By Paul Hewson,
On a hot day in May, in the middle of the endless desert, a determined group of eight sojourners hiked east on Highway 62 through the city of Joshua Tree, California. The hikers endured intense heat in an attempt to reach their goal — the Arizona border — by Saturday. However, the 20 or so miles they walked on that one day is less than one percent of the 3,000 plus miles the hikers intend to cover — all on foot — over the next two months.
Five days earlier, on Saturday, May 21, these eight walkers began the eleventh annual pro-life pilgrimage known as Crossroads, in which young people in their late teens and ’20s set out from the West Coast to walk across the United States. They will walk 24 hours a day, in rotating shifts, in order to reach Washington, D.C. by August 6. A pro-life endeavor that began in 1995 at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, this year’s Crossroads consists of a total of 35 students walking in three teams along three different routes: northern, central, and southern.
But how does traversing the North American continent by foot for a summer help the pro-life cause?
In Joshua Tree, I caught up with the Crossroads walkers on the southern route and spent a day finding out what motivated them and how they thought their summer trek was aiding the pro-life movement.
“Crossroads is a response to Pope John Paul’s call to youth to spread the Gospel of Life in the highways and byways,” explained Martha Nolan, national director of Crossroads. “We’re literally taking that message to the streets. It’s a pilgrimage of faith but also a way for us to be active in building the Culture of Life.”
The Crossroads walkers attempt to build the Culture of Life in a number of ways. First, for the entire 3,000-mile trek, the walkers wear their “uniform” white shirts that proclaim only two words on the front in bold lettering: “PRO LIFE.” The shirts are meant to bear witness to the pro-life cause as well as initiate discussions with people the walkers meet along the way. Secondly, each weekend the walkers stay in a major city where they speak at parishes about their mission and pray outside of abortion clinics. Cities on the southern route itinerary include San Bernardino, Phoenix, El Paso, Dallas, Shreveport, Jackson, Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, Richmond, and Washington, D.C.
Ultimately though, according to Nolan, it is the “sacrificial” walking that most helps the unborn. “The walking is a sacrifice,” Nolan said. “It’s symbolic in a way. Each step we take is for the lives of the innocent.”
Jonathan Teichert, 21, one of the walkers on the southern route, agrees. “One of the best things we can do for the unborn is pray and sacrifice,” he said. “We need a lot of prayer and sacrifice and to bear witness that abortion is a great evil.”
Teichert, who will begin his senior year at Thomas Aquinas College in the fall, learned about Crossroads at college. “I’m pretty sure God wanted me to go on this journey because it’s such a worthwhile endeavor,” said Teichert, who regularly prays outside of abortion clinics in his hometown of Ojai. “I wanted to do more for the unborn, and this is great preparation for my missionary work in Africa next year.”
Elizabeth Hoisington, 20, a Christendom College student from Ft Myers, Florida, believes that walking with her “PRO LIFE” shirt across the country has a positive impact on people. “Walking the streets helps people to remember what ‘pro-life’ means: abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, starvation,” she said. “It reminds people that they need to do something about it.”
Said Hoisington, “so much of America is passively pro-life. We encourage people to become actively pro-life. We encourage people to pray outside abortion clinics. We ask them to help pro-life organizations in their communities. So many problems in our society are because people are passive.”
Jason Spoolstra, 19, of Ft. Worth, Texas, heard about Crossroads last year while playing a gig with his Catholic band, Remnant. Said Spoolstra, “I heard members of Crossroads give a talk. I thought, I could do this. I knew I could make an impact. I could talk to people across the country about misconceptions of abortion and life.”
For Spoolstra the Crossroads mission of educating Americans from coast to coast is particularly meaningful. “My mother had me when she was 17,” he said. “She was young, scared, and not married. With one wrong choice, I wouldn’t be here.”
