American Students Walk to World Youth Day

They were tired when the reached the Cologne cathedral. Who can blame them?

The 38 Crossroads World Youth Day pilgrims from the United States walked to World Youth Day from the cathedral of St. Michael in Brussels, Belgium, on Aug. 9 and arrived at Cologne five days later. They averaged 35 miles per day and passed through three countries, walking a total of 150 miles.

Several Crossroads members spoke with Register staff writer Tim Drake in Cologne.

Where did the Crossroads walk begin, and what route did you take?

Jim Nolan, president: It began at the Cathedral of St. Michael, near the European Parliament, on Tuesday, Aug. 9. We went from Brussels to Sint Trüiden, Belgium and then to Maastricht, Netherlands. From there we went to Aachen, Germany and then into Cologne.

Why do a Crossroads walk in addition to World Youth Day? Isn't the World Youth Day pilgrimage enough?

Jim Nolan: Crossroads started in direct response to Pope John Paul II's call in Denver. Crossroads was our original answer to that call, so we feel that going to World Youth Day is continuing that call to spread the message, “Be Not Afraid.”

When we set the walk up last fall, we were told that the pro-life message is kind of stifled here. We're used to the U.S. where a strong pro-life movement has built up over the past 15 years. That has not happened here. The people we met said that we need someone to desperately spark that over here. They are desperately waiting for something like John Paul II's 1993 call here.

J.D. Flynn, director: In the U.S. we pray and consecrate our country to the Culture of Life. Europe needs that just as badly as we need it in the U.S. The biggest blessing of being here is to pour out the blood of Christ into the soil of Europe.

What inspired you to get involved in Crossroads?

Daniel Mull, 23, walker from Jacksonville, Fla.: Learning about the Theology of the Body inspired me to want to do something for the pro-life movement. Walking is one of my favorite things to do, so this was a way to be a pro-life witness and get others involved. After meeting people face to face through our walks, we can honestly say that the majority of America is pro-life.

What is the general European attitude towards abortion?

Martha Nolan, national director: We met more indifference than outright animosity.

Mark Thomason, 29, walker from Denver: Every doctor's office and hospital does abortion here. It's just a procedure, so it's a real uphill battle. There are other issues as well, such as euthanasia in Holland.

What was the high point of your European walk?

J.D. Flynn: Finishing the walk, knowing that we had done something concrete to bring Christ to the countries we visited.

Where there any frustrations along the way?

Dave Bathon, 21, walker from South Bend, Ind.: We got lost a lot. That was pretty depressing.

Carrie Cusik, 25, walker from Grand Blanc, Mich.: It hasn't been what we expected. It's been a different sort of sacrifice. It's been more about surrender.

What have you learned from the experience?

Thomason: I've learned that we need to be missionaries in our own lands. We need to be prayers and workers. World Youth Day is here in Cologne. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI are calling us to be active pro-life missionaries in our own lands.

Matt Maes, 21, walker from Atlanta, Ga: This walk, being the first in Europe, is a testing of the water. To reach out to Europe we need Europeans to walk.

How will Crossroads participate in World Youth Day?

Sara Lockwood, public relations: We've been invited to be part of Domus Vitae (The House of Life) in Düsseldorf. For the first time the Vatican is attempting a real effort to promote the Culture of Life through World Youth Day. Domus Vitae is supposed to be a house of healing for those who have been hurt by abortion.

Elizabeth Hoisington, 21, walker from Fort Meyers, Fla.: I didn't come to World Youth Day for the praise and worship music. I came to see the youth of the world gathered together loving the Holy Father and reminding the world that young people are Catholic and that we love the Church, the Holy Father, and our faith.

Why do you think Cologne was chosen as the site for WYD?

Christine O'donnell, public relations: Pope John Paul II was prophetic.

Flynn: The young people of Denver were transformed by World Youth Day. Now there's this whole Denver scene. Europe is facing such a strong tide of secularism.

Sorena Perry, 34, walker from Atlanta, Ga.: You can see why it was chosen from the advertisements. Everywhere you see ads for condoms. At convenience stores explicit pornography is clearly visible and 8-year-old boys are looking at it. It's needed here. We need to be here. Our presence says a lot.

What do you look forward to?

Jenna Wilson, 19, walker from Omaha, Neb.: I look forward to seeing the new Holy Father. We'll all be gathered together and I imagine it will be very loud with everyone screaming “Benedictum.” When we met some U.S. soccer players at a hostel in Holland, they told us, “Say hi to Papa Benny D.”

Maes: It's exciting to see the worldwide community of faith and to hear all the different languages and discover the fullness of what it means to be Catholic and universal. There's also the excitement of the youth. It's like a celebration. Seeing the pope is a plus — it's the icing on the cake. What we are here to do is celebrate Christ.