By Ambria Hammel, The Catholic Sun
For puzzle-solvers, ‘roe’ is a short crossword clue or answer to “ova” or “egg.” Just a blip in the newspaper grid.
On Supreme Court ruling paper, Roe has lingered nearly 50 years and remained hotly contested. At issue is the right to life in the womb and the right of the woman who encases the unborn.
Abortion has been a legal means to end a pregnancy, pre-term, since 1973. A May 2 leak of the court’s opinion hinted that Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, could be overturned. Regardless of how its contents unfold, or even when, two things remain clear: the Church’s unwavering stance that abortion is wrong because it ends a human life and the Church’s perpetual presence in helping women facing a crisis pregnancy.
How the Church helps such women is looking different these days. It is no longer solely a prayerful and sidewalk counseling effort nor is it simply pointing pregnant women toward a crisis pregnancy center or home-based refuge. It is journeying together until the dark path finds a spot of light.
In other words, Walking with Moms in Need. The catch-all term describes a rededication of energy among parishes, pregnancy resource centers, and other social services across each U.S. diocese.
Joining their journey
The goal is to support pregnant and parenting moms as a “more ready group of disciples to help her find what she needs and say ‘yes’ to life more easily,” said Mike Phelan, director of Marriage and Respect Life for the diocese.
Walking with Moms in Need initially launched in early 2020 and nearly 41 local parishes were on board to offer support in English and Spanish. The pandemic delayed or discontinued some outreach, so the diocese revamped efforts this year. By then, five Sisters of Life had moved to Phoenix and joined efforts as a resource to parishes too.
Now, 21 parishes have launched Walking with Moms in Need or are in the final stages of doing so. Three others, including a parish with a lapsed ministry, reached out to Phelan in a recent 10-day span expressing interest.
“Having a plan to really put something small in place that is ready to accompany women is very exciting for people in all kinds of stages,” Phelan said. “It has really brought a healthy, diverse community.” Parishioners with a social work background, organizational leadership skills, pro-life counseling experience, advisors, a desire to shop for baby items, and other traits have supported Walking with Moms in Need.
“It’s almost like whatever gifts God has given you, you place it at the service of the mission,” said Sr. Bethany Madonna, superior of Phoenix’s Sisters of Life.
Walking with Moms in Need
National – walkingwithmoms.com
Getting started – Mike, firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 354-2355
Sisters of Life – email@example.com or call/text (480) 389-5650
Catholic Charities – firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 888-818-4445
Serving as companions
The first gift is that of time, mainly through a listening ear by text or phone. Often within an hour of a mom calling or texting the ministry’s hotline at St. Theresa Parish – manned in daily 12-hour shifts – a volunteer responds. They try to meet the moms face to face and uncover their most pressing need.
“Most of these women don’t know what it is to have someone follow through,” said Cindy Ketcherside, who is heavily involved in the ministry. They say, “You actually want to meet me? You want to have coffee with me? You’ll actually show up?”
Yes to all. These meetings between the moms and one of the ministry’s 18 trained companions – those who work directly with the moms – have impacted 28 children in 12 St. Theresa area families since January. Some moms are pregnant with their first child. Some have had an abortion once before and want help choosing differently this time. Others have older children and struggle to make ends meet, especially with rising rents.
Housing is the top concern for moms. They’re rent-burdened and risk eviction or choosing between rent and food. The companions connect moms to prevention assistance, transportation, childcare, food and education.
“Most moms are just overwhelmed. They don’t know where to go,” Ketcherside said.
St. Theresa’s Walking with Moms in Need has a master list with more than 40 categories of resources and a handful of examples in each. True to the ministry’s name, the companions don’t just name resources. They stay with each mom to help with applications, make phone calls or attend appointments.
The magic happens in a living room like setting at the parish. It includes computers for completing applications and a play area for kids.
“We want them to be on their feet and taking care of their children, taking care of the family and taking care of themselves,” Ketcherside said.
Walking with Moms in Need launched to the parish in January and expanded to the greater community in late May. There are yard signs, flyers, and trifolds anywhere a mom might be. Some market to the mom. Others explain the outreach for referring partners.
Sisters of Life
The Sisters of Life have strong connections with local crisis pregnancy centers whose staff and volunteers refer women to the sisters’ hotline. They are vulnerable, pregnant moms who could use daily contact. Priests and parishes also connect these women with the sisters, who have walked with 17 moms in need since January.
The pregnant women show up, including at the convent, expecting to go directly into their pregnancy story, but the sisters politely preempt them with “How are you? Are you hungry?”
It relieves the burden, anxiety, and fear, said Sr. Bethany Madonna.
“Our first priority is to love them. We receive them. We meet her wherever she is and allow her to share her story and her heart,” Sr. Bethany Madonna said.
“She can begin to rest and be alleviated of the burdens that she is carrying and begin to experience her own goodness and being delighted in.”
Most of the time the moms are looking for clothing, diapers, and other baby resources. The sisters have about 100 trained co-workers across the diocese who help with such items. Co-workers also include lawyers, doctors, men with trucks to move/deliver large items, resume helpers, emotional support and more.
One woman served was abortion-minded. Searching “abortion Phoenix” online, she stumbled across the Sisters by accident on Google maps. Over all, the moms are deeply moved “and definitely feel upheld and supported and loved,” Sr. Bethany Madonna said.
“Once they’ve said ‘yes’ [to life] and really feel solidified in that, it’s really beautiful to watch them blossom,” Sr. Bethany Madonna said.
She recounted how some women, who once strove to keep their pregnancies quiet, ultimately celebrate with baby showers and gender reveal parties after connecting with the sisters and their co-workers. Sr. Bethany Madonna also recapped a Valentine’s Day party the sisters threw for one mom’s unborn love and a baby shower that included a prayer and song of blessing for another.
A faith renewed
One Phoenix mom the sisters journeyed with returned to the sacraments after 13 years. A priest came to hear her confession then the sisters took the mom to Mass that very evening.
The majority of the women served through St. Theresa’s ministry don’t know what faith is, however. The companions take the St. Francis approach by ensuring they experience Christ in what they do, what they say, and how they make the moms feel. The companions remind the moms that their family is part of their daily prayers.
The national Walking with Moms in Need initiative offers 12 prayer guides, in English and Spanish, on its website. Individuals and parishes are encouraged to offer a regular prayer for pregnant and struggling mothers. St. Rose Parish in Anthem posted it on its Respect Life ministry webpage.
Walking with Moms’ website suggests a novena to St. Gianna, who is a powerful patron for pregnant and parenting mothers. The saint’s daughter has visited Phoenix in recent years. Full text for the novena can be found online and includes simple web banners to share electronically each day too.
Two optional support groups will start this fall at St. Theresa and those served through Walking with Moms in Need are invited. “Embrace Grace” is a short-term, Bible-based group for pregnant moms. “Embrace Life” caters to single moms.
Phelan, who has led respect life efforts for the diocese the last 17 years, called Walking with Moms in Need “one of the most anointed ministries” that he has ever seen. He hopes to see nearly 40 parishes involved by year-end.