An open letter to all Catholics, laity and clergy
Although I am a volunteer working for the Archdiocese of San Francisco as the Program Coordinator for The Gabriel Project, I have written this letter as a private individual and I bear full responsibility for its content.
The purpose of this letter is to explain why I believe that every adult Catholic should to some degree participate in The Gabriel Project.
What is The Gabriel Project?
The Gabriel Project is a parish-based ministry to support pregnant mothers and their unborn children. Using signs, pamphlets, car decals and a toll free helpline, we make it known that help is available to pregnant mothers experiencing difficulties.
When a call for help is received, the Helpline volunteer contacts the parish coordinator at the nearest participating church to where the caller lives. The coordinator contacts the caller and makes an initial assessment of her situation. A parish volunteer (“Angel”) is assigned the responsibility for ongoing contact with the mother throughout her pregnancy and somewhat beyond. An initial meeting is arranged to further assess her needs.
The parish community responds with love by providing spiritual, emotional, and material support to help meet those needs. Through prayer and action they assure the mother that she has their love and the love of Christ. If a mother has been abandoned by family or her child’s father, the parish community can lovingly help her overcome her sense of loss and loneliness.
Please visit our home page for further details.
Full Embrace of Catholic Teaching
The most important revelation I would like to make is that The Gabriel Project should be embraced by all Catholics whether they are predominantly interested in the social justice or the pro-life teachings of the Church. Authentic Catholics embrace both of these aspects of Church teachings and for them; The Gabriel Project provides an additional means by which they can manifest their authentic Christian discipleship while simultaneously exercising both lungs of Catholic teachings.
It is true that the concept of The Gabriel Project began following the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 which made abortion legally permissible in all the states. The pastor of a Catholic parish in Houston put a sign outside his church which conveyed the parish’s commitment to provide immediate practical help to mothers with unplanned pregnancies who come to them for aid.
It is important to know that The Gabriel Project, which in 1990 began to flourish in Texas and then spread to various parts of the country, is not merely a means to encourage pregnant mothers to choose birth for their child rather than abortion. The Gabriel Project serves any pregnant mother who is experiencing difficulties. She can be of any age, any race, any faith or none, married or not, poor or wealthy, and at any stage in her pregnancy.
It is also important to realize what has happened to our society over these past many years since that dreadful day in 1973 and consider the potential that The Gabriel Project has to lessen the harm done – not only now, but in the future – by helping to reconstruct the culture of life. This can and must be accomplished by a team effort of balanced (pro-life and pro-justice) Catholics as individuals and congregations. The Gabriel Project can and should be integrated among the other ministries of every parish.
How can The Gabriel Project help reconstruct the culture of life?
An important attribute of this ministry is its significant potential to build the culture of life. We must embrace ways of being proactive rather than only reactive and The Gabriel Project offers us a most marvelous way. The presence of this ministry in a parish informs potential mothers of the help that will be available to them should they need it if one day they conceive a child – in some cases several years beforehand. The mind of a child reared in such a parish is formed to recognize the sanctity of the lives of other children still developing in the protection of their mothers’ wombs. What a wonderful gift for our children, especially considering the past 38 years of the culture of death.
This ministry gives us the opportunity not only to “be there” for pregnant mothers who are considering aborting their child, but also for pregnant mothers who never had the slightest temptation to consider such a horror – some of them because of their awareness of The Gabriel Project. And the more of the later as years go by, the less there will be of the former. What good we can do if we choose to.
Our children have grown up accustomed to being bombarded by the false teachings of those who embrace the culture of death. They have been taught by their government, teachers and the likes of Planned Parenthood that the killing of innocent children in their mothers’ wombs is legal and a right. Sadly, they have had little instruction to counter these horrifically false teachings. Consequently, tens of millions (in America alone) of their generation, along with their parents, have suffered the horrors of abortion. Also sadly, the community (we the people) continues to stand by and neglect our responsibility to stop the horror and adequately educate our children.
Isn’t it time for us to present – as clearly as possible – another message to our children? Isn’t it time for us to be emphatic and demonstrative about what we believe? If we don’t, how can we call ourselves Disciples of Christ? How dare we?
The message on The Gabriel Project church signs states, “THE MEMBERS OF OUR CHURCH COMMUNITIES SEE IN THE CONCEPTION OF EACH CHILD A FRESH EXPRESSION OF GOD’S UNFAILING LOVE. WE OFFER IMMEDIATE AND PRACTICAL HELP TO ANY PREGNANT MOTHER EXPERIENCING DIFFICULTIES.” Notice we use the word “conception”, not some relativistic term to define at what stage of development a new life is to be considered sacred and deserving of every right that each one of us possesses whether as a child of God or citizen of our country.
There may be some who, understandably, may be concerned that by embracing The Gabriel Project, our children might presume that conception outside of marriage is of no concern of ours and that they may become accustomed to yet another false teaching. To this I respond by pointing out that it is the responsibility of every parent and pastor to impart every teaching of the Church to our children. Every law of God is sacred and so too is every life He created. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jer 1:5). The life of a person conceived in the mind of God and then conceived in the womb of its mother is, always was and always will be sacred in the eyes of God. The fact that some mothers who seek our help may have conceived their child outside of marriage is no excuse for us not to be God’s instruments of love, mercy and peace to them and their children. That is another truth we must teach our children. We can use the scripture narrative of the conversion of the Samaritan woman at the well.
We can also use the scriptures readings of the Good Samaritan helping a stranger as well as the Visitation and the example of Blessed Mother Theresa.
