Immigration letters of good standing. Asylum. CalFresh food assistance. Lactation consulting. Emergency housing. Health care. Childcare. Jobs. Accommodations at university. Domestic violence shelter and assistance. Parenting coaching. Diapers. Hope. Accompaniment. Community. Prayer. A break! These are some of the things that women facing unexpected pregnancy need.

As October is Respect Life Month, it’s a good time for us all to be reminded. Moms in need who I have met here in the Diocese of Orange and who so many of you
in your parish ministries and life centers, shelters and clinics meet daily are looking for – at times desperate for – is someone to walk with them, someone to respond with joy and offer to accompany them.

I think about my years at Blessed Sacrament in Springfield, Illinois when Joan Reardon, Fritzi Belz, Terri Moran and Carolyn Bodewes, together with Fr. Hugh Cassidy, founded the “Care Center” to support young women when faced with an unexpected pregnancy to bring the child to term and to support mother and baby afterward. Joan Reardon also introduced what was called at that time “Project Rachel” to assist women in healing after abortion. Then there were the many efforts and commitments and vocation of my mother Theresa as a maternity nurse at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois to teach student nurses that respect life is foundational.

This taught me two things that are ignored in the current secular culture: 1.) Catholics indeed care for life before birth and after in great and small ways and 2.) Women are pivotal and major leaders in the respect and pro-life work, which is not always understood. That has certainly been true in my experience.

While the political crisis around abortion continues (and we advocate wherever and whenever we can), there are unsung heroes who day after day, week in and week out, come alongside women facing unexpected pregnancy to provide a listening ear, emergency resources and referrals (whether for housing, health care, food or mental health support). They make sure that, as the Bible says with regards to that early Christian community in Acts: “there was no needy person among them,” for resources were pooled and distributed to each according to need.

To support and refocus our efforts, especially at the parish level, the U.S. Bishops launched our Walking with Moms in Need initiative in March of 2020 to raise awareness that pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and our neighborhoods. As Pope Francis reminds us, our parishes need to be “islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.” The initiative seeks very simply to ensure that everyone in the parish community should know where to refer a pregnant woman in need. We all have a part to play.

Since the initiative’s launch coincided with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenges were even greater than usual, but people rose to the occasion. Many of you were involved with, helped volunteer for, or perhaps received help from the Serve Hope Helpline, a hotline which offered food delivery working with Catholic Charities Doris Cantlay Center, transfers to our New Hope Crisis Counseling line and connections to pray with someone. Many thanks to many deacons and their wives and other volunteers for helping to staff the program which not only provided food, prayer and connection but also delivered diapers and referrals for pregnant women and families as well.

The Life Center of Santa Ana, shelters Casa Teresa, Mary’s Path, and Precious Life, and clinics like Obria, La Habra Life, and Horizon stayed open during the pandemic to continue safely to provide for the needs of those in crisis – truly a blessing during a time when these difficult challenges are faced in a season of even greater isolation.

Parish food pantries, St. Vincent de Paul and of course many different parish ministries sought to step in the gaps to stay connected. Catholic and other health care in our Diocese continue to do incredible work under very difficult circumstances to keep our communities’ health needs addressed.

Our parishes look for ways to connect to those in need, often by strengthening relationships with their local pregnancy clinic, shelter or center, by bringing out a speaker to the parish, cultivating volunteers to help with renovations, Bible study and prayer or a diaper drive.

One creative initiative in the Diocese of Orange is a collaboration between Holy Family Church and the Santa Ana Life Center to recruit volunteer mentors to come alongside moms in crisis and young women looking for guidance and support as they face various challenges. No one needs to face such challenges alone.

I would be remiss not to mention also that our diocesan Hope and Healing After Abortion ministry (1-800-772-4356 or email [email protected]) offers companions to journey with women, and sometimes men, who are searching for spiritual healing, forgiveness and other forms of support at any point after an abortion has occurred. Sometimes the remorse is immediate; for others years later the need to address the trauma of that experience surfaces. Our parishes have found creative ways to ensure that women and men know that this help is available, whether through bulletin announcements or help cards in the women’s restrooms.

This first weekend in October is when most parishes hold our yearly Pennies from Heaven (Walking with Moms in Need) collection, the proceeds which go to support pregnancy centers, shelters and clinics in the Diocese of Orange. Your donations are essential to the ongoing operation of these “field hospitals” (as Pope Francis refers to the Church’s ministry), which are able to be extensions of the care and accompaniment that we provide in our parishes. I am grateful for their work and for all of you who work with and provide for them financially.

Please consider giving more this year to help these organizations meet the needs in our community and consider how your parish can have all these referrals at their fingertips. Most importantly, let us together walk with moms in need.

Donations to help Walk with Moms in Need can be made at your local parish.

To learn how your parish can participate in the Walking with Moms in Need initiative, go to walkingwithmoms.com

To donate online to the Pennies from Heaven Campaign, visit www.rcbo.org/resource/about-life-justice-and-peace/pennies-from-heaven/

For questions, please contact Greg Walgenbach, Director, Office of Life, Justice, and Peace at 714-282-3058; [email protected].