting on the sidelines on this issue is over. 

OSV: Why do you think that is? 

Father Pattee: On one level, they know many of their peers aren’t here. They hear all the time that a third [of all babies] have been aborted. That’s one thing. Another thing, as much as the culture doesn’t talk about it, is that they see the wreckage in their peers who have gotten abortions. They don’t need to read studies about the trauma women and men feel post-abortion. They see it all around them, and they don’t like what they see. 

Emily Stimpson is an OSV contributing editor.