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As Dobbs decision nears, U.S. bishops urge Church to ‘Walk with Moms in Need’
The American bishops’ initiative Walking with Moms in Need launched in early 2020. Within weeks, it was largely waylaid by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the program is gaining steam in dioceses and parishes across the country.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Catholics to “walk in the shoes” of local mothers in need. That means offering direct assistance or cataloging and directing them to services to help them through pregnancy and into their child’s toddler years.
“The COVID shutdown slowed the effort, but we are coming back strong out of that,” Therese Stahl, director of Life and Family Evangelization for the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, told Our Sunday Visitor. “We are encouraging parishes to participate.”
That means each parish in the country should gather and distribute detailed lists of every service available to mothers in need in their area. The prospect of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case portends increased demand for services.
‘Everyone should know’
Catholic churches and related organizations at the local and diocesan levels have provided assistance to pregnant mothers in need for as long as Roe v. Wade has stood, in contradiction to the credo of pro-abortion advocates who claim pro-life supporters don’t care about mother and baby after the child is born.
The bishops launched the Walking with Moms in Need initiative by asserting that “Everyone should know how to help moms in difficult circumstances.”
“While not trying to turn Catholic parishes into pregnancy centers, we can support local pregnancy centers where they exist, and we can also find and share other resources with pregnant and parenting women,” the bishops announced in 2020. “And where there are few local resources, we can create our own, based on the gifts of the parish community.”
For more resources on how parishes and dioceses can help mothers in need, and to stay up to date with the program, visit walkingwithmoms.com.
Stahl said the initiative “encourages each parish to evaluate the gaps to determine what is missing.”
Stahl and other leaders told Our Sunday Visitor they can provide for mothers and children by helping them to find essential goods such as diapers, formula, cribs; housing and material support such as rent, utility payments, food; services for mental and spiritual health; and medical care.
Susana Morones, service outreach provider at St. John Neumann Church in St. Charles, Illinois, said efforts to support mothers in need “are not a one-time-only approach, but we walk with them in their journey when they are pregnant.”
‘Respected, loved and supported’
Keri Ninness is leading the Walking with Moms in Need initiative at St. Joseph Church in Marietta, Georgia.
“This is a call to arms. … We have to put our money where our mouth is,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “Now what? The baby is saved and born. We must provide services for mom and baby like child care, baby formula, perhaps adoption planning, housing and more. Whatever the need is, we are coming along beside you, and we will help you.”
The response of Ninness’ parish to the call to participate in the initiative “is beyond anything I can dream,” she said. “Families have jumped to help. … We have a thriving life ministry. These parishioners have prayed for this (overturning Roe) and provided prayer in action. Now, we’re taking it to the next step.”
“We understand, when a woman is facing an unplanned pregnancy, that it is anything but simple, it is anything but easy. It is hard, and it is complex. We want women to feel respected, loved and supported.”
‘To know these mothers’
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore praised Walking with Moms in Need at this year’s National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
“This parish-based ministry helps open the eyes of parishioners to pregnant and parenting moms in their local communities,” he said “It enables parishioners to know these mothers, to listen to them, and along the way, to help them obtain the necessities of life for themselves and their children, including medical care as well as emotional and spiritual support. Walking with Moms in Need is a way we can help millions of mothers. It is also a way parishes can respond to Pope Francis’ challenge to be ‘islands of mercy in a sea of indifference.'”
On the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae, Pope Francis in 2020 reminded Catholics of his instruction that “every human life, unique and unrepeatable, has value in and of itself; it is of inestimable value. This must always be proclaimed anew with the courage of the Word and the courage of actions. It calls us to solidarity and fraternal love for the great human family and for each of its members.”
‘I want moms to flourish’
Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, considers Walking With Moms in Need the top priority for the diocese where the Dobbs case emanated, Charlene G. Bearden, coordinator of the Office of Family Ministry and Respect Life, told Our Sunday Visitor.
By May 2020, the diocese had launched its effort with a 76-pages of “resources for everything that could be useful, listed by parish and city,” Beardon said. “But the COVID restrictions forced everything to come to a halt and shut it down. At this time, it is relaunched, and it is extremely necessary now. Bishop Kopacz has instructed us to get as much support as possible and probably more so now with this decision (Dobbs).”
The Knights of Columbus has “strongly supported our pro-life and respect life efforts, going so far as raising the funds for a new ultrasound machine for the Catholic Charities that provides the only residential treatment program in Mississippi to support mothers and the child. It is amazing what has to be done — has been done and is being done.”
Helping pregnant mothers in need and their babies has been underway for a number of years in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis through its Community Caring for Life initiative, which “pools resources for women who are struggling with choosing life because their circumstances are so dire,” Jean Stolpestad, director of Marriage, Family and Life, told Our Sunday Visitor.
Through its Life Fund ministry, the archdiocese “provides emergency cash, and just writes a check for rent, gas, a crib and all the other stuff that goes with it” to mothers and babies in need. The financial assistance continues through toddler age, when other services will be available.
Stolpestad characterized Minnesota as an “abortion sanctuary state” where state law approves abortion by choice, another obstacle for Walking With Moms in Need to overcome.
“We want to support the moms because they will support the child,” Stolpestad said. “I want mom to flourish so she can flourish as a mother; if mom is strong, growing and happy, then the child will be, too.”
Joseph R. LaPlante writes from Rhode Island.