By, Tony Gosgnach
It’s a long, arduous journey on foot clear across the United States, through winds, rain, traffic and punishing summer heat under a blazing sun. The trek takes a considerable physical toll on its young participants.
“You get a lot of blisters and bandaids,” says Martha Nolan with a knowing chuckle. “But every step is worth it. If a life is saved through our efforts, we know that that heat, every step and blister is definitely worth it.”
Nolan serves as assistant director of the Crossroads walk, an annual, pro-life based expedition by volunteer, college-aged young people that since 1995, has begun on the west coast of the U.S. and ended on the east coast some three months later. This year, however, because of the special occurrence of World Youth Day in North America, the route has been altered so that it ends in Toronto just as the mammoth international gathering of young people gets into full swing.
“Usually, we walk from the coast of California to Washington, D.C.,” says Nolan, who made the voyage last year. “But this year, we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to meet youth from around the world in Toronto at World Youth Day and celebrate the festivities with the Holy Father.”
The peaceful walk has as its purpose the witnessing to the dignity and sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death, and praying for an end to all offences against the human person. College students – who are described as “survivors of the abortion holocaust” – give up their summer breaks to walk, pray and offer up their sufferings in union with the crucified Christ.
A key focus is on educating youth and alerting them to the lies of the heavily promoted culture of death. Each year, walkers are amazed at the number of young people who don’t know what abortion is. Walkers stop, pray and counsel outside abortuaries, and regularly give interviews to both religious and secular media outlets.
“We are a response to the Holy Father’s call to spread the gospel of life in cities and towns, and through the highways and byways,” adds Nolan, noting that participants partake in it as an act of faith. There is no guarantee that food, shelter and other necessities will be provided on each journey.
The roots of the Crossroads walk lie with Steve Sanborn, a student at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Oh. in 1994. While listening to news accounts of how neighbours helped each other during the Mississippi floods of the Midwest that year, and inspired by the words of Pope John Paul II at the recently completed World Youth Day in Denver, Colo., he developed the idea of getting a group of people together to walk across the U.S. as a witness for life, while others helped along the way.
“Make the gospel of life penetrate the fabric of society,” the Pope had told the young people in Denver. “Go out onto the streets and into the public places, like the first apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages.”
Sanborn decided to do exactly that. He joined 10 others in a one-time walk from San Francisco to Washington to proclaim the message that “all human life is sacred.” By the time the group was done, they had spoken to more than 100,000 people and given countless media interviews.
That was to be the end of it, but the following year, other students at Franciscan University decided to pick up the torch and do the walk again. The same happened in subsequent years and by 1999, a second walk had been added. In 2001, the event came under the umbrella of the American Life League.
Walkers have encountered all kinds of experiences. On the positive side, they have managed to persuade three mothers from having abortions. On the other hand, they have found and buried four babies whose bodies were found in dumpsters outside abortuaries.
As instructions to prospective walkers state: “You can expect that this will not be a luxury cruise. In the traditional sense of a pilgrimage, you will sleep in less-than-comfortable places, eat at sporadic times and go a day or two without a shower.”
On this year’s walk, participants have already encountered some problems. As they were crossing San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, they were stopped by bridge patrol officers, who ordered them to remove their pro-life T-shirts because the shirts were deemed to be a form of political protest and distracting to traffic.
Although representatives of the bridge patrol later apologized for the incident, citing “an overzealous officer,” Nolan says Crossroads is consulting lawyers about the possibility of legal action. “They were definitely targeting these kids for their pro-life stance.”
Things have gone more smoothly since then. The starting nine walkers were joined by a 10th when a girl from Colorado decided to join them during a stop there.
“This year, people have come out from all across the country,” says Nolan. “They’ve given donations, words of encouragement, food and support. There’s been an outpouring.”
That may pale in comparison to what’s in store for them when they reach Toronto. According to World Youth for Life Day spokesperson Natalie Hudson, a “massive welcome” is planned for them when they arrive in Canada’s largest city.
“The walkers are really excited to meet youth from around the world and tell them about the unique Crossroads apostolate and mission,” says Nolan. “Hopefully, they’ll inspire other kids from other countries to do the same thing – walk the highways, cities and towns.”
The walkers coming to Toronto include: Kathryn Coyle Fusz, Mary Beth Worthington, Sam Plummer, Michele Shea, Ree Latham, Michael Taylor, Carson Weber, Eddy Herty, Jeffrey Asmussen, Angela Hron, Mary Paul Gray-Lewis, Diana DeFilippo, J.D. Flynn, Nicholas DiGiovanni, Michelle Perry.
They are scheduled to be in the London, Ont. area July 20 before arriving in Toronto July 22.
“We wish to be participants in Christ’s saving work by walking the way of the Cross,” says Adam Redmon, director of Crossroads. “We hope that we may be instruments of conversion for as many hearts and souls as we can through our participation.”