By David Eck
DAYTON DEANERY/NORTH — The two people walking briskly on U.S. Route 40 through the central part of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati last week were easily spotted, and their stance was quite clear.
The walkers, wearing bright white t-shirts with the words “Pro Life” plastered in big black letters across the front, are part of Crossroads, a Catholic pro-life ministry in which young people volunteer to walk across the country to promote life. About 50 walkers are participating in Crossroads walks in the United States and Canada this summer.
There are three teams of walkers in the United States while a fourth group is walking across Canada. The three teams in America, one each in the northern, central and southern regions of the United States will converge in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 11.The Canadian group will end in Ottawa on the same date.
Franciscan Father Dan Pattee, a theology professor at Franciscan University in Steubenville, is on the central U.S. walk. The team left San Francisco in May.
“It’s been physically rigorous, but it’s also been a spiritual battle,” Father Pattee said. “This is about pro-life. To be pro-life, we have been engaged in a spiritual battle all summer against the forces of pro-death. Things have happened that have challenged us as walkers, but we just keep going. We don’t stop walking.”
Crossroads began at Franciscan University in 1995.
Father Pattee was asked to go on the first walk in 1995, but said ‘no.’ In 2006, he blessed students as they left to begin the walk and felt a longing to go with them.
“That was the second moment it really touched me for good, and I prayed about it all year,” he said. “My provincial let me go. The university let me go from teaching. All the doors opened, and I did it.”
At 50 years old, Father Pattee is far older than anyone else on the walk. The walkers are primarily college students and recent college graduates.
“The first two weeks . . . I looked like a cripple, I really did,” he said. “I was concelebrating Mass and was limping. My back was sore, and everything was just awful. After the two weeks, I started to get the rhythm of it.”
Father Pattee’s team typically has eight members with four people walking during the day and the other four walking at night. There are always two people walking, in five-mile shifts. They live out of a recreational vehicle and also use two smaller vehicles.
All eight team members meet up a local church each morning for Mass. After breakfast, the night crew goes to bed while the day crew starts out from where the night crew stopped.
The group takes no shortcuts and covers every mile on foot. Each person will end up walking about 1,000 miles, Father Pattee said.
The team relied on host families they met along the way for shelter while their RV was in a garage for two weeks. Helen and Bob Swab, parishioners at St. Christopher Parish in Vandalia, invited the night crew to sleep at their Huber Heights home when the team passed through.
Nichole Muhlenkamp, a Minster native who did the walk last summer, joined the team for a day as they came through the Miami Valley.
“There are a lot challenges, but the Lord gave you the grace you needed each day to make it through,” she said. “(There’s) overwhelming generosity across the country for us.”
Cassandra Blanco, a Florida State University graduate, heard about the walk from a friend. She wanted to participate before beginning her job as a youth minister this fall.
“It’s challenging,” she said. “It’s an offering and a sacrifice. I know for me personally one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to really live in the present moment and to offer up the joys and the sorrows for the pro-life movement.”
Despite the physical challenges, Father Pattee said the experience has left an impression on him.
“My confidence in humanity has been confirmed, and also my confidence in the church of the United States has been confirmed. You couldn’t have seen more of a demonstration of sacrifice and generosity than what we see as we’re coming across. It’s really been a positive experience, just incredible.”
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