By Kevin Sweeney
NEW ULM – A group of college-age youths is spreading a pro-life message across the United States, one step at a time.
The group of nine, part of the Crossroads organization, made it to New Ulm on Monday, about halfway in their trek from Seattle, Wash., to Washington, D.C.
Two of the walkers, Liz Ziarnowski from Buffalo, N.Y., and Rosanne Cannizzo of Atlanta, Ga., stopped by The Journal after they completed their over-night walking shift to tell about their adventure and the motives behind it.
Crossroads’ Pro-Life Walk, now in its 14th summer, was created by Steve Sanborn, then a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He attended the World Youth Day in 1993, where Pope John Paul II challenged his young audience not to be afraid “to go out into the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles, who preached Christ and the Good News of Salvation in the square of cities, towns and villages.”
Sanborn and fellow students decided to take the pope’s challenge literally. In 1995 they held their first Pro-Life walk across America, starting in San Francisco and ending in Washington, D.C. in just 11 weeks.
Each year since, young walkers, primarily 18 and older, and some as old as 30, have been walking across the country. This year three groups are participating, one following a southern route, one through the central states, and one along the northern route that comes through New Ulm.
Ziarnowski said the Crossroads mission is “a peaceful, prayerful witness to the dignity and sanctity of human life.”
The walkers spread the word through their T-shirts, emblazoned with a large, readable “Pro-Life” slogan, visible from a long way down the road. When they arrive in cities with abortion clinics, they hold peaceful prayer demonstrations outside. They sometimes speak at churches and for organizations who invite them, and they try to attend daily Mass in the communities where they stop. Often, the priests will introduce them and ask them to tell a little about what they do.
Students from seven states and Canada make up the group, said Cannizzo. The northern travelers are mostly in the 19, 20 and 21 age group.
Cannizzo said she found out about Crossroads through someone she met on Facebook. She asked, “What’s that?” and when she found out about it, she decided the next night she was going.
“I totally went against my mother on this,” Cannizzo said. “We fought about it for two months. She said I had to stay home and make some money for college, that I’d get mowed down or something. Finally she said, ‘You’re 20, I guess I can’t tell you what to do anymore.'”
Ziarnowski had quite the opposite reaction from her family. “Pro-life has been a big issue for my family for a long time,” she said. She had seen a Crossroads bumper sticker a few years earlier and decided she was going as soon as she was old enough.
“When I told them I was going, they all said, ‘That’s great!'”
The team divides the walk up into shifts. Each shift will cover about 15 to 25 miles a day. The next shift will pick up where the previous shift ended. Each group has an RV as a support vehicle, providing a place to sleep on the nights when they don’t get invited to stay somewhere (they usually do), and a kitchen to prepare hot foods. It also provides shelter when the weather turns nasty.
“We’ve had golf ball-sized hail and tornadoes,” said Cannizzo. “When we were walking across Montana, we were in shorts and T-shirts one day, and the next day we had three inches of snow.”
They’ll get into discussions with people who ask them about their cause. Most of the time people will approach them. Their cause is Pro-Life, not just abortion, said Ziarnowski. So they can talk about other issues, from the war to economic justice, as well as abortion.
From here until they reach their final destination on Aug. 15, the group will be fighting mental exhaustion, said Cannizzo. They usually have their weekends off, but they spend most of the time sleeping, she said.
So far, the people they have met seem to favor Pro-Life, they said. Ziarnowski said they have run into a little more dissent as they come farther east. But they find America is overwhelmingly pro-life in its attitudes.
It is an issue that affects young people, they said, but young people don’t often have an opportunity to do much about it. With their walk across America, they take satisfaction in doing something for a cause they believe in.
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