MIAMI GARDENS | The Congreso Pro Vida, hosted by the archdiocese at the end of October, marked the culmination of a year-long Walking with Moms campaign carried out nationwide at the behest of the U.S. bishops.
Its goal was to make more parishioners aware of the services offered by the Church to women in crisis pregnancies, and to get more people involved in the ministry.
According to Rebecca Brady, archdiocesan director of respect life, the local effort proved successful on both counts.
“It reinforced and reinvigorated our existing structure here,” she said, noting that Miami is one of only two dioceses nationwide that operates its own pregnancy help centers — five to be exact: in North, Central, and South Broward, North Dade and South Dade. The centers provide pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, pre- and post-abortion counseling and parenting classes for moms and dads, as well as referrals to other community services.
“These are parish-funded centers. It takes a lot of money to keep them going but the faithful do come through,” Brady said.
Based on geography, each parish is linked to one of the pregnancy help centers and asked to help support it through donations of money — such as the Baby Bottle Campaign held every October — or items for expectant mothers and their children. A respect life representative in each parish facilitates those collections.
The Walking with Moms campaign helped to make those centers and their services better known among parishioners.
“It was crazy how many people didn’t know about them,” Brady said. “Walking with Moms has helped everybody take a look at the existing structure, what we have here, all the resources in the archdiocese, and then see where the gaps are. How can we do better to get the word out and how can we do better at reaching out to moms in need.”
The campaign also resulted in 24 new respect life representatives at the parish level, now covering 90 of the 105 parishes and missions in the archdiocese. “That is quite an increase,” Brady said.
Parishes that already had representatives were able to grow their ministry so it consists of more than one person. “I have seen parishes that did a great job building these Walking with Moms teams. So they now have a greater presence in the parish,” Brady said.
She also cited the example of Isabel Font at St. Martin de Porres Parish in Leisure City, one of four Walking with Moms award winners who were recognized during the Congreso Pro Vida. (See story here).
Asked to revive the respect life ministry at her parish, Font realized “this system doesn’t work here,” Brady said.
The nearest pregnancy help center was too far for needy moms in the area, so Font arranged a couple of “mission trips” where help center counselors traveled to the parish to meet with the women.
“That is a great example of creativity and initiative and honest dedication on the part of a fellow parishioner who saw this need and saw that it wasn’t being met, to truly walk with women where they were at,” Brady said.
“It’s so needed here,” she added, noting that the South Florida area sees over 25,000 abortions per year.
She said there are 24 abortion clinics in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, although other places also may be performing the procedure. Planned Parenthood sends a mobile unit to the Keys on a regular basis.
“You’ll hear abortion rates are decreasing all over the country. They’re not here in South Florida,” Brady said.
Some parishes with mostly older parishioners may think they don’t have moms in need, but in those cases “we need to go out to them,” she stressed. “We have to think about how to grow and expand the ministry to include more people, to have greater reach, to have greater outreach. We can’t keep doing business as usual when all these lives are on the line.”
As part of the Walking with Moms campaign, the Respect Life Office also organized monthly webinars on everything from the life encyclicals, Evangelium Vitae and Humanae Vitae, to how to be a parish representative, how to advocate for moms with Florida’s legislators, and turning to pro-life saints as models and intercessors.
The webinars were “practical and educational and theological and mission-oriented. A little mix of everything,” Brady said. They can be viewed at respectlifemiami.org/videos.
The campaign also helped turn the pro-life focus from politics to service, helping to bridge the disconnect between respect life and social justice and turning what may have been a polarizing issue into a unifying one, Brady said.
Now, “everybody knows about the pregnancy help centers. Everybody knows how to help moms in need, where to refer people. So that we can be a church that’s a beacon of hope for people and can be truly welcoming to people in need of mercy and material support.”
Ultimately, Walking with Moms helped to integrate respect life ministry into the parish in a more comprehensive way, which is what Archbishop Thomas Wenski wants, Brady said. “The Gospel of Life is for everybody and all of the faithful have a role to play.”
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