Prayer activist walks across state for peace

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Brooklyn - posted Mon., Sep. 9, 2013
Al Forte walks on a section of Route 6 in Brooklyn on his way to New York City. Photo by D. Coffey.
Al Forte walks on a section of Route 6 in Brooklyn on his way to New York City. Photo by D. Coffey.

Al Forte's dog-eared map shows the stops he's made on his 250-mile walk from Boston to New York City. On Sept. 5, his seventh day out, he had made it to Brooklyn, Conn. Forte is walking to raise awareness of prayer. “Prayer is in the closet,” the 70-year-old grandfather said. So he has taken to the road with a t-shirt emblazoned with large letters reading: Pray for Peace.

This walk is his 11th. The first he planned in 2008 after seeing an image while attending Mass. “I saw a Muslim father and mother looking at the bodies of their dead children. People with children know that is the worst possible thing,” he said. “Then I heard this voice say, 'Al, you can do something about this.'”

“I don't hear voices often,” he said, laughing. But the image and the words he'd heard stayed with him.  His first inclination was to have a walk similar to ones that raise awareness and money for hunger or cancer. He didn't think anyone would join him, so he considered a long walk. He started plotting a route from New York City to Chicago via Major League Baseball stadiums. “I needed something to keep me motivated,” he said.

He used Google to plan a route and figure out the miles he could walk in a day. He used the MLB schedule to plan his departure from Yankee Stadium, and his arrival in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. Once he started his walk, he realized how unreliable it was to plot a walking route using Google. “God tricked me,” he quipped. “He has a sense of humor.” 

The day before he set out on that first walk, he went to Mass. He thought about what he'd do if someone stole his belongings, if his cell phone broke down, if he tripped and fell, if he ran out of money. “I had no idea what the priest said that day,” Forte said. After communion he went back to his pew and for the second time he heard a voice.

“I heard, 'Al, this walk is not about you. And the money you're worried about – that's not yours either. And by the way, Al, your life? That's not yours either. It's mine. But you can do with it whatever you want.' And a calm came over me,” he said.

He completed that 950-mile New York to Chicago walk in 2008. Since then he's held walks in Fairfield County and the Boston area. He's walked from the Pentagon to Ground Zero in New York City. He's been invited to join some major league teams for batting practices. And he's opened up his walks to people from all faiths.

“I believe that whatever you believe in, if it's working for you, that's great. If its not working, cross over,” he said. This is Forte's second walk from Boston to New York. This current trip took him by the site of the marathon bombings in Boston. He also plans to visit Newtown, Conn.

Forte's friend, Joe Ross, has been accompanying him throughout the trip. He's been his driver, shuttling him back and forth from his daily destinations to the hotel he's staying at. When it rains, Ross is close by. If the route becomes too dangerous, Ross will drive him to a safer road. On the weekends, both men head back to their homes for a breather.

The walking keeps Forte focused on a world at peace. “Think of all the carnage that would be eliminated,” he said. “Think of the cities that wouldn't be ruined. We'd have smaller armies, police forces, and prisons. We spend $250 billion annually on prisons in the U.S. We've spent $1.2 trillion on Iraq and Afghanistan. And more Americans have died in those wars. Three times as many should have died except for the medical care they received. And 100,000 Afghans and Iraqis have died. I'm not judging. Those are just the facts.”

Forte is a Catholic. He believes in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist – that the bread the priest blesses at Mass becomes the body of Christ. And he believes that Christ has turned the commandments into promises. “When you have Christ in you, you aren't going to want to kill or steal or do any of those things,” he said. Still, Forte's outreach is ecumenical. He said he isn't out to convert anyone. All he wants to do is encourage more people to pray for peace.

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