More than 10 years ago, a handful of parishioners from St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Yorba Linda gathered on a Tustin Avenue sidewalk on a Saturday morning to pray the Rosary in front of the Planned Parenthood Health Center, where abortions are performed.
Led by Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion Brendon O’Shea, Deacon Denis Zaun and Father Sy Nguyen, who was St. Martin de Porres’ pastor at the time, the group met outside the center on the first Saturday of every month, praying that women considering an abortion would choose life for their baby.
Over time, the numbers grew.
On one Saturday, Fr. Nguyen challenged organizers to get 100 parishioners to join the effort and 105 turned out, O’Shea said.
Parishioners from other churches soon joined in, along with nonprofits and other groups that provide services for pregnant women and mothers with infants.
Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin Vann has participated in the vigils on some occasions.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the prayer contingent continued to show up, wearing masks and standing six feet apart.
“We didn’t let that interrupt what we were doing,” said O’Shea.
Last July, Fr. Nguyen moved to Holy Family Catholic Church in Orange where he has organized a group from his new church to pray the Rosary on the second Saturday of every month.
The group brings banners and hands out flyers.
“It’s well established and we’re making some progress,” O’Shea said.
O’Shea, meanwhile, recently moved with his wife Kelly to Costa Mesa, and hopes to organize a prayer vigil on the third Saturday for his new parish, St. John the Baptist.
Organizers then realized that simply praying the Rosary wouldn’t necessarily be enough to change the mind of a pregnant woman in crisis from going through with an abortion, O’Shea said.
If they are to choose life for their unborn baby, expectant mothers needed viable alternatives to abortion that would include pre- and post-natal care for the baby, the mother and even the father.
“We had to put our money where our mouth is,” O’Shea said. “If you’re going to stand out on the street and say abortion is wrong, you need to be able to back it up. You need to be able to provide a good safe place for that girl to go, to have the baby, either put the baby up for adoption or take some steps to raise the baby yourself.”
The prayer warriors have established partnerships with Casa Teresa and the Family Life Center, which are both located in Orange.
Casa Teresa’s offerings include an emergency maternity shelter which helps to stabilize pregnant women who are at least 18 years of age so they can begin to heal and prepare for motherhood.
Casa Teresa’s emergency maternity shelter serves expectant mothers who in significant crisis situations, such as being chronically homeless, struggling with addiction or who are dealing with other mental health challenges.
According to Casa Teresa’s 2021 annual report, 100 percent of the women who enter the program have experienced trauma in their childhood, 47 percent had been in foster care themselves and 95 percent were impacted by substance abuse.
Close to 95 percent have experienced domestic violence and 42 percent were survivors of human trafficking.
“The women who come to us are certainly coming in somewhat of a crisis and have suffered a lot of trauma, oftentimes from childhood,” Casa Teresa Chief Executive Officer Lisa Wood said. “Pregnancy prompts them to want to heal from their trauma and make some healthier choices.”
Casa Teresa also offers tiered programs, which provide temporary housing, counseling, and other services designed to put women on a path to becoming self-sufficient.
Casa Teresa also has a program helping women who choose life relinquish their baby for adoption.
Respect Life prayer groups also work closely with the Life Center of Santa Ana, a Catholic based nonprofit that has been serving pregnant women, their babies and even their fathers for almost 50 years.
Women who make their way to the Life Center are usually dealing with financial, social, and spiritual crisis, Life Center Director Megan Morris said.
“We want to remove the fear of choosing life for their babies,” said Megan Morris. “Not only do we want to save the unborn babies, but we also want to save the souls of the mothers and fathers. We want to bring everyone home to Christ, his Church and a community of support.”
The center offers financial support, holds parenting classes and provides free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and necessities, such as car seats to diapers and gently used clothes.
Since 1975, the Life Center has had success rate of 92 percent in helping pregnant mothers choose life over abortion, according to the center’s website.
“We are continuing those relationships beyond when the baby is born,” Morris said. “Ultimately, it’s about these relationships and keeping them with us and this walk goes un until we are in heaven together. We have embraced our Catholic identity and are better collaborating with all our parishes in sharing the message of what we are doing in order to invite our parishes into this walk.”
St. Martin de Porres recently launched a foster care and adoption ministry, Deacon Zaun said.
The ministry is overseen by three married couples who have all experienced foster care and adoption.
The parish currently has couples who are actively seeking to adopt a child, the deacon said.
“That is another facet of the same big picture,” he said.