STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — It started out as just an ordinary day at college — wake up, pray, grab some breakfast, hit the books to study for an exam, and run off to the Crossroads office for a bit of volunteer work. Then the call came. The call that confirmed they are making a difference. It was just as their motto said: Face-by-face; one-by-one; and literally, step-by-step.
For the past three summers, a small band of students from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, have organized a walk-across-America pro-life campaign, Crossroads. Begun in 1995 by then-student Steve Sanborn to provide the youth of America and students at Franciscan University with an impetus to speak out and witness to the value of human life, the ultimate goal of the group is to change society's view on abortion.
Each coast-to-coast trek draws a core group of 13 to 16 dedicated walkers whose backgrounds encompass a broad range of collegiate loyalties, family backgrounds, and career interests. In spite of the surface differences, participants’ solidarity in prayer and in unwavering commitment to promoting a culture that embraces life — from the womb to the tomb, as they say — is striking.
Donning bold pro-life T-shirts as they walk alongside highways or grab a bite to eat along the way, often praying together, Crossroads participants are what they claim to be: witnesses to the immeasurable value of individual human life — born or unborn, strong or feeble, young or old. In addition, they are witnesses to the critical importance of developing a strong interior moral character because it determines how each man or woman will behave when confronted with these life decisions.
The walkers cover 3,000 miles in about three months, leaving from San Francisco, Calif., and ending up on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., where they hold a concluding rally.
Throughout the journey, two or three people walk for stints of five miles, night and day, with people shifting schedules so no one is only walking in the day or in the night. At any given time, the remainder of the group is either covering speaking or radio engagements, traveling ahead in the RV to set up the evening's campsite, catching some shut-eye or driving the trail van that accompanies the walkers and carries the next shift of people.
Attending daily Mass is an integral part of their campaign and, again, inadvertently contributes to their silent witness of love.
“Prayer is the basis of everything we do,” says 28-year-old Andrew Daub, one of this year's coordinators. “Often walkers pray the rosary. It keeps your mind off the pain sometimes. We pray as a group too. There's nothing stronger than prayer.”
In addition to prayer, there is more than meets the eye to make things run smoothly. The Crossroads operation relies on a central operations office in Steubenville to organize events, rallies, and speaking engagements for the summer campaign. As the walkers approach a city, they call the central office to learn their agenda for a given locale. Often, residents will come out and join in the walk as Crossroads is passing through their town, expanding the group to as many as 60 walkers. Some supporters give money, some come out to walk with them for a few weeks and then return to jobs, others offer food, water, a home-cooked meal, or a place to stay for the night (a welcome change of pace from the group's traveling RV-and-tent arrangement).
While in a city, the Crossroads team engages in radio interviews, youth group and Church talks, rallies, and even praying or sidewalk counseling in front of abortion clinics. All of their group presentations promote chastity and the pro-life message. According to Daub's 23-year-old co-leader, Jimmy Nolan, the group plans to pay special attention this year to emphasizing the strength and beauty of chastity.
Those who have participated in the walks say they believe that more people in this country are pro-life than they think the mainstream media leads society to suspect. One might object that this group thinks that because they interact primarily with those who support the pro-life cause: churches, youth groups, etc. But participants like Daub are quick to counter with examples to indicate otherwise, such as the tremendous amount of unsolicited feedback they get in the form of letters, donations, etc.
“We've had lots of people come up and say they're ‘pro-choice,’” notes Daub. “They say they have a lot of admiration for what we're doing.”
This summer's Crossroads campaign heads out May 22 after a rally near the Dunbarton Bridge in San Francisco, and will end up, as always, three months later on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. (The target date is Aug. 15, the solemnity of the Assumption.) The last leg of the journey, about a six-day trek from Steubenville to Washington, is consistently the most populated, with additional people meeting the group when they arrive in Washington, D.C., forming a rally of 100 or more.
For St. Louis-born Daub, who holds a bachelor's degree in political science from St. Louis University and the rank of first lieutenant after just completing four years with the U.S. Army, participating in this year's walk is his main focus for the summer until he enters law school in the fall.
“This is my third year [participating in the walk],” says Daub, who is drawn both by the opportunity to be a prayerful witness to embracing the life of the pre-born and by the powerful effects he's seen in the responses from strangers. “I've [walked] for a few weeks each summer, but this year I'm committing to the whole time…. We always like to say that from the response we've seen, it seems that the majority of people out there are pro-life.”
Nolan, of Chevy Chase, Md., graduates this year from Franciscan University with a major in business administration. Like Daub, he wants to be an integral part of the campaign because he believes it's a worthwhile witness to life.
“It's really interesting,” says Nolan. “We've had such a good response to what we've been doing, [judging from] the teens we've spoken with on the phone, [and] the D.C. rally, which attracts a lot of people just walking by who stop to listen. People are very eager to learn about Crossroads. It's a new idea. It's not an in-your-face attitude, but more of a witnessing. People respond to this approach.”
Perhaps one of the most moving responses has been a call the headquarters received two weeks ago from a young girl who remembers when Crossroads walked through her Midwest town more than a year ago. She recounted how she had approached one of the girls in the group because of their pro-life T-shirts.
At the time, the local girl was being pushed by her boyfriend to have an abortion. In fact, she had an appointment the day she met the group, but after talking with a girl from Crossroads, the young local decided to postpone her abortion and consider some alternatives. She even took a contact number in case she needed to talk with someone later, but the group never heard from her — at least not until two weeks ago.
Thank you, said the young female voice on the phone, explaining that her baby is now nine months old. The same Midwest girl who had approached the Crossroads group in the restaurant called to let them know that after their conversation she opted not to pursue an abortion. She felt that her baby was designated by God for a special purpose and she wanted to thank them for being witnesses for life.
That's the kind of response that keeps young Americans enthused about walking 3,000 miles each summer. That's the kind of response that keeps these young hearts and minds focused on serving God and his unborn children each day of their lives.
For more information, telephone Crossroads at 800-277-9763.
Karen Walker writes from Corona del Mar, California.