Shepherd's Voice

Respect for life must be rooted in mercy: Archbishop Lucas introduces ‘Walking with Moms in Need’

In this week’s interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas speaks with communication manager David Hazen about a new initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.” The yearlong effort calls upon Catholics to increase their awareness and support of organizations and programs committed to helping unborn children and their mothers and fathers, and also to identify and close gaps where their services might be lacking.

Q: This month marks the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”). One of the ways the U.S. bishops are commemorating this important letter is with an initiative called “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.” Would you help us understand what this initiative is all about?

Yes, I think this is an exciting effort and I am very grateful to Archbishop (Joseph F.) Naumann and those who serve on the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities for presenting it to us. I look forward to seeing how we will participate here in our area.

This year of service is all about the church’s core teaching on the respect due to every human person and the dignity that God has given to everyone. This particular initiative reminds us that our pro-life attitudes really should be rooted in mercy.

This is an opportunity for us to first of all highlight the many services and programs in our community that support moms, dads and their unborn children. We want to recognize where there might be gaps so that we can make sure we put our money where our mouth is and see if there are other initiatives that might be helpful. Pope Francis would encourage us always to accompany those who might be facing challenges at the time of pregnancy.

There are many beautiful services offered to women in need in our communities. Those services are offered discreetly out of respect for the people who are being served. So they may not be widely known or recognized. We want to make sure that we publicize them in an appropriate way so that a woman who needs them will know that they are available, but also so that the rest of us in the community can support them.

Q: What do you see as the challenges to standing up for both mothers and their unborn children? Or put another way, how does mercy help us to proclaim the Gospel of Life?

It strikes me sometimes that the Catholic Church’s beautiful pro-life position is not fully appreciated and articulated by those of us in the church. We can come across sometimes as though we are trying to impose something on somebody who is vulnerable, afraid or isolated, or as simply being judgmental and not offering support and accompaniment.

First of all, we want to make sure that if that is true about us in some way, that we take steps to remedy it because we know that the Gospel of Life is demanding for all of us. But that demand is felt in a very personal way by a woman in an unwanted or troubled pregnancy – or even in the case of a family with very few resources – who just does not have a sense of how they can support the child now living in the womb of the mother.

We want to make sure that more and more of our parishes are known, in the words of Pope Francis, as “islands of mercy.” We do not just want to broadcast things that people ought to do. We are a community of disciples of Jesus Christ who, in obedience to his commands, are on the lookout for the vulnerable ones among us.

That certainly would include the child in the womb, but it also includes the mother and perhaps the father of the child. We ought to look at them with respect and compassion and see if there are appropriate ways to support them in the community.

It is not really good for us to push our way into the lives of our neighbors. But we can be friends. We can be good neighbors. And then we can help in offering assistance through our Christian community and making our neighbors aware that those things are available to them.

We hope that “Walking with Moms in Need” will be somewhat parish-based, that the neighborhood will be a place where anyone who is struggling or looking for help will be able to find it pretty close to home.

There probably are not too many people in the community who do not know that the Catholic Church opposes abortion. My hope would be that, if someone in our neighborhood found themselves in an overwhelming situation, the first thing they would think was, “I know I can go knock on the door of one of my Catholic neighbors, and they’ll receive me. They’ll listen to me.”

I know most of us are not in a position to simply fix somebody else’s problems right then and there. But, so often abortion and other attacks on human dignity result from isolation, and from our neighbors feeling stuck in a situation that they cannot see a way out of, or a way through.

There is always a way through if people will work together, if there is a little support or encouragement or accompaniment. I hope that over the coming year, this initiative might make us better known for being people whose lives and attitudes are shaped by mercy and by a desire to do good for others.

Q: Since most people in the Catholic community may not be directly involved in the day-to-day provision of services and support for expectant mothers, are there other ways they will be invited to participate?

I think “participate” is the key word. If any of us would reflect on a time when we were really afraid or confused or in need, I am sure we appreciated if there was somebody willing to just take a few minutes to be with us and perhaps to literally walk with us. So it is one thing to say, “Here, you can call this number and somebody will help you,” but it is another entirely to say, “If it’s OK with you, I’ll be happy to call the number and introduce you to the person whom I think can help, and I will be happy to help you get there.”

That is what makes the walking part of “Walking with Moms in Need” more than just an image.

I do hope that we can foster that kind of participation appropriately in the lives of our neighbors, always with compassion and respect. I hope that we would not be afraid to extend ourselves a little, and that this beautiful encyclical, which we will talk more about in this 25th anniversary year, can stir up in us a deeper well of mercy which will overflow into others’ lives.

In this week’s interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas speaks with communication manager David Hazen about a new initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called “Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service.” The yearlong effort calls upon Catholics to increase their awareness and support of organizations and programs committed to helping unborn children and their mothers and fathers, and also to identify and close gaps where their services might be lacking.