BRIGHTON -- Walking to raise awareness of the pro-life cause, participants in the summer Crossroads Pro-Life Walk Across America meet young people who have been hurt by abortion. They walk across the country donning white shirts with “pro-life” in bold blue lettering. The shirts catch the attention of passersby and spark conversations.
Erin Haakenson, a student at Iowa State University in Ames who is participating in this year’s 3,000-mile march, said she met a woman in Billings, Mont. who had aborted her child less than two weeks before. Haakenson told the woman to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.
“She told us, ‘God can forgive me, but I’m not sure I can,’” Haakenson said.
The woman added that had she encountered someone who encouraged her to choose life, she may have had the courage to do so, Haakenson said.
To Haakenson, this encounter highlighted the importance of her summer’s journey.
“We need to pray, be involved and offer love and support to women who are alone and scared,” she said.
Each summer for the past 12 years, students and young adults from all over of the country participate in the Crossroads walk from the West Coast to Washington D.C. over the course of three months. This year, three groups began their journeys in May from Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They will all come together for a rally in the country’s capital on Aug. 11. The Crossroads organization was founded by Steve Sanborn, an alumnus of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, in response to the call of Pope John Paul II to take an active role in the pro-life movement.
Haakenson and nine other walkers began in Seattle and took a scheduled detour to the Archdiocese of Boston to meet with Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley July 27 and visit four parishes. Along the way they stopped to pray outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Allston and walked to St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston, where they attended Mass. Following their visit, the group returned to Pennsylvania to resume their trek toward Washington D.C.
During their visit to the archdiocesan chancery Cardinal O’Malley answered the participant’s questions and thanked them for their sacrifice.
“We’re very happy for your witness here,” he said.
Haakenson asked the cardinal if he had any advice for young Catholics.
“If you have a group that’s willing to get together, start a study group,” he replied, suggesting the Catechism of the Catholic Church and authors like Scott Hahn.
Another walker asked him how the pro-life movement in Massachusetts is going.
“Given that we’re in such a hostile area, I think we’re doing pretty well,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “They don’t make much room for pro-life, pro-family legislators.”
The cardinal added that there are signs of hope in Boston, such as a rise in seminary enrollment and the Boston Catholic Men’s and Women’s Conferences that attracted 8,000 participants last year.
Erik Feltes, who has walked for three summers, said that the reality that one-third of his generation was killed by abortion motivated him to join the Crossroads pilgrimage.
“It’s just a time of really intense prayer and sacrifice for the babies -- all those in our generation who aren’t alive today because of abortion,” he said.
Feltes, who will begin formation for the priesthood this fall at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo., also recalled meeting people hurt by abortion. One man saw the pro-life walkers and started breaking down, he said.
“We offered up that part of the walk for him,” he added. “There was pain there, and maybe this was the beginning of healing, of peace in his life.”
Haakenson said that many times the abortion debate never addresses men who have been hurt by abortion. She said she spoke to a man in Chicago who ended a relationship with his fiance because she had an abortion.
“He’ll never have the opportunity to know his son or daughter,” she said.
The walk is long and difficult but worth it, Haakenson said.
“I can’t even begin to comprehend how far we’ve walked in the past eight weeks,” she said. “God makes it possible. He has blessed us so abundantly.”
For Haakenson, supporting the pro-life cause is also personal. She was given up for adoption by her birth mom who could have decided to abort her instead. As a result she was raised in a home with two loving parents, she said.
“I’m walking because I think every child has that right,” she added.