By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY – They don’t mind the occasional obscene gestures or curse words tossed at them as they slowly make their way across the United States.
Jason Spoolstra didn’t even mind it when a motorist chose the precise moment he was passing him to slow down and spray his windshield – and Spoolstra – with washer fluid.
“I just put myself in the footsteps of Jesus on the way of the cross,” Spoolstra said. “He was spat on and jeered at every step of the way.”
They are on a mission to end abortion, one step across the United States at a time, bearing witness to God’s plan of abundant life.
Spoolstra, Tina Hardy and Beth Ann Flessner were among eight Catholic university students who are making this year’s Crossroads walk across the continent as their witness against abortion. Wearing “PRO LIFE” t-shirts as they hike across the middle of the country, their position can’t be mistaken.
“It’s important for people to stand up for what they believe,” Flessner said, following a July 6 Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated in honor of the walk by Bishop Robert W. Finn.
“The only way we can get through this and do it is through the grace of God,” said Flessner, a student at the University of Dallas.
As different sets of walkers have done since 1994, Crossroads walkers set out on May 20 on one of three different routes, walking in shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until they converge for a rally in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 11.
The walkers reaching Kansas City on July 6 began in San Francisco on their pilgrimage through the central part of the nation. Two more teams left from Seattle and from Los Angeles on northern and southern routes. This year for the first time, a group of Canadian students are also making a simultaneous walk from Vancouver, B.C., to their nation’s capital, Ottawa.
Accompanied by a recreational vehicle offering a few of the comforts of home and an additional support vehicle, there is one comfort the walkers haven’t had to sacrifice – daily Mass celebrated by a Franciscan priest, Father Daniel Pattee, who sacrificed the comfort of his office at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, to be with the students every step of the way.
Every day, the walkers attend Mass concelebrated by Father Pattee when they are near a Catholic parish and a local pastor, or celebrated by Father Pattee in the RV when the churches become few and far between.
“It makes a huge difference,” said Spoolstra, a student at North Texas State University. “When we start the day with Mass, we aren’t getting upset with each other the rest of the day.”
Whatever sense of adventure and excitement they may have begun their journey with quickly evaporated within a few days of hard walking through every kind of weather, from desert heat to a freezing snowstorm as they cross a mountain range in Nevada.
Yes, they ran into a few people who did not share their passion for life in a polarized, political climate. But they have met far more good people who reached out to help, particularly people in parishes at Sunday Masses along the way who are generous in their support for the walkers.
And even more important, walking down roads where there is no other sign of human life in sight, sometimes at night with a brilliantly starlit sky above them and no other sounds than the distant howl of a coyote, they find themselves close to God in a way they have never experienced before.
“It’s just you and God,” Flessner said. “When you are out in the desert and alone, you know what really matters. You feel the power of prayer in everything.”
There is plenty of time to pray as they walk, the Crossroads hikers said. So much time, they said, that each place they go, they ask people for their prayer intentions and deliver on their promise to pray for others, as they pray for the end of abortion and the spread of the Gospel of life.
“Prayer is so important,” said Hardy, a student at Franciscan University. “I have seen how it affects my life and how it affects other people’s lives. When people hurt, it is the only thing that really helps.”
In his homily at Mass, Bishop Finn thanked the students for their witness to life, and assured them that God is with them, every step of the way.
“What is absolutely clear is that our Lord does indeed call us to a very responsible and beautiful love through the Gospel. He calls us to live a life of faithfulness and obedience to the truth,” Bishop Finn said.
“He wants us to put aside destructive tendencies and live in purity of mind and heart,” he said. “He readily extends to us his mercy and a new beginning if we can take that step.”
The Mass was celebrated on the feast of St. Maria Goretti, an early 20th century martyr who was murdered at age 12 when she tried to fight off a rapist, warning him that he was committing a sin. Her murderer later repented in prison after seeing a vision of St. Maria offering him 14 lillies, one for each of her stab wounds.
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