This year’s Crossroads cross-country treks ended almost two weeks ago, but the participants who spent most of their summer walking from coast to coast on behalf of the pro-life movement hope their efforts will have a lasting impact.
Last year was Tyler Cutrer’s first Crossroads walk. He signed up “on a whim,” he said, but found it such a transformational experience, he was back this year for his second walk and has taken a full-time job with the organization.
Crossroads was founded in 1995 by Steve Sanborn, a student at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, in response to a call by St. John Paul II during World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 — that youth around the globe take an active role in the pro-life movement “to establish a culture of life.”
It sponsors three simultaneous pro-life walks/pilgrimages across the United States; a fourth takes place in Canada.
The northern U.S. route starts in Seattle; the central route, in San Francisco; and the southern route, in Los Angeles. All three walks, which this year were May 24 to Aug. 16, end in Washington, D.C., with a pro-life rally. The Canadian walk goes from Vancouver, British Columbia, and ends in the capital of Ottawa, Ontario, with pro-life rally there. Crossroads now hosts walks in Ireland, Spain and Australia, too.
Wearing “Pro-Life” T-shirts, walkers stop along the way to pray outside abortion clinics, speak at parishes and schools to raise awareness about abortion and promote the dignity of human life, and encourage others to get involved in the pro-life movement.
Walkers range in age from 18 to 25. This year a total of 35 participated. On each route, they are accompanied by an RV, and split into two groups that walk in a relay fashion, averaging 40 to 50 miles a day. One group takes the morning shift, from sunrise and to 2 p.m.; the second group walks from 2 p.m. to sunset.
As one group walks, the other cleans the RV, prepares dinner, and finds a camp site for the night. The whole group gathers for Mass each day. The walkers post photos of their journey and observations they have along the way on a blog. Each walk has a leader.
Cutrer, 23, led this year’s southern walk.
He said last year he led the northern walk. He had just graduated from college, and was “young, dumb and not keeping eye on future,” he told Catholic News Service. “I was nervous about what to do” after college, so he joined a Crossroads walk for personal reasons, thinking it might be “a good spiritual pilgrimage and a chance to be a part of God’s mission.”
“The walk completely transformed my entire outlook,” he said.
Cutrer, who is from Dallas and relocating to the Washington area for the Crossroads job, said he always considered himself pro-life but “had never pondered the issue” or thought about “how serious the battle is.”
After praying outside a Planned Parenthood clinic during the 2013 walk “and watching mothers walk in and out all morning, I had a very burning passion to do something about (abortion). … That is when I definitely became unconditionally pro-life and a witness.”
He wants to encourage more men to get involved in the pro-life movement, he said. “It is a much a man’s issue” as a woman’s, he said.
“My huge passion is to tell guys they shouldn’t be on the sidelines,” Cutrer said. “You hear countless stories of ‘my boyfriend drove me’ to get an abortion, ‘my boyfriend urged me’ to get one. Occasionally –- sadly — you’ll see a parent or grandparent bring them, but the majority of time you’re watching the boyfriend walk the girl to the door (of the clinic).”
“Men need to be pro-life” for women’s sake and to stand up for their unborn child, he added.
Molly Sheahan, 20, who is from Sacramento, California, and attends Franciscan University, walked the central route. It was her first Crossroads.
“I had several friends who had walked before,” she said. “I heard about it from a walker who came to my parish and was inspired by their witness, their joy, their passion for activism.”
As her group walked, people would turn out to encourage them to carry on.
That showed Sheahan people want “to see some kind of hope” that abortion can be ended and “walkers give them hope.”
“I’ve always very involved in pro-life movement,” she added. “When I was 9 I first heard about abortion and I was shocked it was legal and decided it would be my job to end it.”
At age 10 she wrote a letter to the editor about abortion and by age 12 she was already involved in a student pro-life group.
“More and more, young people are inspired to get involved in the pro-life movement,” Sheahan added, because they understand that “in the human level, it is the greatest human rights cause of our time.”
Crossroads walker Eric Zlatos, of Manassas, Virginia, has always been “staunchly pro-life.” The 2014 Ave Maria University graduate took the northern route.
“We don’t choose Crossroads, Crossroads chooses us,” he told CNS. The chance to participate “just fell in my lap.” He welcomed the opportunity “to be able to touch the lives of others one heart at a time, one step at a time.”
“I cannot event even describe” Crossroads, said Zlatos, 22. “It was an incredible experience.”
It might seem like you are not doing much walking on the side of the road, he said, but “young people at parishes and older people alike come up to us and thank us for (our) testimony and witness. They were very supportive.
“The media so skewed against our position, they often make it seem like most of America is pro-death,” he said, but Crossroads walkers experience “firsthand that is simply not the case. America is most definitely pro-life. … That was very encouraging to me.”
At one stop, he recalled, an elderly man tapped him on the chest and told him, “It takes a real man to wear this shirt,” meaning Zlatos’ Crossroads T-shirt.
That reaction was “very powerful, authentic,” he said, and shows Crossroads has an impact.