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Moments of suffering leads young pro-lifers on 1500km walk through eastern Australia

Crossroads walkers

Pro-life warriors: Benedict Slee, Monica Pazniewski, Daniel O’Connell, Bianca Vella, Nicholas Lim, Nicholas Burton, Sydney Dunavin, Perpetua Yeo, Chris Burton, Rachael Vala and Fr Stefan Matuszek started the Crossroads pilgrimage in Brisbane last week. Photo: Emilie Ng

SYDNEY Dunavin is walking from Brisbane to Melbourne in a neon-yellow shirt to tell Australians what happened when her mother had an abortion three decades ago.

Ms Dunavin was a young girl when her mum told her she had an abortion two years before giving birth to her eldest sister.

“I could see when she told me the pain that she had been carrying with her for several years, and so I wanted to put myself in a position where I could at least help women heal from that pain, if not help them prevent it in general,” Ms Dunavin said.

That led the 27-year-old from Virginia, in the United States, to walk from one side of America to the other three times, and now twice in Australia with pro-life organisation, Crossroads.

Founded in 1995 by a university student, Crossroads organises pro-life walks across the US, Canada and Australia offering a different view in the abortion debate.

“The mission of Crossroads is truly a mission of love, and we meet men and women right where they are with the same mercy and love that Christ has for us,” Ms Dunavin said. “For me that was something really appealing because I’ve seen firsthand the effects that abortion can have on someone, both spiritually and mentally.”

Ms Dunavin said Crossroads brought the truth about abortion to people who would otherwise never hear a pro-life perspective.

She said during difficult moments, groups would lean on an “inspiring” account of three of the US walkers.

The young pilgrims were leaving a café when a woman who was “visibly upset” approached them.

The woman had been looking for the young people wearing “pro-life” T-shirts because they changed the course of her life three years earlier.

The woman explained that she had had an unplanned pregnancy and, not ready to have the baby, made an appointment at an abortion clinic.

On her way to the clinic, she prayed for a sign.

As she was turning on to the road towards the clinic, three Crossroads walkers crossed her path.

She pulled over to reconsider going to the clinic and thanked God for intervening.

After searching for the group for three years, she eventually saw them in a cafe, and asked to show them something.

The group followed her and the woman said, “This is my daughter. She’s here because of you.”

“You don’t hear a lot of the stories of the lives that we’ve touched, but even just knowing that we’ve saved one life I think is enough,” Ms Dunavin said.

“It’s just knowing that our witness has such an impact, just knowing just by being here and walking, we could be saving lives.”

Ms Dunavin held her mum and the sibling who never saw the world close to her heart when last week she kicked off her second 1500km walk in Australia.

“(Mum) says she’s really proud of me but I’m just doing what I think I should be doing,” she said. “I do it for her because she appreciates it and I know she’s been going through a huge healing process for years now.”

Crossroads pilgrims

Stepping out: The Crossroads group sets out on the annual pro-life walk from Brisbane to Melbourne. Photo: Emilie Ng

Ms Dunavin isn’t the only pro-life walker who will be praying for a family member during the difficult walk, which finishes on February 9.

Country Victorian Benedict Slee will be thinking of a nephew who was called home to God at just 29 weeks.

“He was born at twenty-five weeks and he only lived for about four weeks, so he died when he was twenty-nine weeks old in hospital from an infection,” he said.

Around the same time, Victoria had passed a law allowing abortion up to 40 weeks.

Mr Slee found it impossible to understand how the law did not recognise life before 40 weeks.

“I just couldn’t reconcile that with the fact that there was clearly life before that point, as with my nephew,” he said.

“I just really wanted to help promote that life does start at conception.”

As he makes it through his fourth Crossroads walk in Australia, he will call on his nephew for help from above.

“I’ve got a couple of them up in heaven praying for us,” Mr Slee said. “We include them when we want something done.

“We go ‘Hey, could you pray for us?’

“It’s like family mates rates.”

Prayer is a large part of the Crossroads pilgrimage, and this year the group will have Coffs Harbour priest Fr Stefan Matuszek at their disposal.

Fr Matuszek, who is the second priest to join the pro-life walk since Cairns priest Fr Hilary Flynn joined Crossroads after another pilgrim invited him in a text message.

The 29-year-old priest of the Lismore diocese will walk half the journey, stopping in Sydney before returning to parish life.

He said the witness of the pro-life walkers was confronting and raised anger in some people, particularly at a time when Australia debates state legislation on abortion.

“We come across these controversies and some people are angry, some people hurl a lot of abuse at you and that’s some of the things we offer up and pray for them,” Fr Matuszek said.

“We don’t want to hurt anybody but St Paul says himself, ‘I’m glad I made you upset because it made you want to change and come to God’.

“As a priest I often see firsthand the mothers and fathers who have been affected by the experience of having an abortion.

“We just want to build the culture up from the ground by bringing Jesus Christ back into the culture, by bringing God into the centre and, from that, pro-life will start again because God is life; he’s given us this great gift.”

Fr Matuszek said as well as opposing abortion, pro-life supporters wanted society to change the culture of sexual promiscuity.

“We want to raise the bar high because it all links together,” he said.

After a long week in the Queensland summer, the group was expected to arrive in Newcastle this weekend, the exact date Americans would be gathering for the biggest pro-life rally, the March for Life.

But Ms Dunavin said she had no regrets about missing the historic event, which was estimated to draw 100,000 people to Washington, DC.

“I think that it has to be everyone working together; there’s not just one thing that’s going to change our culture,” she said.

“To know that I can be working on this mission in a different way but still united with everyone that’s back in America and all over the world, it wasn’t a hard decision to make at all.”

For more information about Crossroads Australia visit their official website here.

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