A new chapter in the pro-life movement is formally unfolding in the East Valley.
Some St. Mary Magdalene parishioners launched a “LIFE Runners” chapter in Gilbert. The organization bills itself as the world’s largest pro-life running/walking team that has members in every state and 23 countries.
The seven-year-old apostolate gathers for three official races and a relay annually with members joining forces locally to support other area races while raising prayers, awareness and funds for pro-life efforts. Members are encouraged to raise $262 per year — to reflect the 26.2 miles in a marathon — with funds supporting pre-determined local pregnancy resource centers.
Melanie Miriovsky’s mother was a LIFE Runners member and Miriovsky was bummed she couldn’t find an established chapter in Arizona when she moved here.
“It wasn’t until we were at church one day and there was a prayer about abortion and not being silent,” that Miriovsky realized that was her sign to get involved with her husband, Dan. “I wouldn’t say that we love running, but this gives us a reason to do it.”
The global apostolate has some 3,500 runners and walkers — plus some in strollers — praying, fundraising and moving their feet toward the finish line that ends abortion.
The Gilbert LIFE Runners group launched earlier this year with the Nun Run in March being their first event. It has since tripled in size and Miriovsky hopes the growth continues and that other Arizona chapters start up too. There are at least 20 other LIFE Runners members in Arizona — most of them in the Valley — without enough runners to form an official chapter.
Membership is fairly simple. Anyone outside of the womb can sign up and order a T-shirt jersey. LIFE Runners is looking into a rough estimate of how many members are under the age of 5, but leaders are confident it is a lot. Miriovsky’s children, ages 3 and 1, are members and tag along on strollers or on bikes.
“This is a way to take the kids with us every event we go to,” Miriovsky said.
Five local members that include a chaplain and Facebook manager can constitute a chapter. Fr. Chris Axline, chaplain of Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler and priest-in-residence at St. Mary Magdalene, serves as chaplain of the Gilbert chapter.
“We need a coach for optimum physical fitness, and we need a chaplain for optimum spiritual fitness,” said Pat Castle, president and co-founder of the national LIFE Runners.
Fr. Axline keeps the group in prayer and offers support. He is impressed by the young, dynamic and growing group of men and women who are strengthening their own faith while witnessing to the sanctity of life.
“My hope for the Gilbert chapter is that they can continue to grow and continue to witness to the dignity of life by cultivating good habits of exercise while simultaneously protecting the unborn and those who have little to no voice in our culture,” Fr. Axline said, “Other runners who are looking for a community for fellowship, health, and a relationship with Christ, I pray, would be drawn to seek out the Life Runners in Arizona.
Runners and walkers commit to organizing a monthly gathering in gear for a purpose, whether it’s for a race, to pray at an abortion facility or something else.
“It’s powerful to see an entire family wearing the bold LIFE Runners blue jerseys in public,” said Castle.
Castle, a member of the Knights of Columbus since 1992, co-founded LIFE Runners after talking about the day’s devotions with a running partner. Now, daily devotions based on the day’s Mass readings are emailed to members every morning and archived online.
“The devotions are the feeding arm — important daily spiritual nourishment for redemptive running/walking,” Castle said.
They have a short Scripture passage from the day’s reading paired with a brief reflection. There’s also a faith challenge, faith quote, links to counter-cultural news sites, prayers and a link to information about the saint of the day or feast.
The Gilbert chapter gathers a few times in the summer for fun runs, including one Father’s Day weekend and July 4, with the fall and winter being more active. Chapter members plan to sponsor the annual Race for Maggie’s Place in October.
Miriovsky is eager to embrace the opportunity to spread the word about LIFE Runners. The chapter placed an information table outside of Mass at St. Mary Magdalene recently and parishioners paused, enticed by the group T-shirts that bore running shoes hanging on a cross and a dove overlooking the scene.
“I was really surprised because people wanted to give us money right there on the spot,” Miriovsky said.
The largest chapter outside of the U.S. is the Fiji Islands. Karen Patnaude, chapter leader, said its 98 members see LIFE Runners as an outlet and a voice for proclaiming their deep desire to protect the life of the unborn.
“Regardless of if abortion is happening legally or not, in many countries abortion is a taboo subject,” Patnaude wrote The Catholic Sun from Fiji. “The simplicity of wearing a T-shirt, coupled with the powerful message the LIFE Runners gear shares gives them a voice.”
The back of the shirts simply say to “Remember the unborn” with both the front and back citing Jeremiah 1:5. LIFE Runners also offer a creed written after the other co-founder prayed in front of an abortion clinic in 2010. It was revised once to include “healing support” for post-abortive women and men.