For Jackie Oberhausen, the idea behind the U.S. Catholic bishops’ new Walking with Moms in Need initiative is clear.
“We all are our brother’s keeper,” said Oberhausen, the Walking with Moms in Need committee administrator at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Fort Wayne. “If we are going to proclaim we are pro-life in word, it also has to be in deed.”
That means investing the time and effort to serve as a support system for pregnant women and for mothers with children.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked each American parish to develop its own Walking with Moms in Need ministry. The initiative is inspired by St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”) and its 25th anniversary in 2020.
Along with encouraging more pregnant women to choose life, the Walking with Moms in Need initiative also has the potential in Indiana to reduce infant mortality — the death of a child before age 1. The state and various organizations have been working in recent years to reduce Indiana’s infant mortality rate, which had ranked among the highest in the nation.
The bishops urged parishes to start planning their Walking with Moms ministry in March 2020 with a goal of launching it in March 2021. The novel coronavirus pandemic disrupted that timetable, forcing parishes in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and elsewhere to delay organizing their Walking with Moms ministry.
Many parishes in the diocese now have started the planning process, said Caty Burke, associate director for the diocese’s Marriage and Family Ministry.
U.S. bishops asked their parishes first to identify existing resources in the area so information can be provided to pregnant women and mothers with children. They then encouraged parishes to fill gaps in their community’s resources, and to extend that help into the community beyond the parish. To assist the parishes, the USCCB posted information and planning aids at walkingwithmoms.com.
The Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese also has created its own Walking with Moms website, walkingwithmomsfwsb.com. It includes basic information and links to a community resource guide compiled by St. Joseph Community Health Foundation for the Fort Wayne area and to the HerMichiana resource guide for the South Bend area.
Help parishes can offer could range from spiritual and emotional support and financial assistance to providing basic necessities or just serving as a listening ear, Burke said.
“It’s a great way to take care of baby and to support mother and make sure she is being taken care of,” she added.
Parishes can collaborate to provide help, Burke noted. For example, if one parish already has a strong young moms support group, nearby parishes could refer their mothers to that group.
Parishes also can support the work of social service providers such as Catholic Charities and Women’s Care Center.
“Catholic Charities has a rich history of assisting mothers in need for the past 99 years,” said Gloria Whitcraft, chief executive officer of the Catholic Charities organization in this diocese. “The Walking with Moms in Need initiative brings together the professional services of organizations like Catholic Charities and the support of the faithful in parishes so that, as a Church, we are accompanying mothers and children who may otherwise feel alone, scared and unsure of where to turn for help.”
Burke hopes parishes will continue the Walking with Moms ministry on a long-term basis.
St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne has begun gradually rolling out its Walking with Moms in Need ministry.
“We are asking the Holy Spirit to guide us,” said Amy Delaney, a parish member who leads the volunteers planning their outreach.
Pastor Msgr. Robert Schulte introduced the Walking with Moms initiative to the parish in October and has been a strong supporter, Delaney said.
After identifying community resources already in place, such as Women’s Care Center locations, she and other volunteers found the list almost overwhelming. They are compiling community resources information for parish staff and creating a user-friendly resources guide for Walking with Moms volunteers.
Right now, however, they believe parish members can best assist moms through prayer and personal relationships with expectant mothers, Delaney said.
Walking with Moms in Need prayer cards created by the USCCB have been placed at the back of St. Jude Church, and parishioners are encouraged to take one home to pray for expectant mothers, she said. Her organizing group also has begun recruiting more volunteers to walk with expectant mothers on a one-on-one basis during what can be a stressful journey to birth.
Getting the word out
At St. Pius X Parish in Granger, information about the Walking with Moms ministry is in bulletins and on its website and social media, said Barb Williams, a member of the organizing committee and chair of the parish’s Respect Life ministry. Priests also have been given business cards containing information about the ministry, which they can pass out to people in need during confession, Williams said.
The parish plans to offer person-to-person support once the danger from the coronavirus pandemic has eased.
St. Pius wants moms experiencing a crisis pregnancy or challenges with their children to know help is available and that their church family is there to support them, Williams said.
Their planning group has found the biggest challenge facing women is a lack of awareness about what help and support is available, she said. Along with South Bend-area community resources, St. Pius also plans to connect women with some of its own ministries.
The Stephen Ministry, for example, walks with people as a caring friend, she said. The Elizabeth Ministry has about 100 volunteers who help women or mothers by doing things such as delivering meals, offering babysitting, doing laundry or mowing a family’s lawn while they are with a sick child at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, said Brie Milligan, a volunteer who leads the Elizabeth Ministry and who also serves on the Walking with Moms planning committee.
Sharing Christ’s presence
At least two other parishes also are far along in their planning.
Our Lady of Good Hope hopes to launch its Walking with Moms in Need ministry March 25, the feast of the Annunciation. The feast celebrates Mary learning of and accepting God’s plan for her to become the mother of His son, Jesus Christ.
Our Lady of Good Hope plans to focus initially on helping women who live within the parish’s geographic boundaries, said Oberhausen, the Walking with Moms planning committee administrator and a pastoral associate at the parish.
They also have learned that a gap in local community resources is personal relationships — having someone there to hold your hand or advocate for you, she said. By coming alongside that woman, she added, Christ becomes present to the mother through the volunteer.
The planning committee has developed an interactive, informational flyer about Walking with Moms that can be used on the parish website, she said. Members plan to place a printed version of the flyer at various locations in their area.
The committee developed a separate flyer that explains the ministry and how people can volunteer with or donate to it.
“A lot of times,” Oberhausen said, “there are people who want to do something but they don’t know what they want to do. They just need to be invited.”
In addition, she said the parish plans to take up a collection to help the ministry buy items women may need, such diapers, baby wipes, and baby clothes and shoes.
Our Lady of Good Hope is creating a template for how they organized their Walking with Moms ministry so it can be used by other parishes, if interested, she said.
Being an advocate
St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Angola, which includes St. Paul Chapel in Clear Lake, hopes to start its Walking with Moms ministry in May, possibly around Mother’s Day, said Shelley Pulver, the planning team leader who is active in the parish’s pro-life efforts.
Planning team members are completing an inventory of existing resources in the Angola area and compiling the information into a database that can be updated, Pulver said. Parishes outside of the Fort Wayne and South Bend metropolitan areas have to develop their own local resource inventory.
The planning team hopes to make women aware of Walking with Moms assistance by placing information in the church gathering area and by setting up online links for women who don’t go to St. Anthony, Pulver said.
“Our church should be the beginning of the support system,” she added, noting her parish also has identified a need for mentors for pregnant women and young mothers.
U.S. bishops and local diocesan officials understand developing and continuing the Walking with Moms ministry may be a challenge for some parishes, the diocese’s Burke said. They hope all parishes will attempt to help, even if only holding a monthly diaper collection drive or collecting funds for a women’s shelter. She encourages parishes to dream big and use the talents of the people in their pews.
“No one parish is going to be able to do it all,” Burke said. “But everyone can do something.”
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