Expecting a child is a beautiful thing, a wondrous occasion to celebrate; but for some women, the celebration is muted. Money or job woes, relationship issues, health crises and emotional struggles can put a damper on what should be joyful news. That’s why the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, launched an initiative this year called Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.
“We were preparing for Walking with Moms in Need before we had any idea about a coronavirus pandemic. Now we can see that it’s even more necessary than we previously thought,” said Caty Burke, associate director of Marriage and Family Ministry. She cited how more women than ever are seeking the assistance of local pregnancy centers and charitable organizations for necessities for their babies, as well as financial aid to help pay their rent.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, Burke pointed out the critical need for this kind of assistance. “The goal is to make this program a permanent part of parish life.”
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades sent letters to parishes in the diocese in mid-February, asking them to participate in the campaign and help identify vital resources for mothers. Marriage and Family Ministry Director Lisa Everett serves as the liaison to the parishes as they complete the parish inventory included in the bishop’s letter. The diocese also created a webpage in both English and Spanish specifically for this initiative, filled with nearly every kind of resource for mothers, from where to buy diapers to how to obtain medical care and how to access financial services.
“Once COVID-19 hit and normal parish life shut down, we decided to forge ahead with the diocesan website and start to get the word out not only to the parishes, but also through social media platforms like Facebook so that pregnant and parenting moms in need in our communities could access the resources directly,” Everett stated.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” which reaffirms the dignity of all human life. In it, the saint speaks of increasing threats to human life, going beyond abortion and euthanasia to include “poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war,” as well as “new threats … on an alarmingly vast scale.” While the pope likely did not foresee a worldwide pandemic, if he had he probably would have sounded an alarm about its devastating impacts.
“I think the novel coronavirus has opened people’s eyes to the needs in their communities and turned them outward toward those needs,” Burke said. “That’s the beauty of the campaign. Everyone has a role to play — not just the priest, not just the parish pro-life coordinator, not just the diocesan office. Everyone has something to offer, everyone can do something. No deed is too small to make a lifelong impact.”
Anne Koehl, director of the Women’s Care Center in Fort Wayne, shared that since the pandemic began, the attitudes of many of the women who come to the center in crisis has changed.
“Overall, I would say that women are a little more anxious than normal — less sure that it’s a good time to have a baby.” There is a great need to aid these women through the additional stress that COVID-19 has laid on them, she confirmed.
Pope St. John Paul did see the threat of abortion increasing during his lifetime and his papacy. “Evangelium Vitae” speaks of God’s calling for all the faithful “to defend and promote life.” That is what Walking with Moms in Need hopes to do through prayer and action.
Though each parish contributes in its own way, the effort is not meant to end at the diocesan or parish level. Hopefully, said Everett, it will trickle down to the hearts of individuals.
“The purpose of the Walking with Moms in Need initiative is to more intentionally equip parishes to identify and communicate resources so that everyone in the parish knows where to refer a pregnant or parenting mom in need.”
She hopes this will embolden Catholics to live out the Gospel message in a practical way: “the willingness to come alongside someone, lend a listening ear and perhaps provide a lift to a doctor’s appointment or food bank or meeting with a Catholic Charities case manager. To surround pregnant and parenting moms in need with loving support is an essential expression of our belief in the sanctity of every human life.”
The timeline for the campaign has continually changed because of COVID-19 restrictions, and many dioceses in the U.S. have fallen behind on the initiative’s planned timeline. Because of the delays, Everett does not want to close the initiative next March. Rather, she intends for the outreach and coordinated website to become a “permanent feature of our pro-life ministry in the diocese.”
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