Archdiocese of Louisville looks for ways to walk with moms in need

Nicole Zelli, holding twins Lucia and George, and her husband Anthony Zelli, holding twins Andrew and Benjamin, and their oldest child Thomas were photographed outside their home on Easter 2018. (Photo Special to The Record)

In response to the U.S. bishops’ initiative “Walking With Moms in Need: A Year of Service,” the Archdiocese of Louisville is urging parishes to find ways to support all pregnant women — those in a crisis situation as well as mothers who just need an extra set of helping hands to get through the day.

The initiative began on March 25, the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, but most action was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The year of service will run through March 25, 2021.

And this October, which is Respect Life Month, the archdiocese is renewing the invitation to serve mothers.

Ed Harpring, pro-life coordinator for the Office of Family Ministries, said the archdiocese is blessed to already have individuals walking with pregnant mothers in need.

The grassroots group Louisville Moms Helping Moms, which supports women who have chosen to give birth to their babies, is a good example, he said. The women in that group have supported mothers with food, transportation and household items. Not everyone can do that, but the goal is for every parishioner to know how to help in some way, he said.

If a pregnant woman asked for help “Would we know what to say?” asked Harpring. “We all should. They’ve said yes to life, what is the next step?”

Harpring is a sidewalk counselor who has talked to pregnant women in need outside the local abortion clinic. Some women will consider abortion because they have serious “obstacles in their way,” he said. Some are facing eviction, financial difficulties and homelessness and have no one to turn to.

“If we can let them know we’re there to help them remove those obstacles, we can make a difference in their lives,” he said.

That’s what “Walking With Moms in Need” is about. Finding ways to let women know there is “tangible” help out there. “It’s not cookie-cutter … every parish or diocese is not going to do it the same,” said Harpring.

Individuals may use Louisville Moms Helping Moms as a model to start their own grassroots group, for instance.

The initiative also aims to see parishioners come together to help mothers in their parishes. Harpring noted that some women are not in need financially, but they may feel isolated because they’re new in town and have no family nearby.

Sending a card to acknowledge their pregnancy or sending a meal after the birth are good ways to be supportive, he noted. Even moms with bigger kids need support. Parishes can organize groups to help mothers with childcare, meal preparation or chores.

That was the case with Nicole Zelli, a mother of five young children. Zelli had moved to Louisville to attend graduate school at the University of Louisville. Though she met her husband here, her mother and other members of her immediate family lived in New Hampshire.

Zelli had a five-year-old and a set of one-year-old twins when she was pregnant with a second set of twins.

She and her family are members of St. James and St. Louis Bertrand churches and when some older women in those parishes realized she had no family nearby, they organized a group to come to her home to help. She called the women’s effort a “Holy Spirit thing.”

“There was a granny in my home every afternoon for a year helping me with the kids,” said Zelli in a recent interview. “It was a beautiful thing. I’m still close to them, they’re a part of our family.”

The women who helped Zelli have inspired the idea for a ministry called Gianna’s Hands, said Harpring. The ministry aims to form groups within parishes to support pregnant women in their pews. The ministry is named after St. Gianna, an Italian pediatrician who was canonized in 2004.

Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Family Support and Referral Center is leading the effort to bring Gianna’s Hands to parishes, but the COVID 19 pandemic has caused it to stall, said Shayla Bottoms, who serves as director of the center.

Bottoms said she would like to see the effort move ahead in the future.

Harpring’s office is organizing a virtual meeting through the BlueJeans video conferencing platform to discuss this and other ways of helping mothers.

The online event will take place Oct. 27 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz will address participants and offer his thoughts. To register or to find out more, contact Harpring at eharpring@archlou.org. A link to the event will be sent to those who register. To learn more about “Walking With Moms In Need: A Year of Service,” click here.

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