Apostolate Concludes 20th Annual Cross-Country Pro-Life Walk
“Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern metropolis.”
— Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day, Denver, 1993
This bold call to action issued by Pope St. John Paul II inspired the creation of Crossroads, a pro-life nonprofit organization that recently concluded its 20th annual cross-country walk by dozens of young Americans seeking to build a culture of life.
Steve Sanborn, founder of Crossroads, took John Paul II’s challenge literally: “Go out on the streets and in public places like the first apostles.” This led to Crossroads’ first walk across the United States in 1995, which included 14 other young adults — all students at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
Their intent: to spread the “gospel of life” and increase awareness of the pro-life cause.
Each year since its inception, Crossroads has hosted the coast-to-coast trek across America. Over the course of 12 weeks, walkers cover nearly 12,000 miles, walk through 36 states, pray at abortion facilities and speak at more than 1,200 parishes. As participation and interest grew over the years, what began as one walk has now increased to four.
This year, a northern, central and southern walk all began May 26, departing respectively from Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The walks concluded Aug. 16 with a pro-life rally in Washington. Walkers were easily identifiable by their trademark T-shirts with “Pro-Life” written in large print across the front.
Crossroads has also grown internationally, hosting walks in Ireland, Spain, Australia and Canada.
Youth across the globe are sacrificing relaxing summer vacations and valuable work time to bear public witness to the gospel of life. It’s all part of the effort to encourage others not to be afraid to choose life and to educate others about the issues at hand and the true meaning and value of all human life.
Overall, walkers were positive about the support they received along the way.
“Ninety-five percent of the time we met with encouragement,” said Alex Wilson, a senior at Ave Maria University, who led the central walk.
The southern walk leader, Tyler Cutrer, affirmed likewise: “We received a lot of support, and there was only one abortion clinic in Texas to go to because the rest have closed down.”
Crossroads’ experience coincides with a recent phenomenon at the polls, said James Nolan, current president of Crossroads, who led a walk in 1998: “There’s a big increase in support for pro-life issues. Polls over the last few years are indicating that the majority of Americans are pro-life — over 50%.”
Changing Minds and Hearts
Walkers discovered their witness alone — without necessarily exchanging words — bore good fruit. Nolan shared an experience he had with a man who approached Crossroads after a decision was made not to abort his relative’s child:
“The day before, he had been driving a relative to get an abortion and saw us praying in front of [the] clinic. He said they couldn’t go in,” Nolan said. “They changed their minds and decided to go to the hospital and get an ultrasound. They found out she was pregnant with twins.”
In addition to dissuading those considering abortions, walkers help both women and men who are wounded and seeking healing from past abortions. Wilson noted, “A lot of women have approached us that had abortions in the past. Seeing young people standing up for life gave them newfound hope to start anew.”
Cutrer related a particular instance in Jackson, Miss. A woman broke down at seeing Crossroads walkers and confessed she had an abortion; she said it was the biggest regret of her life: “I would give anything for other mothers not to make the same mistake. I appreciate everything you do to reach mothers in their time of crisis.”
Crossroads walkers have come to believe abortion affects not only women, but men as well. One man regrettably admitted to the central walk team that he bullied a girl to abort his child, fearing the responsibility of fatherhood. Longing to make amends, he agreed to meet with a priest and go to confession.
“Abortion may end with the girl, but it starts with the guy,” Cutrer stated in reference to some men’s fear to be pro-life. He continued, “Guys are so shy to stand up and speak out because it has been thrown around in secular media that it’s a woman’s issue, and guys need to stay out of it. It’s not true.”
Crossroads’ goal is to change individual minds and hearts. Walkers never imagined they would have a direct impact on government. However, Erin Herschelman, an accounting major at Mercyhurst University, recounted a surprise encounter with South Dakota state Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen.
“Weeks ago, in South Dakota, we were praying at an abortion clinic. After, we went to get lunch, and a man came up to us to ask what we were doing. We told him we were walking across the country for [awareness of the] pro-life [cause], and it later came out that he was a senator. He directed us to go to a crisis-pregnancy center nearby, so we did. The woman who welcomed us said the senator called and was so impressed by what we were doing that he [said he] would support a controversial pro-life bill heading to [the state] Senate. I quote: ‘If those kids can walk across the country for pro-life, there is no reason I can’t support that bill.’”
What Pro-Life Means
One of the main obstacles walkers face is a misunderstanding concerning the meaning of pro-life.
As Cutrer explained, “The conversation I have overheard a thousand times as we walk by is: ‘Oh, what’s pro-life?’ Response: ‘It’s against abortion.’ Quite a few people associate it solely with that.”
Speaking to Townhall magazine, Nolan clarified, “We’re not an anti-abortion organization; we’re a pro-life organization. There’s a big distinction. Because if you’re pro-life, you’re for the culture of life — standing up for the value and dignity of each person without exceptions, from the beginning all the way until … actual death.”
Lauren Mach, an 18-year-old walker, wrote on the Crossroads blog, “To be pro-life does not simply mean that a person is opposed to abortion or is of a certain political party. … To be pro-life means to recognize a certain understanding of the human person that includes innate value, dignity and sanctity, which transcend the authority and control of man.”
Though the United States is still pro-abortion in law, Crossroads encountered a national pro-life spirit — a drastic change from 20 years ago, a change Nolan traces back to Pope John Paul II’s World Youth Day address in Denver.
“When JPII made that call, people who considered themselves pro-life were often on the defensive. Fast-forward 20 years, and you find a younger generation that is not ashamed to ‘preach from the rooftops’ the fact that they are pro-life. Now, people who consider themselves to be ‘pro-choice’ are on the defensive. The reasons behind this, although many, mostly find root in JPII’s bold challenge to the youth.”
writes from Rome.
- Oct. 5-18, 2014