When Father Joe Sioli heard about the national “Walking With Moms in Need” initiative for parishes to help women with crisis pregnancies, he thought it offered a constructive solution to many difficult problems.
“Walking With Moms in Need can prevent abortions, while bringing together people who may not agree with each other about political tactics,” said Father Sioli, regional vicar of the South Vicariate.
“It’s calling parishioners to accompany and assist women who are in crisis and in need,” he said.
The initiative helps parishes with sharing nearby resources for pregnant women and young families, offering encouragement to those enduring hardship, identifying unmet needs in their communities, and making sure parishioners know where to direct pregnant women and families in need.
A ministry of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Walking with Moms was supposed to launch on March 25, 2020 – the 25th anniversary of Evangelium Vitae, the major pro-life encyclical of Pope John Paul II. COVID disrupted those plans, but since Walking with Moms was designed to be flexible, dioceses are proceeding in different ways on their own schedule.
In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities is doing preliminary research and Father Sioli is encouraging parishes to participate. He recently made a presentation to all of the priests and deacons of the diocese.
“As our parish communities have come together, many of the predecessor parishes had pro-life committees or other groups focused on Christian service,” he said. “This is a way to bring them together with a project that has a wide scope and a great set of resources that are basically turnkey.”
The goal isn’t for parishes to provide direct services, but to direct those in need to existing services – public, private, religious and secular – while providing friendly support and pastoral care.
“Pope Francis has said that our parishes should be islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference. I would add that our parishes can act as bridges carrying those in need to those crucial services,” Father Sioli said.
Lois Rebich, a member of the pro-life group at Corpus Christi Parish in Bridgeville, was among the first to respond to Father Sioli’s invitation.
She had first heard of Walking With Moms when it was announced just before the COVID shutdown in March 2020. Her group has participated in its monthly prayer intentions throughout the pandemic. More recently they obtained permission from their pastor to proceed with organizing a social service inventory, and have toured Mary’s Place, a Mount Lebanon residence for women with crisis pregnancies. She regularly listens to the Walking with Moms webinars, but would like some in-person coaching on how to inventory pertinent local social services.
“Our pro-life group is open to hearing how other parishes might be embracing and addressing the mission of Walking with Moms,” she said.
In the meantime, the Corpus Christi parishioners help young families in need through projects such as baby showers for local crisis pregnancy centers.
“I think Catholics have been criticized for saying we are pro-life, but people think that once you have the baby we drift away. We need to be there for the tough part, when you really have to take care of that baby. We feel that this is a way we can assist,” Rebich said.
“Women find themselves in crisis for different reasons,” Father Sioli said. “A young women who has an unplanned pregnancy may not believe that the church will support her. She is often tempted to end the pregnancy. Our parishes can walk the walk when we offer encouragement and reach out to those who may only temporarily find themselves on the peripheries of the community.”
A wealth of tools for doing this can be found at: https://diopitt.org/walking-with-moms-in-need. Anyone interested in participating should contact Father Sioli’s administrative assistant, Mary Ellen Reiser, at firstname.lastname@example.org.