By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
WARRENSBURG – Two months into their pro-life walk across America, a dozen university students who arrived in Warrensburg July 10 were not only still talking to each other, but were still having fun – lots of it.
“We’ve gone through a lot,” said Dennis Stoll, who recently graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “But we get to meet wonderful people.”
A lot? How about a blown engine in the recreational vehicle that serves as the group’s living quarters for the three-month transcontinental hike.
That happened in western Colorado. It took two weeks to replace the engine, but the hikers moved on. They had made another 700 miles, sleeping in whatever accommodations they could arrange from Catholic parishes and other supporters along the way, before two of them drove their accompanying van back to get it.
There, they found out that the RV wouldn’t be ready for another day. Even that was providential, said Mark Spencer, a Franciscan University of Steubenville student from Ann Arbor, Mich.
They learned when they got back to the small Colorado town that the first Planned Parenthood clinic was opening the next day. That gave them the opportunity to pray outside the clinic as it opened its doors.
“By being there that day, we could be a witness to life,” Spencer said. “God wanted us there that day.”
Their excursion into Missouri was eventful as well. The van, which leapfrogs a few miles ahead of the walkers and is used to switch walkers in relay teams, was being used to run an errand in Kansas City – with all the crew’s rain gear inside.
And July 10 brought blessed rain to western Missouri.
“It wasn’t bad at all,” said Eva Radel, a student at Germanna Community College from Fredricksburg, Va. “It was kind of nice to walk in the rain.”
Until later that afternoon, when the RV ran over a rock and blew a tire. It wasn’t your ordinary loosen-the-lug-nuts and jack-up-the-bumper tire change. They had to call for help once again to get the huge RV back on the road. By the time the tire was changed, the “day crew” of six was two hours late for their lasagna and chicken picotta dinner at Sacred Heart Parish in Warrensburg, sponsored by Johnson County, Mo., Right to Life and catered by Minotti’s Restaurant.
They arrived to meet the “night crew” cohorts with plenty of food left, and still warm.
“Oh, this is so good,” said Laura Trujillo, a Franciscan University student from Brentwood, Calif.
Trujillo was quick to point out that she was from the “northern California Brentwood,” not the L.A. suburb made notorious by O.J. Simpson.
“California is the best place in the world in the summer,” Trujillo said. “I miss it so much. But I’ve always said I was pro-life, and I wanted to prove it. I’m now doing something about it.”
The Crossroads Walk Across America was begun in 1994 by Steve Sanborn, a Franciscan University student, as a way to underscore the commitment of pro-life Catholic students to saving the lives of unborn children.
This is the generation of Roe v. Wade, said Stoll. Approximately 40 million babies have been aborted legally in the United States since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“I look at this as providing me with the opportunity to speak up for those who have no voice,” Stoll said.
The walkers who arrived in Warrensburg are one of three sets of student-walkers who began their march on May 18 and will end it together at a rally in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 12.
Another group set out across the northern states from Seattle, Wash. A third group started from Los Angeles and is hiking through southern states.
The central crew will have walked through California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia before arriving in the nation’s capital.
The walk certainly takes a physical toll, although the walkers hit the Italian buffet line in Warrensburg with energy.
It could take a financial toll on the already meager budgets of college students. But each one soliticted sponsors not only to pay their expenses, but to make up for the loss of summer jobs.
“God took care of me,” said Claire Huck, a Franciscan University student from Picayune, Miss. “I sent out letters to let people know what I was doing, and I got back more money than I would have made this summer anyway. When you do God’s work, he takes care of you.”
The walk does not take a spiritual toll. In fact, the opposite happens, the walkers said.
Whenever possible, the walkers attend daily Mass in whatever town they happen to be in. They also pray the Liturgy of the Hours, morning and evening daily, and they pray the rosary several times a day while they are walking and waiting to walk.
Their witness is grounded in prayer, but their action is necessary, Houck said.
“As Christians and Catholics, we can get caught up in the mentality of praying about abortion, but we need to do more,” she said. “I wanted to do something bold to bring an end to the reality of abortion.”
The walkers hike 24 hours a day, five days a week in shifts. On weekends, they fan out across Catholic parishes in the nearest large city to spread their pro-life message.
“There is so much the world doesn’t know about abortion,” said Kim Ehlert, a student at the University of St. Thomas from St. Paul, Minn., who said she was inspired to join Crossroads after watching an EWTN television show about women who suffer physically and psychologically after abortions.
“Women are being lied to,” Ehlert said. “We need to respect life, and we need to respect women, too.”
Adrienne Hynek, director of the Respect Life Office for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, congratulated the students in Warrensburg for their dedication.
“Walking all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast is extreme and physically demanding,” she told them. “But it is also extreme spiritually. You are praying for a culture of life. God has the opportunity to work on your hearts because you are open to it.”
Hynek told them that Missouri is facing a new challenge to life because of a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would protect the cloning and killing of human embryos for medical research, and asked the walkers to remember Missouri in their prayers.
“The gravity of killing an innocent human being is a sin at any stage of development,” Hynek said. “If you kill a human being at the most vulnerable stage, it is a grave sin.”
Tom Fitzpatrick, president of the Johnson County, Mo., Right to Life chapter, told the walkers that they “are carrying on a great tradition.”
“The light of life is strong, but it is also very, very fragile,” he said. “There are many, many people who are very proud of you and what you are doing.”
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