As the calendar turns to October, the focus within the Catholic Church nationally turns to Respect Life Month, a chance for representatives from parishes and schools to work alongside clergy to bring attention to the many programs and organizations in local communities that support issues around the dignity of the human person, from the beginning of life to the end of life, and all of the vulnerable moments in between.
This year’s theme is “Christ Our Hope: In Every Season of Life” (rcbo.org/respectlifemonth), and within that are a number of initiatives, activities, special-focused homily messages, service projects and donation opportunities available that will allow members to connect on topics such as abortion, human trafficking, homelessness, foster care, assisted suicide and the death penalty.
“It’s an opportunity for us to help build the conscience of our Catholic community about why it’s important to address these issues,” says Greg Walgenbach with the Diocese of Orange’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. “Every life matters, and we really do want to come alongside people at every leg of the journey…to do what we are called to be as a Church, which is to be the body of Christ to one another.”
Additionally, special attention was given during Respect Life Week October 14–18 (respectlifeweek.com), a week-long celebration with accompanying age-appropriate curriculum that was made available for schools and families to engage in discussing themes such as restorative justice, polarization, special needs and racism.
“It gives an opportunity for our Catholic schools to engage in some of these topics and to integrate a special focus around these topics into what they are doing in their teaching and formation within the schools,” says Walgenbach. “It also encourages families to take up these conversations that are appropriate for their kids’ ages so we can begin to have these as a natural part of our growth in faith.”
For members looking to connect and contribute financially in support of Respect Life Month, there is Pennies From Heaven, a project that the Diocese of Orange has supported since 1994. Collections totaling more than three million dollars have been raised to, “support local Respect Life shelters, clinics and centers that give immediate and long-term care to Orange County women, men and families in crisis.”
One of the local organizations supported by Pennies From Heaven donations is Casa Teresa (casateresa.org). Located in Orange and serving the community since 1976, Casa Teresa has helped change the lives of nearly 7,000 pregnant women and their children and babies.
“Our mission is to provide a loving home for pregnant women in crisis so they can begin their healing journey,” says Casa Teresa CEO, Lisa Wood, “and our vision is to create families that thrive by transforming the woman’s life, so that they can make healthier choices and break the generational cycle of addiction and abuse.”
Over their 43 years, many female volunteers have stepped in to serve at the residential live-in center, but a recent event became the catalyst for a new way to bring male support to these mothers-to-be in crisis.
During a barbeque held at Casa Teresa over the summer, members of the Knights of Columbus council from St. Martin De Porres Church in Yorba Linda were in attendance. As one of the Knights held the three-month-old baby of a mother in residence, she made the comment that he was the first man to ever hold her child.
“It was a monumental moment for the staff and this mom and opened our eyes to the fact that we need to be more proactive in creating partnerships with male-centric organizations that promote chivalry, kindness and service,” says Casa Teresa Director of Philanthropy, Tristen Seagondollar. “We want to reshape how [our moms] view men and give them more healthy interactions (with men) while they are here with us.”
From that one exchange, the Knights Blessing program was born. Once a month, three to five members of a Knights of Columbus council are invited to come to Casa Teresa to pray over the moms, bring them flowers, interact with them and hold their babies.
“As Knights, we have a responsibility to see that God’s babies are protected,” says St. Martin De Porres Knights of Columbus council member, Brendan O’Shea. “I know our relationship (with Casa Teresa) makes God happy.”
The Knights Blessing program is being piloted beginning this month with the St. Martin De Porres Knights of Columbus council, but Wood and Seagondollar hope this inspires other local Knights of Columbus councils to serve as well.
“We think that as far as the Respect Life conversation is concerned, we feel very strongly that there’s a place for men to be involved with this particular topic,” says Seagondollar. “That’s really where men can be most impactful is to spend time with women who have chosen life.”