By Erin Maguire
Special to The CS&T
“Everywhere we went, whether to the grocery store or to a church, we wore t-shirts with large letters that said ‘Pro-Life’ on the front. We got used to people screaming at us and people thanking us,” said sophomore Joanna Armstrong of DeSales University, Center Valley.
This summer, Armstrong and DeSales University seniors Chris Jones and Joe Lanzilotti gave up summer jobs to walk across the country with Crossroads, a pro-life student organization.
Started in 1995 by a Franciscan University of Steubenville student Steve Sanborn as a response to the Holy Father’s challenge to spread the Gospel of Life, Crossroads remains, almost a decade later, “a peaceful organization dedicated to helping bring about a culture of life in our country.”
“We’re fighting for the child in the womb and the person we are talking to,” Jones said. “We fight for all life with love, respect and patience while maintaining Christian values.”
Along with the fight to uphold the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death, the Crossroads team also stands against embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia and in vitro fertilization.
Jones found out about the walk after participating in the March for Life in Washington D.C. last year, when he met two students who were discussing it. After investigating the Crossroads web site, he informed Armstrong and Lanzilotti, both of whom were impressed.
“I always felt a calling to defend the unborn children and to pray for them. I felt a calling to this specific ministry through prayer. God was calling me to do something radical, to take a risk and place my trust in him through the Crossroads walk,” Lanzilotti said.
Armstrong said she put the question “in God’s hands.” She applied for both a camp counselor position and the Crossroads walk, deciding she would commit herself to whichever program accepted her first. She prayed over it every night; she got her invitation to Crossroads in an e-mail.
Before the trip began, the walkers went through an interview process. Along with a few instructions, they were provided a list of essentials for the walk: two t-shirts, one pair of shorts, one pair of pants, one sweat-shirt or jacket, 10 pairs of socks, shoes, a khaki skirt for the women, khaki pants for the men, and toiletries.
Crossroads provided two pro-life shirts that said, “Taking steps to save lives,” which the group members were required to wear while walking.
On May 17, Armstrong and Jones landed in San Francisco to begin the trek. Their mission was to spread the pro-life message through the northern states as they hiked to their destination: Washington, D.C.
Two days after arriving in San Francisco, Jones and three others started the Northern Walk, taking the night-shift in four-mile increments while the rest of the group stayed with host families. In the morning, he and his group marked where they had stopped walking and drove back to the others in a van to switch off and sleep at the host houses.
After the first week, the group members slept in their van. Two weeks later, Crossroads purchased an RV through donations, and the walkers alternated between sleeping in the RV and in tents.
One rainy night in Kansas, as Jones slept in a tent, he said, “The lightening was like strobe lights. It was really scary. I called my dad and he said that tornados were caused by the storm. I held my rosary the whole night — I prayed it so hard that it made indents on my hands.”
While he and Armstrong journeyed through the northern states, Lanzilotti decided to participate in the southern walk, where he knew no one on the team. “Not knowing anyone lends itself to more risk. I also had a desire to walk through the deep South even though it was going to be hotter — and it definitely was,” he said.
Both groups averaged 22 hours a day walking, and it was not always easy.
“It’s a sacrifice getting up every day to walk. Some days you just didn’t want to,” Jones said. “It’s hard walking through the heat and rain and at night, sacrificing your sleeping schedule and food — that’s a big sacrifice.”
The walkers’ diet consisted mostly of hot dogs, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Occasionally, families cooked for them, or people donated food. One day, the Northern walk donated all their food for that day to a soup kitchen.
At weekend Masses, the walkers took turns delivering five-minute speeches about Crossroads after Communion. Their motive was to mobilize the communities — “get them out there and doing things,” said Armstrong.
“Afterwards, people thank you for saying something,” she said. “One person wanted to start a pro-life group at that parish.” At another Mass most of the congregants were Spanish-speaking had to be addressed in Spanish.
In speaking to the congregations, the walkers stressed the importance of becoming involved with the pro-life movement, even if participation starts small. The Crossroads walkers encouraged people to “take an hour out of their week, or month to say the rosary, to go to an abortion mill or nursing home — to step up and help the pro-life movement,” Armstrong said.
During the walk, the participants also stopped at abortion clinics to hand out informational packets, offer sidewalk counseling, talk to the women and their escorts, and pray.
Armstrong shared one story about an incident in Denver: “We went to one abortion mill there where Protestant women were standing on ladders yelling into microphones around the wall of the facility, screaming at the women, ‘You’re sinning,’ ‘God doesn’t want you to do this,’ ‘The people inside are evil.’ Outside the clinic were three local women, who were sick of hearing the screaming, chanting ‘my body, my choice.'”
Armstrong said she and her companions approached the women going into the abortion clinic. The Protestants reproached them for “talking to sinners” but the pro-choice women were intrigued — they had never seen activists approach women going into the clinic in such a civil and loving manner.
Some of Armstrong’s group struck up a conversation with the pro-choice proponents; they explained that being pro-life meant loving the women and their babies, and all life, equally.
The pro-choice women were so touched they emptied their pockets, giving all the money they had at the time to Crossroads, and explaining: “You changed three hearts today,” Armstrong said. “We showed them that we are pro-life, not just anti-abortion,” she said. “If that’s what God wanted to get out of the walk, that’s enough.”
Walking for three months, constantly wearing pro-life t-shirts and defending their stance on life, Armstrong, Jones and Lanzilotti increased their self-assurance in their pro-life beliefs.
“I took away a confidence and boldness from Crossroads. I always had strong feelings about abortion; now I’m not afraid to go up to a stranger and talk about pro-life,” Armstrong said.
Lanzilotti said he found “a greater sense of peace and purpose through Crossroads,” and he has continued to feel that since his return. Like Armstrong, he said, “I brought back a deeper conviction for speaking the truth boldly, without reserve, and I gained a confidence in myself with what I can do.”
Now back on the university campus, all three participants hope to educate the students about pro-life issues. “We have to be a witness to how wonderful it is to be alive with the gift of life,” Lanzilotti said. In living in that way, he hopes to show “love and service to people, regardless of age, race, differing opinions, and to educate people as to what’s going on in the world — the truth of abortion, contraception, euthanasia, and all attacks against human life.”
As president of the Pro-Life club at DeSales University, Lanzilotti said, “My role is to encourage all members of the club to become leaders in their own right, to recognize that they have what it takes to be courageous witnesses on this campus and in the world at large.”
For more information about Crossroads and how to become involved, visit www.crossroadswalk.com
Erin Maguire is the 2003 recipient of The Catholic Standard & Times journalism scholarship. She is a sophomore communications major at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa.
CROSSROADS: AT A GLANCE…
Who: Primarily college-age students. Men and women who are 18 years old and older, from all over the United States are welcome to participate.
What: Walking over 3,000 miles across the U.S. while educating the youth of America about the pro-life movement through talks, radio, TV, and newspaper?
Where: Two walks, originating from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Calif., to Washington, D.C.
When: Every summer, from around May 20 through Aug. 15.
Why: To witness to the sanctity of every human life, especially the unborn. Crossroads is a peaceful organization dedicated to helping bring about a culture of life in our country.
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