The 50-day walking pilgrimage from Florida to New Orleans has been a lesson in self-sacrifice, faith and endurance for members of Crossroads. They’ve been chased down the road in rural Mississippi, had cans and soft drinks hurled at them from car windows, endured insults and threats at abortion clinics and a snake bite somewhere in Georgia, but they just kept walking and spreading their message.
Crossroads is a young adult group that organizes walks across the country each year to raise awareness about abortion. They arrived in New Orleans July 10, stopping to pray at an abortion clinic in Metairie before heading into the CBD for Mass at St. Patrick Church.
Two local guys, Nick DiGiovanni, 23, of Slidell, and Eddy Herty, 20, of Mandeville, along with Geneva Baran, 17, of Peach Tree City, Georgia, met at a local coffee house for iced coffee, Zaps potato chips and the opportunity to spread the word about abortion, specifically the nine clinics in operation in the New Orleans area, including the local Planned Parenthood organization. They planned to pray at all nine clinics before taking part in the Vita Festival pro-life concert July 24-25.
“These clinics exist because Catholics don’t know they are there,” said DiGiovanni. “In Jackson they knew we were coming and didn’t schedule any abortions for that day. Women won’t come when they know there will be people praying outside. If we could schedule 10 people to be outside the clinic every day, it would make a dent in the pockets of abortion facilities and they would have to close down.”
On the road to New Orleans, there were plenty of people who were ready to write the Crossroads group off as a bunch of pro-life extremists – until they talked to them one on one. DiGiovanni, knows a thing or two about what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence. When he was a student at Louisiana Tech University his girlfriend became pregnant and decided to have an abortion. DiGiovanni went to court and filed an injunction to stop the procedure to no avail.
“The judge lifted the injunction,” he said. “She had the abortion on Easter weekend 1999. I didn’t have any say in it. People said I did all I could and told me to get over it. I didn’t want to get over it – I wanted to prevent this from happening to other people. This experience inspired me to walk across the country to save babies. This is my first full-time walk.”
Since May 20 they have walked around Florida, through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. DiGiovanni said the walkers rotated shifts, walking two miles each, day and night. When DiGiovanni hurt his ankle and another walker was hospitalized for a snake bite, the group fell behind schedule and the walk turned into a marathon relay race. In order to make up the time, they ran 160 miles in 30 hours, carrying the crucifix like a baton. Herty said there were days when his legs hurt, when he was hungry and tired, but it was worth the sacrifice.
“I thought that what I was feeling didn’t compare to what Jesus felt,” he said. “I just kept going, knowing I was living the Gospel and walking in his footsteps.”
While running at night Herty had a host of obstacles to contend with, the least of which was traffic. He dodged tin cans hurled by teens in a truck and was chased by a crazy man.
“I was running two and a half miles in Alabama at night on the street and passed this guy who looked scared,” said Herty. “A half-mile later he was chasing me! I picked up the pace and kept going till I lost him. I didn’t want to meet him.”
For every bad experience and challenge, there was an equal and opposite miracle at every turn for the walkers. In two separate instances women who became pregnant when they were raped told the walkers they kept their babies. Both of them said they were glad they carried their babies to term and felt supported in their decision by the walkers.
In another incident, a walker went up to man who had just brought his cousin in to have an abortion. He told the walker that he was the only person who knew she was pregnant and that he didn’t want her to go through with the procedure. When the walker pointed out that since he was the only person who knew about the baby, he was the only one who could go into the clinic and save the baby’s life. The man went into the building and emerged with his cousin a few moments later with his still-pregnant cousin.
When the group passed through Peach Tree City, Ga., Baran, a 17-year-old high school student and parishioner of Holy Spirit Church, was one of 70 teens that turned out for Mass that day. She found herself profoundly moved by Oblate of Wisdom Father Norman Weslin’s homily and wanted to join Crossroads on the walk. Father Weslin is the founder of the anti-abortion group Lambs of Christ and made the entire pilgrimage in his cassock, carrying the crucifix.
“He made me feel so uncomfortable,” said Baran. “I wanted to do something to make a difference.”
Although she was only on the road for two weeks with the group, Baran said the walk opened her eyes, especially when she served as a sidewalk counselor at the first clinic she went to. “When we prayed in front of a clinic it was incredible,” she said. “The hardest part was seeing a woman inside who was waiting to have an abortion. Every time the door opened we locked eyes and I kept saying, ‘Please don’t do this,’ and she kept saying, ‘No.'”
Baran and the rest of the walkers hooked up with local teens at the VITA Fest last weekend in New Orleans. They are now on the road again, this time via bus, praying at abortion clinics, sharing their faith at parishes, and speaking to one heart at a time on the road to World Youth Day in Toronto.