By JOHN WOODS
Nobody can accuse the college students participating in this summer’s journey across the United States of not “walking the walk” when it comes to their pro-life witness.
When their two-and-a-half month trek ends in Washington, D.C., this month they will have covered some 3,400 miles on foot since departing from Seattle, Washington, on May 21. Catholic New York caught up with the group when they came through New York City in late July. It was the first time in the walk’s 11-year history that the marchers had visited the Big Apple.
They used the opportunity to spread the pro-life message in much the same way they did in other states on their northern route. On the weekend of July 23-24, participants gave short reflections at Masses in several parishes on Staten Island and in Manhattan.
“We tell people about our mission and invite them to join us in our efforts to build a culture of life,” said 22-year-old J.D. Flynn, the director of Crossroads, the pro-life organization that sponsors and organizes the annual trek. The group was founded by a student at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
While in New York, the students stayed overnight with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal at St. Joseph’s Friary in Harlem and then spent some time the following day with the Sisters of Life at Sacred Heart of Jesus convent on the West Side where they live in community with pregnant women and young mothers. They also were invited to meet with the World Youth Alliance, a pro-life group at the United Nations.
One marcher, Sarah Hofkes, a 19-year-old sophomore at Ave Maria University in Florida, said in an interview that some New Yorkers they met along their route were not shy in expressing their opinions-pro and con-about their pro-life message. More than in many areas of the country, the fast pace of life here cut down on interaction, as many people paid them little mind as they went about their daily commute, she said.
To cross the country in one summer, the students walk in weekday shifts of 15 to 20 miles as others relax and sleep in the RV, staffed by a support crew, that travels along with them. The inside joke is that the vehicle seems to get smaller with each passing week. On the weekends, they stay with host families or religious communities, and give pro-life witness through reflections at churches and in prayers offered outside abortion clinics. They are also able to speak by phone with their families back home.
At the outset, Sarah said that she was not sure that her body could handle the physical pounding that the trip would bring. She and the others have managed, buoyed by the generosity of the people they have met along the way, who have provided plenty of cool drinks and even some donations now and again. They also know that what they are doing is making a difference in their own lives and those of others.
On Aug. 6 the 12 students on the northern route are scheduled to meet up in Washington, D.C., with counterparts who traveled across America by central and southern paths after departing from San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. They’ll share some stories about their experiences and then get on the move again, this time to attend World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. Before arriving, they will walk, naturally, from Brussels, Belgium.
“It ended up being so much more than I expected,” Sarah Hofkes said. “You don’t realize that…God is going to bless you back.”