Just as the Good Samaritan assisted a beaten and abandoned stranger lying beside the road, Blessed Mother Teresa (a foreigner in Calcutta) did not pass by her abandoned brethren lying in the streets while asking God to have mercy on them. She took action and became instrumental in directly bringing God’s mercy to them.
When Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was in her sixth month with child, she had just learned that she herself would soon give birth to the Son of God. Out of charity, without concern for the difficulties she might face, Mary put her self-interests aside and hastened to the aid of her cousin who was elderly and fragile. Mary remained at Elizabeth’s side for three months.
How often do we put our personal interests aside and reprioritize our obligations and responsibilities so that we can go to the aid of others?
Who are those others? They are our brethren, no matter their faith, race, or neighborhood.
The Gabriel Project embodies the practical support that the bishops promise pregnant women.
In 1984 and repeatedly, the late beloved and great John Cardinal O’Connor of the Archdiocese of New York promised every single or married woman facing an unplanned pregnancy help of the highest quality. He told them that the Archdiocese of New York was prepared to do everything in its power to help them and their unborn child, to make absolutely certain that they need never feel that they must have an abortion. And he kept his promises.
In November of 2001, the USCCB document, A People of Life and a People for Life: An Invitation, lists The Gabriel Project among a number of suggested programs: “Begin a parish-based ministry to pregnant women and their children. The Gabriel Project, developed in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, is excellent and is spreading across the nation. Volunteers in the parish are trained to help a woman through her pregnancy – with practical assistance, spiritual and emotional guidance, and help in accessing needed services.”
In November of 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a statement in which they asserted: “We renew our offer of assistance to anyone considering abortion: If you are overwhelmed by the decisions you face, if you cannot afford medical care, if you are homeless or feel helpless, whatever your needs, we will help you. The Church and her ministries, inspired by the word and example of Jesus Christ, will help you with compassion and without condemnation.”
In August of 2009, Most Reverend George Niederauer, highly commended The Gabriel Project in a letter to all Pastors and Parochial Vicars of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and asked them to seriously consider this ministry in their parishes. The Archbishop stated that the USCCB’s Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities notes that one of the objectives of a parish pro-life committee should be to “develop or adopt a parish-based ministry to pregnant women and their children.” The Gabriel Project answers this call and embodies the practical support that the bishops promise pregnant women, said Archbishop Niederauer.
In January of 2010, in a follow-up letter to all Pastors and Parochial Vicars of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Niederauer informed them that immediately following a Gabriel Project Conference conducted at St. Mary’s Cathedral in September of 2009, the Archdiocese included The Gabriel Project among the ministries of the Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns and again encouraged their support for the project.
In 1996, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis stated the following in a pastoral letter:
My concern is for the many women in our community who do not find the support they need for their health, safety and well-being during pregnancy or after their children are born. My hope is for you and me to respond as the people of Jesus Christ.
I want our local church to say loudly and clearly: “No woman should feel so alone that abortion seems her only alternative. No man need feel so trapped or fearful that he believes there is no other answer.” I want us to be able to say to any woman: “Come to any Catholic parish in this archdiocese and you will find help.” I am asking you, the Catholic people of this archdiocese, to make this promise a reality. I make this request in the belief that to keep this promise to a pregnant woman is a way to demonstrate in action the reality of God’s love…
Our archdiocese has developed programs to assist women and their families during pregnancy… But programs of assistance only begin to address the needs of those for whom pregnancy becomes a time of crisis. We recognize the many pressures that may lead a woman to consider abortion, or may prompt those close to her to encourage one. She may face physical stress and financial hardship. Both she and the baby’s father may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of being parents. They may have trouble continuing their education, finding a job, health insurance, or housing. A woman may fear how her loved ones will respond when they learn she is pregnant. She may be afraid she will be abandoned by the child’s father or even by her own family. Alone, faced with such obstacles and unaware of the support and help available, she may believe abortion is her only choice.
As a church we can do more to be there for her. St. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians, our God “encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
If we ask a pregnant woman to “respect, protect and love” the life of her child, let us demand of ourselves at least a small share of the heroism we ask of her. Then we will recognize that pregnancy is not just a “women’s issue” but should be the joy and responsibility of the mother, the father, and the entire community. To our formal programs of assistance, we will add a welcoming spirit of hospitality and acceptance. We will proclaim the Gospel through our actions, by giving of ourselves, just as Joseph stood by Mary throughout her pregnancy.
Let us start as close to home as possible – in our families and our parishes. I ask you today to commit yourselves, your parish and your archdiocese to join with me in offering care and support to women and men who need our community to stand with them. I am asking that you gather in your parishes to listen to women in your community describe their experiences and needs during pregnancy and the raising of their children. I ask your parish to reach out and respond to those needs with tenderness. The formal pro-life programs are already in place. Now let us join together in becoming the kind of community that makes clear by our own lives that no one need be alone in a difficult pregnancy. Let us become ever more deeply a people of compassion and justice, a community caring for life!
Now that is the essence of The Gabriel Project I propose for your consideration my fellow Catholics.
It is essential to distinguish The Gabriel Project from other ministries that help pregnant mothers in important but limited ways. The Gabriel Project fulfils the parish-based ministry recommended by our bishops and – through the individual talents of parishioners, collaboration with various ministries in the parish or diocese and utilization of community resources - embodies the full range of support to pregnant mothers desired of us by our bishops.
Please visit our website and contact me to learn how you and your parish can become participants in The Gabriel Project of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. For areas outside of the Archdiocese click here.
This isn’t a ministry for others; it’s a ministry for you and me. There is a role in it for each of us.
Sincerely yours in Christ Jesus,