By Paul Wirth

          For the young woman from Clarion, life had already been difficult. She was homeless for a time, her mother struggled with addiction, and the father of her unborn baby was absent. Then, she had a difficult childbirth.

          So when the people of St. Michael Parish in Fryburg and St. Joseph Parish in Lucinda began visiting her with Tupperware bowls full of pre-cooked meals, and went to the store to pick up her groceries, it made her first few weeks of being a new mom a whole lot easier.

          That’s the idea of “Walking With Moms in Need,” a national pro-life program that encourages parishes to get more involved in helping pregnant and parenting moms. St. Michael and St. Joseph are among the first parishes in the Diocese of Erie to start the program.

          “We were there for her,” says Kim Gutonski, who is part of the Walking With Moms in Need program at St. Michael. The young woman needed material help – and emotional support – during those crucial first few weeks of parenthood.

“We’re going to stay in touch,” says Gutonski, who is a mother of three from Knox. “I’m picking her up today to take her to the store and to lunch.”

St. Joseph Parish, Lucinda, and St. Michael Parish, Fryburg
are participating in the Walking with Moms in Need ministry.
Diocese of Erie file photos

          The Walking With Moms in Need ministry at the two partnered parishes began when Ann Huebert, a retired nurse from Lucinda who attends St. Joseph, was encouraged by Father Michael Polinek, her pastor, to look into the program.

          As the effort grows at the parishes, the group is hoping to expand the help it can provide to women who are pregnant, and those who have just become new moms. That help can include prayer, timely referrals to pregnancy centers, fundraising such as baby bottle and diaper drives, and direct support such as the work the group is doing with the new mother from Clarion.

          The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops originally launched Walking With Moms in Need in 2020, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life), an encyclical by then-Pope John Paul II that lays out the teaching of the Catholic Church on the sanctity of human life. Implementation was delayed in many dioceses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the program continues to gain momentum across the country.

          When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many Catholics breathed a sigh of relief. The ruling means there is no federally protected constitutional right to an abortion. But states are free to make their own laws, and in Pennsylvania, abortion remains legal and the pro-abortion lobby is strong.

          “Walking With Moms in Need truly is needed in these difficult times,” says Erin Tubbs, executive director of Erie Catholic Charities. “It’s part of our Gospel call to help those in need.

“The Supreme Court decision was not the end of the pro-life struggle, in many ways it was just the beginning,” Tubbs says. “Abortion remains an available choice and is often presented as the choice the mother should prefer. We have our work cut out for us. Helping a woman in crisis could be life changing, or life saving.”

          Some say the Church opposes abortion but doesn’t do enough to help women after they decide to keep their babies. “That has never been the case,” Tubbs says, noting that Walking With Moms in Need is “one way to live what we have always known to be true.”

          Catholic Charities helps parishes in the Erie diocese get the program off the ground by providing guidance on the best way to get started. This begins with creating an inventory of existing resources to help pregnant and parenting women, including pregnancy centers and other agencies. If there are gaps in such services in a parish’s area, then the new Walking With Moms in Need ministry is encouraged to find a way to fill those needs.

          Think of it as a full court press to help pregnant women choose life rather than abortion, and to help them get a good start on parenting after their babies are born.

          Tubbs notes that Pennsylvania state government has announced that it will end funding for Real Alternatives, a nonprofit agency that provides pregnancy and parenting support services to women who are not considering abortion. That’s unfortunate, she says, because “the need for these services will continue.’’

          In addition to St. Joseph and St. Michael parishes, Epiphany of the Lord parish in Meadville also has a Walking With Moms in Need ministry under way. And three other parishes are in initial planning stages to start their own Walking With Moms in Need efforts, Tubbs said.

          Walking With Moms in Need has a well-organized and informative website that provides easy-to-use resources for parishes to help get their own ministry under way.

           “Pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and our neighborhoods,” according to the website. “As Pope Francis reminds us, our parishes need to be ‘islands of mercy’ in the midst of a sea of indifference.

          “The 25th anniversary of Evangelium vitae gave us a wonderful opportunity to begin to assess, expand, and communicate resources to pregnant moms and families in need. Parishes are invited, through the support of their bishop and pastor, to join this nationwide effort.”