Catholic Charities volunteers load cars with supplies as part of the first mobile diaper drop, an event supporting the USCCB initiative Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service. (GLENDA MEEKINS | FC)

Conference inspires to take a step and ‘Walk with Moms’

ORLANDO | Taking a cue from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a presentation at the annual life conference will discuss how being pro-life involves “Walking with Moms.”

On Oct. 24, the Diocese of Palm Beach will host the annual Florida Culture of Life Conference, formerly known as the state Respect Life Conference on a virtual platform in light of COVID-19. The virtual conference promises to be an informative and uplifting event with speakers on a variety of life topics, including the unborn, theology of the body, end of life, and the death penalty. The Conference is jointly sponsored by the State Pro-Life Coordinating Committee and the Florida Catholic Conference and is hosted annually by one of the seven dioceses in Florida.

One of the first presentations of the day will be at 10 a.m., titled “Walking with Moms Presentation Booths.” The 45-minute discussion will have three presenters from the Diocese of Palm Beach who work in a variety of ways with pregnant mothers. They include Katherine Bowers, program director of Birthline Pregnancy Care, Angela Simpson, executive director of God’s Resources Mobile Unit, and Donna Gardner, executive director of Mary’s Home.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the initiative was spearheaded as a response to the 25th anniversary year of St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter — Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life). In a press release on its website — www.usccb.org/prolife/walking-moms-need — the letter’s anniversary presented a “wonderful opportunity to assess, expand, and communicate resources to pregnant moms and families in need.” They invited parishes and respect life offices and ministries, with the support of bishop and pastors, to join a nationwide effort from March 25, 2020 to March 25, 2021 entitled: “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.”

“Pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and our neighborhoods,” the Conference wrote. “As Pope Francis reminds us, our parishes need to be ‘islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.’ Everyone in the parish community should know where to refer a pregnant woman in need.”

For the year of service, the conference’s Pro-Life Committee developed educational, pastoral and action-oriented resources for parish use, including:

• Tools for documenting an inventory of local resources for pregnant mothers in need.
• Ideas for improving parish responses.
• Prayers for building a culture of life and a civilization of love.
• Reflections on the teachings of the papal apostolic letters — “Evangelium vitae,” “Evangelii gaudium,” and “Laudato si’”.

Deanna Herbst, respect life program administrator for the Diocese of Palm Beach, said the campaign works well for the annual conference. She enlisted speakers Bowers, Gardner, and Simpson because of their experience on the front lines of working with moms. She remarked how different dioceses offer different activities. Such as in the Orlando Diocese, the respect life office is encouraging parishes to do diaper drives. The Miami Archdiocese is offering programs to teach moms life skills.

“We are going to reach out to the pregnancy care centers,” Herbst explained of the Diocese of Palm Beach’s efforts. “(The USCCB) wants us to engage pro-lifers along with anyone in the community to walk in the shoes of pregnant moms and to help them this year. My job is to make sure that everybody in the parishes know that when a pregnant mom comes in there, where do we send her? Does everybody have that information of where to send her for a free ultrasound? Or send her for a maternity home should she need somewhere to go. What to do if she is considering adoption. Where are all those resources?”

Birthline/Lifeline, a program of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Palm Beach, offers many resources for mothers and pro-life advocates. Bowers serves as program director of the organization, which has three offices in Palm Beach County – Boynton Beach, West Palm Beach and Pahokee.

“The fruits of the efforts of the Respect Life Ministry for the Walking with Moms in Need program benefit Birthline/Lifeline, as we are a program that provides on-going and thorough support to pregnant women and new moms in need,” Bowers said. “This effort by the USCCB will be very beneficial because it is bringing to the forefront the support that is already available in the community for pregnant women and moms with young children. Also, it will bring an awareness to the parishes in the Diocese of the need to support pregnancy centers.”

From her experience, Bowers said one of the “most common and most significant concerns for abortion-minded or undecided clients” at Birthline/Lifeline involve “confusion and feeling an overwhelming sense that their tangible concerns are larger than the reality of the baby growing and developing in their womb.” This would include financial needs, access to pre-natal care and support, etc.

“While their tangible concerns are certainly real, there is always help available. What most frequently changes their mind is grasping the reality of the humanity of their unborn baby,” she added. “By understanding this, we, at Birthline/Lifeline, are able to help them to practically think through their concerns and address them each, providing information, resources, and referrals.”

Simpson, serves as executive director of God’s Resources Inc., a pro-life mobile unit pregnancy center ministry that provides free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, community resources referrals, proof of pregnancy documentation to receive Medicaid, as well as STI and purity education. She shared a story about a client who called during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The client told Simpson Planned Parenthood was booked for three weeks, but she needed an ultrasound before having her abortion. The mobile unit offered the client that ultrasound, and once the woman — who was at 13 weeks — saw her baby on our ultrasound, she chose life.

“So thankful we chose to remain open,” said Simpson, who also shared the story of another client who was desperate for an abortion because her parents said they would kick her out. She had nowhere to go. “During her ultrasound, we discovered two things – she was 18 weeks pregnant, and while she didn’t really want the abortion, she felt she had no choice. We talked through her choices and helped her find a maternity home where she could live throughout her pregnancy. We celebrate that she chose life.”

Simpson said those examples exhibit why awareness and support pro-life causes are so important. As a mobile unit, Simpson and her staff are not bound by a brick and mortar building and can operate near “abortion clinics, undersourced communities and heavily populated metro areas,” such as shopping centers and strip malls.

“Prior to our main annual gala event, we had to cancel due to COVID. We re-visited our budget, made revisions and scaled back our operations. Rather than to cease operating during the pandemic, especially since we are a mobile unit and difficult to social distance, we continued to operate through the pandemic on faith that the Lord would protect us and our clients,” Simpson said. “If the abortion clinics were going to be open, we were going to be open. We are essential.”

Maurice Beaulieu and Jean Gonzalez contributed to this report.