It was on the outskirts of Los Angeles earlier in the summer. A woman pulled her car to the side of the road where three Crossroads participants were walking, got out of her car, and asked them what they were doing.
Ben Stalling, 27, of Reedville, Va., leader of the southern group, said the woman told the walkers she was planning to have an abortion, but that after talking to them, she decided she couldn't go through with it.
More than 20 college students and recent graduates who consider themselves abortion survivors are making a pilgrimage across the United States this summer to take the message of life to a generation they believe is at a crossroads in dealing with abortion.
Wearing T-shirts that say, “Pro-Life” on one side and “America Is Pro-Life” on the other, the walkers are following two routes, one from San Francisco across the northern half of the country, and the other from Los Angeles across the southern states.
Along the way, they are praying the rosary, offering up the discomfort of life on the road in atonement for abortion, speaking in churches, and reaching out to those who have grown up in a land where abortion is legal.
In keeping with the idea of a pilgrimage, they are walking in faith, depending on the kindness of strangers and God's Providence for food and supplies. On Aug. 11, they will meet in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion legal in 1973. Anyone born since then, they say, is a survivor.
“Those of us born after 1973 are the ones most affected by abortion because the majority of our brothers and sisters are not here anymore due to abortion,” said Adam Redmon, national director of the walk, known as Crossroads, and a two-time participant.
Redmon said many of those born since 1973 have never thought about abortion as anything other than a woman's right.
He said Crossroads’ mission is to educate the MTV generation that what they've been told about abortion is a lie. When they learn the facts, he said, “Usually, they just eat it up. They're thirsty for the truth. And when they leave, they seem very excited to do something.”
Crossroads started in 1995 when Steve Sanborn, then a student at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, decided he wanted to do something for the pro-life movement.
During the summer of 1993, Sanborn, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., said he was moved by the way television coverage of flooding along the Mississippi River centered on the “good news” of Americans’ willingness to help each other in times of trouble.
“I was sitting on a forklift on a dock on Kodiak Island when I thought, ‘I bet you could walk across the country, deliver a message, and make some kind of statement with the walk, and just rely on the help of people who believe in what you stand for and what you're doing.’”
Two years later, he led the first Crossroads walk from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., accompanied initially by eight Franciscan University students and an Australian priest who had spent a sabbatical year on the Ohio campus. By the end of the walk, their numbers had reached 15.
Sanborn said he was inspired by Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), in which the Holy Father says, “What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life.”
After having started Crossroads in January that year, Sanborn said the Pope's message spoke loudly to him when it was released in March. “He was kind of putting the call out there — ‘Does anybody still care?’ We were saying, ‘Yeah, we do. Literally.’”
Early on, walk participants were mainly from Franciscan University, but since then, the effort has attracted students from all over the country and Canada, Redmon said.
Since its inception, about 250 walkers have been involved and about half have gone on to work in the pro-life movement full-time. “After they do the walk for three months, they want to stay involved,” Redmon said. “They want to fight this culture of death.”
Logistics of Life
Crossroads begins with training in Virginia at the headquarters of the American Life League, which recently made Crossroads one of its divisions. Participants then drive west to either Los Angeles or San Francisco to begin their walk. Next year, organizers hope to start a third route beginning in Portland, Ore.
Each Crossroads team is divided into a day group and a night group so that the walk can continue around the clock. A mini-van accompanies each team, transporting walkers to the road and carrying water and other supplies. A motor home and tent also are used to provide separate sleeping quarters for men and women. Cellular phones keep them connected with a central office that handles such details as setting up speaking engagements and contacting the media.
As a group, each team covers about 3,000 miles, with individuals walking 20 to 30 miles a day. Along the way, local youth groups are encouraged to join the walkers.
“A lot of miracles happen on the walk, especially when you're throwing everything out there for God to take care of,” Redmon said.
Members of the northern team shared the story of the L.A. woman Sunday night, July 22, at a church in Indianapolis, said Chris Weber, 25, of Hanover, Ontario, the northern team leader. Afterward, a woman approached the team and told them she too had been planning to have an abortion, but after hearing what they had to say, realized she could not do it.
“We get stories like that, and this is just the most recent one,” Weber said.
Sister Diane Carollo, director of the pro-life office of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, agreed that the Crossroads group made a significant impact as they passed through the area.
She emphasized that what the teams are actually doing makes people sit up and take notice.
“They are committed, zealous and authentically Christian,” Sister Carollo said. “They make a sacrificial pilgrimage and that gives a tremendous value to their witness.”
Sanborn said he takes solace in knowing that Crossroads has changed minds and saved lives, even in a morally relativistic society where semantics are used to justify anything.
“I think Crossroads is going to help because it turns a lot of heads when young people who could have been aborted themselves say ‘I'm against this because it's wrong, it's against God, it could have been me, it could have been you,’” said Sandborn.
“A new generation can put a new perspective on this for many people,” he said. “We have a new generation that it was OK to kill.”
Sanborn said Crossroads also has given hope to those born before 1973. “I think it's instilled confidence in older people that the fight's not going to die. A number of older people have cried when they met us because they said, ‘We thought it would be over when we're gone.’”
Judy Roberts writes from Millbury, Ohio.