Nolan noted that during the first walk in 1995 team members were able to help one mother avoid making that wrong choice. Because of her encounter with the walkers, the mother decided not to abort her child. “You just don’t know how God is going to use you,” Nolan said.
According to Ben Broussard, 20, of Louisiana, “education is a big part of our mission.” Broussard, who is participating in the Crossroads walk for his third summer in a row, added, “wearing these t-shirts sparks conversations. So many people we meet aren’t informed. And we’re going to cause people on the highway to think — whether it’s positive or negative — a few thoughts about abortion.”
Broussard related a story that took place four years ago and a coincidence the week before the walk began. “Four years ago out here on this same highway, a young woman who was scheduled to have an abortion that same day met some Crossroads walkers,” he said. “But after talking with them, she decided not to have the abortion. Just the other day, on the same highway, we happened to meet that woman’s sister who said her sister and four-year-old are doing fine. It’s really amazing.”
In order to complete the coast-to-capital walk in less than 80 days, walkers hike in two alternating shifts: the day shift and the night shift. The day shift walks from about 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. while the night shift sleeps in the Crossroads RV. The night shift walks from about 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. while the day shift sleeps. This schedule also allows time for the team to foster fellowship. All the walkers attend daily Mass together in the morning and sit down to dinner together in the evening. Each shift also prays the rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet, and the Divine Office. Each week walkers switch shifts.
Although law forbids walkers to go on interstate highways, they can walk on state highways and secondary roads.
All walkers are unpaid volunteers, but Nolan stated that “God provides” for their water, food, and gas. “We raise money each weekend at the parishes we speak at,” Nolan said. “We completely rely on the generosity of others. Our supporters from all over the country are an integral part of our mission.” According to the Crossroads brochure, the nearly three-dozen walkers across the U.S. will spend about $8,000 on water, food and gas during their trek.
Monica Papuzynski, 19, who will be matriculating at Ave Maria University in the fall, picked up a flyer about Crossroads at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in 2002. After being inspired by her parish priest, Papuzynski decided to do the walk. “My pastor is always talking about going out of your comfort zone and being a radical Catholic,” she said.
Indeed, the Crossroads walk seems firmly planted in the “discomfort zone.” According to Broussard, the devil makes sure of it. “The journey is also a spiritual battle,” he said. “The forces of Satan are trying to divide us. If we’re not rooted in prayer, we won’t get anywhere at all.” Broussard declared that “dying to self is very important” in order to weather constant trials: heat, cold, hunger, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, only being able to shower or do laundry occasionally, the occasional taunts of drivers and passersby, the friction that naturally develops between people from being in close quarters day in and day out.
Nolan recounted the story of walkers a few years ago who were stopped by authorities while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. They were told their “PRO LIFE” shirts were creating a disturbance and were made to take them off before they could finish crossing the bridge.
Amy Alvarado, 26, who walked four years ago, was struck by a hit-and-run driver while on Crossroads and nearly died. She was hit in North Carolina, just one week away from Washington, D.C. “I was really focused on finishing the walk,” Alvarado said, “but God asked a lot more of me than just the sacrifice of the walk. I think I didn’t finish the walk in D.C. because this is my calling, to do pro-life work, and I won’t be done till I’m dead.” Alvarado currently works as a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center in Los Angeles. Later this year, she will be doing pro-life work as the field representative for the office of government affairs and public policy for the diocese of Brooklyn in New York. “I thought the walk was awesome,” she said, “but usually everything that is awesome is hard.”
On August 6, all three teams walking across the U.S. will conclude their continental pilgrimage by meeting on the steps of the capitol, where they will hold a small rally. They will then attend a special Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Crossroads is the powerful example given by its young members. Said Nolan, “every church we go to, people are overwhelmingly supportive, and people are happy to see youth taking a stand for life. And we aren’t walking with our heads hanging down. There’s joyfulness in this work. The example the walkers give to other youth is very compelling.”
View this story online at: http://www.losangelesmission.com/ed/articles/2005/0507ph.htm