WASHINGTON—The fourth annual cross-country pro-life walk, sponsored by Crossroads, Inc., ended with a rally on the Feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15 at the U.S. Capitol. The walkers, all college students or recent graduates, began their journey in San Francisco May 22.

The adventure began with eight young men and women, but a core group of about 20 participated in much of the 3,400-mile walk. Most of them are affiliated with Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where Crossroads’ student-run, nonprofit headquarters is located.

The walkers, as they have done in previous years, sought to bring the pro-life message to the nation. They drew attention to the cause along the route, counseled young people, prayed at abortion clinics, and referred women in crisis to appropriate sources. In addition to witnessing against abortion, they promoted chastity.

The group was welcomed in Washington, D.C., by a Mass for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and a rally on the steps of the Capitol. Among those who helped celebrate the walk's successful completion were Father Frank Pavone, international director of Priests for Life; pro-life activist Joseph Scheidler; and Nellie Gray, president and founder of the March for Life.

The Mass, on the eve of the Assumption, was concelebrated by Father Pavone Aug. 14. In his homily, he said that the lesson of the Virgin Mary's life was a valuable one in understanding how we can love both a mother and her child.

“You love one, you love the other. It's not an either-or,” he said, referring to the need for pro-life advocates to remember both victims in an abortion. This can be accomplished by understanding the value of sacrifice.

The priest told the walkers and their supporters, “We fulfill ourselves when we give ourselves away. Only in giving ourselves away, do we grow. That is the message of the Gospel. That is the message of the Cross.”

The rally the following morning at the Capitol continued this theme of sacrifice and commitment, which was exhibited by the students. Scheidler, who had previously met with the group in Indianapolis, told them he had “nothing but praise and admiration” for their efforts.

“You have taken the message out to the people who won't come and get the message. And that's what Jesus said to do: go and teach. Jesus was our first pro-life activist,” he said.

“But,” he added, “remember always that if you are following Christ, you will follow him all the way. We follow a leader who suffered and died and said, ‘If they hate you, remember they hated me first. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.’“

Many, both in and out of the pro-life movement, believe Scheidler himself is being persecuted by the use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to silence him. But he is undeterred in his optimism and commitment. In an interview with the Register, he said, “I really admire these kids. They're taking the message out to a starving nation, which is seeking the truth.”

Father Pavone also praised the Crossroads volunteers for their outreach. He said, “You marchers have just walked across a country that's lost its conscience, for the most part — a country that has in large measure fallen in love with death.”

The way to counteract that morbid preoccupation, the priest said, is to show the kind of activism the walkers demonstrated. He argued, “The message will not reach the American people until and unless we continually and consistently bring it out into the streets.”

“The problem, brothers and sisters, is not that Bill Clinton is sitting in the White House, the problem is that we're sitting in our house. The people who know what is going on have not only the privilege, but have the obligation to bring that message out into the streets,” he added.

Another national figure, Nellie Gray of the March for Life, thanked the walkers for heightening awareness of the horrors of abortion. She said this was vital because we can't begin to change laws — we can't begin to teach — until we open the consciences of the people of America, the minds and hearts of the people.”

During the rally Crossroads presented its Project Michael Award to Gray for her pro-life efforts. The award was named after a child found in a Chicago trash can outside an abortion clinic in 1995. He was later buried at Franciscan University's Tomb of the Unborn Child.

Also speaking was Joan Appleton, a former abortion clinic nurse and administrator. She now works with the Pro-Life Action Ministries in St. Paul, Minn., and is head of the Society of Centurions of America, an outreach group for past and present abortion providers.

Appleton praised the walkers for providing inspiration for her efforts. She said, “It is the hope that you give me in what you're doing that keeps me going.” She added that she will convey the message of Crossroads and the dedication of its people during her upcoming speaking tour of Irish universities.

The speeches extolling the sacrifice of the walkers were uplifting and well received, but perhaps the most memorable comments came from the walkers themselves. In conversations with the Register, several discussed what the journey meant to them.

Jimmy Nolan, this year's walk leader, has spent the past year helping to raise funds and organize the effort. It was all worth it, he said, because the trip turned out to be an inspirational odyssey.

“What I found out,” he said, “is that you really can't have a strong faith without being pro-life. They go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other.”

Joseph Flipper, who has kept a journal chronicling the walk for the Register, (see page 16) said, “Being in front of the abortion clinics was the most gratifying experience: seeing lives saved, possibly seeing souls saved.”

Another walker, Jaime Black, spoke of the girl in St. Louis who decided not to have an abortion after talking with Crossroads members outside a clinic. They arranged for her to see a pro-life video tape and connected her with a local Birthright office.

Black believes her participation in the walk, which began in Lincoln, Neb., was spiritually enriching. “It definitely was God's will. It's the best thing I've ever done in my life,” she said.

Outside of Washington, D.C., Lisa Winkelman said, the group encountered two l6-year-old girls, one of whom already had an abortion and had once been raped. The teenagers were originally hostile.

But after talking for some time, during which the walkers “told them of the love of Jesus and his mercy,” Winkelman said, “you could see a transformation. By the end, they were just glowing. You could just see the grace of God working in them.”

Steve Sanborn, who created the annual walk in 1995, told the rally of his commitment to the pro-life movement, “it kind of sticks to you. It's not something you can shake off, it's something you see as a necessity. it's a moral issue.

“But more than that, it's something that becomes a part of your soul, becomes a part of your mind and your heart, when you see what needs to be done, when you understand that you, yourself, could have been a victim of this [abortion].

“And so by acting, we've become more convicted and we've tried to spread that conviction to others that we meet. The results have been pretty good,” he said.

This year's route included stops in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, and Maryland before ending in the nation's capital. Sanborn hopes to have two walks next year.

For more information about Crossroads and its 1999 walk contact the group's headquarters at (800) 277-9763.

Joseph Esposito writes from Springfield, Va.