This past July, Virginia-based priest Fr. Thomas Vander Woude heard about a young couple planning to abort a child who had been diagnosed with Down syndrome. He offered them a deal: deliver the child and he’d find an adoptive family.
The couple agreed. Fr. Thomas had to act fast, since the woman was six months pregnant and lived in a state where abortion was prohibited after 24 weeks.
He took to his parish’s Facebook page with this message:
“There is a couple in another state who have contacted an adoption agency looking for a family to adopt their Down Syndrome unborn baby. If a couple has not been found by today they plan to abort the baby. If you are interested in adopting this baby please contact Fr. VW IMMEDIATELY. We are asking all to pray for this baby and the wisdom that this couple realize the importance of human life and do not abort this beautiful gift from God.”
They asked for willing families to either call the parish office or email Fr. Thomas.
Nobody expected the avalanche of responses that followed: over 900 families from all over the world volunteered in just one day. By the time the story made the news, the list had been narrowed down to three potential families.
David Dufresne, a seminarian, volunteered to help the church staff take calls.
“I was taking calls for about three hours straight, just talking to people who are willing to adopt this little baby they never knew about until that morning,” Dufresne told The Washington Times. “I mean, all day long, just receiving phone calls from people who were so generous and within a couple minutes made a life-changing decision. I was really inspired by the goodness of people and what they would do to save a life.”
This story blew me away. I spend a lot of time writing and speaking about the importance of every human life. But here were hundreds and hundreds of families putting their faith into action, jumping at the opportunity to protect human life in a huge way.
Transforming belief into action: this is the goal of all ministry. I’ve seen how individual respect life ministries are participating in this transformation across the diocese during my short time as Life & Justice director. But an important lesson of Fr. Vander Woude’s story is that great ministry ideas are most effective when we can reach beyond our parish boundaries and work together. Through connections made via social media, a life was saved.
My job here in the diocese is to connect people so good ideas spread. Here are just three of the good respect life ministry ideas I’ve seen since starting here:
- Financial and volunteer support of the incredible organization Good Counsel Homes, which cares for pregnant, homeless women.
- A monthly morning Mass and peaceful prayer vigil outside an abortion clinic in Cherry Hill.
- A multimedia installation called “Truth Booth,” hosted at local malls and other places, which shows images of a child’s development in the womb.
I know there are more great ideas out there, and to help extend their impact, we’re going to start work on setting up a diocesan “respect life leaders social network.”
The first step will be to gather in person to meet each other and share ideas. On Saturday, October 5, we’ll gather at St. Charles Borromeo in Sicklerville for the first annual Respect Life Leaders Gathering called “Learn, Connect, Energize.” In addition to brainstorming together, we’ll here from guest speakers Bishop Dennis Sullivan and Pat Brannigan, director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference. Pat helps to lead statewide legislative efforts connected to the protection of human life.
Prayerfully consider joining us on October 5, whether you’ve been leading respect life ministry for years or interested in getting involved for the first time. We need all hands on deck to help grow life & justice ministries, as there are so many ways human life is threatened around the world. How might God be calling you to get involved?
“Learn, Connect, Energize: Respect Life Leaders Gathering” will be held on Saturday, October 5, from 8:15 am – 3:00 pm at St. Charles Borromeo, Sicklerville. For free admission, including breakfast and lunch, register by September 21 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.