By Lisa Everett
The Year of Mercy has been underway for a month and a half, and we find ourselves on the brink of observing yet another anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion on demand in our nation in 1973.
What difference does the Jubilee of Mercy make in how we live the Gospel of Life this year? Perhaps we can look with fresh eyes at the corporal works of mercy and see how we can practice them more intentionally with a view to providing genuine care and support to pregnant women — for their own sake, and for the sake of the little ones whose very lives depend on them.
Let’s start with “shelter the homeless.” Perhaps our circumstances might permit us to offer temporary housing to a pregnant woman who has no other place to stay. While that might not be possible for most people, we may be able instead to support an organization like Hannah’s House, a Christian maternity home in Mishawaka that provides a loving, stable and supportive environment to pregnant women in need.
Originally a joint venture of our diocese, St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka, Bethel College and the Women’s Care Center, Hannah’s House is now an independent organization that is funded entirely by private donations. Since it opened its doors in 1993, the youngest resident served was 13 years old, and the oldest 43. To volunteer, or supply an item on their wish lists for moms and babies, or to make a donation, visit their website at www.maternityhomewithaheart.org. Perhaps there will even be someone who feels called during this Year of Mercy to explore the possibility of launching a maternity home on the Fort Wayne side of the diocese.
Then there is “clothe the naked.” The Annual Bishop’s Appeal video this past fall featured the beautiful ministry of the Christ Child Society on both sides of our diocese. Founded in 1947 with the blessing of Archbishop John F. Noll, the Christ Child Society of South Bend began by furnishing clothing to needy babies. In what was surely a sign of God’s providence, the first layette was presented to a baby born shortly after midnight on Christmas morning.
In 1997, the Christ Child Society of Fort Wayne was founded with the encouragement of Bishop John M. D’Arcy. Since 2005, the Christ Child Society has partnered with the Women’s Care Center by providing a “Layette of Hope” for each client who receives a positive pregnancy test. This layette includes a onesie, a pair of socks and a prayer card, providing tangible hope that the mother will choose life for her child. To find out more about how to support the Christ Child Society of South Bend, go to www.christchildsb.org, and for the Christ Child Society in Fort Wayne, go to www.christchildsocietyfw.org.
Let’s move on to “feed the hungry/give drink to the thirsty.” The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states to support low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, non-breastfeeding mothers as well as infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk. Participants receive vouchers each month that are used to buy specific nutritious foods and beverages at designated grocery stores. The WIC program also provides nutrition education and counseling and breastfeeding promotion and support.
If a woman who crosses your path this year would be a candidate for this program, make sure to refer them to one of the local offices to sign-up. For a listing of WIC offices in Indiana and further information about the program, go to www.in.gov/isdh/19691.htm. Also coming soon to the National WIC Association is the ability to make a donation to the program online at www.nwica.org/donate.
Then there is “visit the sick/visit the imprisoned.” Perhaps there is an expectant mother you know now, or will come across this coming year, who needs to be on bed rest due to complications of pregnancy whom you could keep company for a while, or maybe you are familiar with a family with a newborn in the NICU to whom you could offer some assistance such as helping to care for their other children.
Lastly, there is “bury the dead.” So many families face the loss of an unborn child through miscarriage or stillbirth and we may be able to guide them to resources to lay to rest their little ones. For the past several years, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka has partnered with Palmer Funeral Home to offer a beautiful program for families whose unborn babies have died in utero at less than 20 weeks gestation. Called In God’s Arms, this free program features a lovely burial and remembrance service that is held three times a year at a special site at Southlawn Cemetery for parents and family members to attend. Along with special prayers, parents receive a flower to place on the grave when their baby’s name is called, and they are given a candle to take home to light on the child’s birthday. For more information, go to www.palmerfuneralhomes.com/in-gods-arms.
In addition, according to the Church’s liturgical norms, individual funeral rites may be celebrated for children whose parents intended them to be baptized, but who died before Baptism. Various funeral rites for children are available and appropriate, including a vigil, the funeral liturgies and rites of committal. The “Rite of Final Commendation for an Infant” may be used in the case of a stillborn baby, or of an infant who dies shortly after birth, and it may be done in the hospital or place of birth.
May Mary, the Mother of Mercy, help us to put into practice the corporal works of mercy in such a way that expectant mothers may feel God’s love.
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