The U.S. bishops' "Walking with Moms in Need" initiative may have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but it has by no means stopped helping expectant mothers from any walk of life, according to Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.
This initiative "has the capacity to take what is often seen as a partisan divide and transform it into pastoral unity, bridging the divide between Catholics who describe themselves using the labels of 'pro-life' or 'social justice,'" said Archbishop Naumann, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
"The vision of WWMIN is that a pregnant or parenting mother in need can turn to any local Catholic parish and be connected with the life-affirming assistance and accompaniment that she needs," Archbishop Naumann said Nov. 17 during a presentation at the bishops' annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.
For those who have not heard of "Walking with Moms in Need," it's understandable. The initiative was timed to be introduced on the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II's encyclical "The Gospel of Life" ("Evangelium Vitae").
That date was March 25, 2020, when the United States and the rest of the world were in the second week of a pandemic that has yet to see its end.
"While the pandemic posed many challenges to this initiative, the good news is that all of the WWMIN resources, including timelines and schedules, are fully adaptable to meet the specific needs and circumstances of your diocese and parishes," Archbishop Naumann told his fellow bishops.
While he did not give a number of either the dioceses or parishes already participating in the initiative, he noted all 17,000 U.S. parishes that could take part.
While nationwide in scope, "Walking with Moms in Need" is parish-based. Its intent, Archbishop Naumann said, is "to better serve pregnant and parenting mothers facing difficulties. It provides parishes with a detailed process to help them walk with moms in their community."
All the materials, he noted, are available in both English and Spanish. The website is WalkingWithMoms.com.
"While WWMIN is not about turning parishes into pregnancy centers, it is about enhancing referrals and building relationships with helping agencies," he added. "It is our national effort to ensure that all the resources of local Catholic ministries are known and communicated, so that those in our parishes know how to help or be helped."
While the concept may be rooted in "The Gospel of Life," "WWMIN was similarly inspired by repeated calls from our Holy Father Pope Francis for we as the church to go to and accompany those at the peripheries," Archbishop Naumann said.
"The vision of WWMIN is that a pregnant or parenting mother in need can turn to any local Catholic parish and be connected with the life-affirming assistance and accompaniment that she needs."
Archbishop Naumann acknowledged "there are sometimes gaps between what we, as bishops, believe is available in our diocese and the actual experience of a mother in need reaching out to her local parish."
But "Walking with Moms in Need," he said, "directly confronts the false, yet popular, narrative that the Catholic Church merely condemns abortion, without providing the resources or support women need in raising their children."
Archbishop Naumann cited statistics from 2014 data showing that 24% of women choosing abortion self-identified as Catholic.
"Across the board, women who chose abortion were poor, young and unmarried -- 75% were low-income, 60% were in their 20s, and 86% were unmarried," he said.
"Dioceses across the country are at all different stages" in the process of implementing "Walking with Moms in Need," he said, "as many had to delay or relaunch their efforts due to the pandemic."
He said, "In hearing from the field, it came as no surprise that the pandemic has made it especially difficult to build momentum within our dioceses. Many parishes are just now returning to normal parish life and pastors and volunteers are working hard to rebuild ministries that were put on hold and to address the financial impact of the pandemic."
Despite the pandemic, "with some adjustments, our efforts to increase support to pregnant and parenting mothers in need has in fact continued," Archbishop Naumann said.
He cited the case of Holy Family Parish in the Diocese of Orange, California, an early participant in "Walking with Moms in Need."
"The response for mentorship has been overwhelming," the parish reported, "and the opportunities for evangelization are amazing."
Archbishop Naumann also took note of various state laws that could challenge the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions that legalized abortion nationwide.
"While we cannot be sure how courts or legislatures may treat abortion in the future," he said, "our pastoral response will always remain the same."
After Archbishop Naumann's presentation, Bishop George L. Thomas of Las Vegas, citing the cost for pregnant women of bringing a baby to term, said: "There are 600 Catholic hospitals across the country. We can begin to enter into some very fruitful conversations for hospitals to be present to expectant mothers at very minimal cost."
Archbishop Naumann said in talks with the Catholic Health Association, he learned that "150,000 women are coming into our hospitals, either free or at reduced cost."
"One of the great leverages that we have -- our health care system," he added.