A national grassroots organization, founded to support women in crisis pregnancies, is growing in the Southern Tier.
Within the past year, the Gabriel Project has been adopted by Elmira’s St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo cluster as well as St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen. They are among 10 Tier churches currently taking part in the ecumenical initiative.
Each church’s outdoor sign has a message promoting the Gabriel Project, along with a crisis-pregnancy hotline number to call. According to the Gabriel Project’s Web site, the suggested message should read:
“Pregnant? Need help? We, the members of this community, see each baby as an expression of God’s unending love. For the love of God and each and every one of his children we offer immediate and practical help to any woman.”
An image of the Madonna of the Streets is included on each sign. The displays at St. Casimir, St Charles Borromeo and St. Mary of the Lake also list the phone number 607/732-2111 — the Southern Tier Pregnancy Resource Center.
Another major component of the Gabriel Project is the availability of volunteers, known as “angels,” who are linked with women in need and serve as their supporters. There are already 10 trained angels at St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo, who have also gone through background checks and diocesan Creating a Safe Environment procedures.
The Gabriel Project is “basically a welcoming to any woman who is in need of help with her pregnancy, with the aim of protecting her and her child and offering support. We hope to prevent a woman from being post-abortive. Our goal is not just to save a child, but to save a mother and the child,” said Mary Ann Philpott, religious-education coordinator at St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo. Philpott also serves as secretary/treasurer for Chemung County Right to Life, which works in conjunction with project organizers.
Terry Burke, local coordinator of the Gabriel Project, said the project is also in the process of being added at All Saints Parish in Corning and St. Benedict’s Church in Odessa. St. Benedict’s forms the Schuyler Catholic Community cluster with St. Mary of the Lake.
The Gabriel Project began in Texas in 1991. Burke, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s in Campbell, Steuben County, said she would like to get even more area Catholic parishes involved in the effort, but acknowledged that it’s not a simple matter to erect a sign on church grounds. Many communities, she explained, have ordinances limiting the number of signs on properties.
Anne Dziuba, a Schuyler Catholic Community parishioner who helped bring the Gabriel Project to St. Mary of the Lake, said St. Mary’s is limited by local law to a single sign. But her pastor, Father Paul Bonacci, felt so strongly about the project that he had the church sign redone so as to incorporate the Gabriel Project message. The new sign went up in June 2005.
Burke said it’s important to go through proper legal channels in getting these signs erected “simply because of Planned Parenthood’s opposition to pro-life projects. If a sign goes up without a permit, then Planned Parenthood would become very pro-active and try to have that sign prohibited.”
Burke said that some pastors may be reluctant to erect signs because of the controversy they might spark in the community. But Dziuba thinks it’s much more important to adhere to the wishes of the late Pope John Paul II.
“The one thing he was telling us was to support the sanctity of life,” said Dziuba, who works as a peer counselor at Southern Tier Pregnancy Resource Center. The Gabriel Project, she said, “gets the information out as quickly as possible that there are options to abortion.”
This knowledge is vital, Burke said.
“Many women who have had abortions said they didn’t know where they could get help,” she noted.
The three Tier churches are the only diocesan parishes currently supporting the Gabriel Project. Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator, and Kathleen Dubel, peace-and-justice coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier, said they support the Gabriel Project’s intent, but would like to see it worked through parish social-ministry groups so as to avoid duplication of pre-existing problem-pregnancy initiatives.
Burke said that’s fine with her.
“I think that would make it much more efficient,” she said.
A good example of this collaboration is at St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo. According to Philpott, the social-ministry committee has assisted the Gabriel Project by donating such items as diapers, infant clothing, blankets, cribs, strollers and car seats.
“It’s sort of a slow project; there are a lot of steps,” said Burke, noting that parishes may take several months of deliberation before deciding to go ahead with the project. “But once it’s going, I really believe it helps women, it helps our community.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more details about the Gabriel Project, call Terry Burke at 607/329-8498 or visit www.gabrielproject.com.