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Gabriel Project to return as diocese-wide initiative

By LINDA OPPELT
04/15/2022 | Comments

COLORADO SPRINGS. The Gabriel Project is a parish-based pro-life apostolate that was once active at both St. Patrick and Holy Trinity parishes and is now being introduced to the diocese as a whole.

Julie Bailey, Director of the Respect Life Apostolate of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, hosted a meeting on April 2 at St. Peter Parish in Monument to invite people from all parishes in the diocese to consider participating in this ministry. Attendees from eight parishes — including those as far away as Pax Christi Parish in Littleton and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Castle Rock — came to learn more about the Gabriel Project.

Holy Trinity parishioner Susan Pavlica, who led the Gabriel Project for several years, presented its mission and history as well as explained how to implement it within a parish.

Per its mission statement, the Gabriel Project “offers assistance to women experiencing difficult circumstances during pregnancy. It is a parish-based, pro-life apostolate . . . Gabriel Project volunteers provide practical advice and help as well as spiritual support and Christian witness to mothers in need.”

The Gabriel Project began at St. Michael Parish in Houston, Texas, shortly after the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. The parish’s pastor put up a sign saying, “If you have your baby, this parish will help you in every way.” Named after the angel Gabriel, the project aims to bring good news to women experiencing unexpected, unwelcomed, or otherwise problem pregnancies.

Pavlica and her husband Chuck were members of St. Michael. The couple later moved to Colorado Springs, and in 2009 Chuck suggested starting the project at Holy Trinity. 

A unique aspect of the Gabriel Project is the one-on-one relationships between volunteer “Angels” and moms-to-be. Ideally, the Angel walks with the mom through her pregnancy, helping the mom prioritize where she needs to go in order to receive necessary medical care, social services, and other help. She also prays for the mom and baby, and offers to pray with the mom if she is open to it.

Pavlica said the Gabriel Project is currently being offered in 17 dioceses, several parishes, and a few Catholic Charities offices. The project is implemented in different ways in different places — there is not a strict format that each parish or diocese must follow.

The main method a parish uses to publicize its support for pregnant women is through the Sign of Life — “a free-standing sign with the message that help is available and an image of the ‘Madonna of the Streets’ (that) advertises the Church’s willingness to help a pregnant woman in need,” Pavlica said. It also contains a phone number to call or text — the first point of contact for the woman with the parish group.

Due to Holy Trinity’s location and demographics, the signs did not generate much response, Pavlica said. The group eventually switched to preparing manuals for Angels and for parish coordinators. These resources will now be offered to other parishes interested in implementing the Gabriel Project.

At St. Patrick, the Gabriel Project operated from 2005-2007. Carol Colter was the coordinator for those two years. Being the only Gabriel Project parish in the diocese, they advertised widely. As a result, the majority of women who called were not local to the parish and were mainly interested in material or financial support, not in being matched with a trained Angel for their pregnancy.

“It’s a wonderful concept, but the neediest ones were not open to being walked with,” she said.

Starting a Gabriel Project ministry requires the support of the pastor and someone willing to act as coordinator, Pavlica said.

Next, the female volunteer “Angels” are recruited and trained. While Angels are women, there is also a role for men, called “Michaels,” who provide support and mentorship to any fathers-to-be who perhaps had no male role models growing up. Various parish ministries and apostolates are also enlisted to help provide the different aspects of practical and spiritual support the mom might need.

The trained Angels are commissioned at a Mass recognizing their commitment to the apostolate. One person, the phone Angel, is the first point of contact for the project. The phone Angel collects contact information from the pregnant woman and her basic needs. The woman then meets with the parish coordinator, who assesses her needs in more detail, and discerns which of the volunteer angels will be right for her. That Angel journeys with the mom throughout her pregnancy, and afterwards as needed, connecting with her every few weeks.

The most important task of the Angel, according to Pavlica, “is to walk with the mom, and to listen. She may not have anybody else in her life who’s really listening to her. They’re all telling her what they think she should do. They’re not listening to what she thinks, and what her concerns are, and where she really is.”

Bailey summarized the program’s strength by emphasizing, “it’s not just for material needs; it’s not just for underprivileged or needy moms. It’s any kind of need — spiritual, emotional, physical, whatever it is.”

At the diocesan level, Bailey hopes to provide many resources for parishes willing to host the Gabriel Project, including possibly having a central phone number printed on cards to give women at the sidewalk of Planned Parenthood. The diocesan contact would then refer the caller to the closest participating parish. Bailey emphasized the importance of flexibility to accommodate the project within the diocese.

The Gabriel Project could also work synergistically with the Mater Filius maternity home that will be constructed on the grounds of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish, since both entities have similar goals. Groundbreaking on the home took place April 9 and construction should begin later this year. 

“I can see us in the future possibly even doing some joint training; doulas who are walking and mentoring moms at the maternity home are going to be doing largely the same job that Gabriel Angels are doing, and there may be women who serve as both.”

Anyone who wants more information about the Gabriel Project may contact Julie Bailey, jbailey@diocs.org, or 401-578-4471, or Susan Pavlica, pavkee@yahoo.com or 719-466-0925.

(Linda Oppelt is administrative assistant for The Colorado Catholic Herald.)

 


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