In 1999, Nicholas DiGiovanni's pregnant girlfriend said she wanted an abortion. This summer, he is walking through 10 U.S. states and one Canadian province for the child he would have had — Baby Genesis.
How did he go from out-of-wedlock, problem pregnancy to outspoken pro-life activism? By trying to choose life for his child only to lose the case to his girlfriend in the courts.
DiGiovanni will lead one of two Crossroads walks for life that will end at World Youth Day in Toronto.
Crossroads, a division of the American Life League, was founded in 1995 by Steve Sanborn, who led the first walk from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., with an Australian priest and eight fellow students from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Sanborn had been influenced by Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) and its call for “a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life.”
Because the Pope helped inspire the cross-country walk, Adam Redmon, national director of Crossroads, said it seemed appropriate to have both walks culminate this year at World Youth Day. There, participants can thank the Holy Father and be in solidarity with him and others in a celebration of life. Redmon also is hoping that having Crossroads walkers at World Youth Day will spark interest in starting Crossroads walks in other countries.
Wearing T-shirts that say “Pro Life” in big, bold letters on the front, Crossroads participants, who range in age from about 18 to 25, walk 20 to 30 miles a day in shifts around the clock, accompanied by a mini-van that carries supplies. Their mission is to tell their generation the truth about abortion — something many regard only as a legal right.
DiGiovanni, who is now 23, said that, although he was raised Catholic, he was never exposed to the reality of abortion before learning of his girlfriend's pregnancy. “I knew the word abortion,” he said, “but I didn't relate it to the fact that babies died.”
When his girlfriend insisted on having the abortion despite his objections, he called a lawyer who agreed to work on a pro-bono basis. For 27 days, they managed to postpone the abortion.
His girlfriend, who was represented by a legal team from the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, won her case on Holy Thursday of 1999.
DiGiovanni wanted to take the case to the state supreme court. But, because the ruling came down on Easter weekend, when state offices were closed, he was unable to file an appeal. “I went back to my dorm room and bawled my eyes out,” he recalls. “I wanted still to fight. People said I did all I could. I said, ‘This is my son, this is my daughter, what do you mean I did all I could?’” DiGiovanni later learned his girlfriend had had the abortion the next day, on Good Friday.
That weekend, a priest from his home-town put him in touch with the American Life League. He now works for the organization, serving as editor of Reality Check, a youth publication, while attending George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. He told the story of his aborted child at ALL's 2000 convention and participated in his first Crossroads walk last summer. This year, he is directing the Southern Walk, which began in Tampa, Fla., May 20.
“If anybody wants to know why I am doing this, it's because I'm a father and because I have a responsibility to my child,” DiGiovanni says. “In this case, it's to help save other babies. The way I see it, every child affects so many lives. Every person affects many lives. When that person is killed by abortion, those changes do not occur. So my responsibility as a father to my child is to let other people get to know that child so that my Baby Genesis is not wasted.”
Michelle Perry, 25, a counselor at the Sacramento, Calif., Life Center who also is on the Southern Walk, said in her work she constantly meets girls and women who are uneducated about the truth of abortion. “Girls come in and they have no idea that their baby already has a heartbeat, a brain, arms and legs,” she said. “I show them a picture of an 8-week old baby, and they say, ‘No way. That can't be inside me.’”
Perry wanted to go participate in Crossroads to reach more people than she sees at the Life Center where, she says, “I just kind of wait for them to come in and see me.”
Sufferings Offered Up
In addition to giving a visible and vocal witness, Crossroads walkers also pray at abortion clinics, say the rosary as they walk and “offer up” the hardships of their life on the road as a sacrifice for the pro-life cause.
“I was told how much sacrificing we have to do on Crossroads before I came,” Perry said. “But until you do that walking, you have no idea how much it really is. Your legs are burning and you're tired, but you have to keep on walking and offering it up for the babies.”
In each major metropolitan area where Crossroads walkers stop, they also will be holding town-hall meetings.
This year, the Northern Walk team began in San Francisco and will amble through California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan before crossing the border into Canada. The Southern Walk route passes through Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi before stopping in New Orleans July 11 for ALL's World Family Conference.
In New Orleans, the Southern Walk will be joined by several bus-loads of high-school students who will be making a three-week pilgrimage to World Youth Day.
Occasionally, the groups run into trouble, as the walkers on the Northern Walk did recently while crossing San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Redmon said they were ordered by bridge patrol officers to remove their T-shirts, which have “Pro-Life” on the front and an American flag on the back. According to the officers, the shirts were considered a form of political protest. Redmon said Crossroads has contacted its lawyers about the incident.
Meanwhile, Perry said she hopes seeing the Crossroads walkers, who were born after abortion was made legal, will convince people to consider the value of life.
“I just wish that people would realize how valuable life is,” Perry said. “We made it, we're the survivors and we're here. It's so wrong of us to think that, just because we're here, we can decide for others who are in the womb or too old to defend themselves. It's really horrible that we feel we have that power. It's got to change. People have to realize the dignity and sanctity of human life. If it doesn't change, our society is going to just self-destruct.”
Judy Roberts writes from Millbury, Ohio.