ORGANISERS were pleasantly surprised with the number of people willing to consider a new Brisbane archdiocese outreach to expectant and new mothers, with 100 attending the first training day.
John Paul II Family and Life Centre community development officer Gwen Winterscheidt, at a March 11 training and discernment day, said “Walking With Love” was a follow-on from an Australian Catholic Bishops Conference initiative in 2007 which identified “concern” for pregnant women.
“The Australian Catholic bishops wanted to make us aware that they are concerned,” she told a group of about 40 at Brisbane’s Centacare, Fortitude Valley.
“A (Brisbane) symposium last April heard three women speakers who had a big impact.
“The first woman spoke of keeping her baby, the second of adopting (out) her baby and the third of her abortion.
“At the end the Archbishop (John Bathersby of Brisbane) said we need to walk with women, to listen and support them … and so the seed was planted for ‘Walking with Love’.”
Mrs Winterscheidt said the initiative was made possible through the existing Care and Concern network in parishes but also can be introduced in communities without it.
Brisbane’s Faith and Life Vicariate Ministry and Community Life Team member Ursuline Sister Anne Surtees gave the group a prayerful and engaging presentation into the “commission” of baptism and the call to “mission”.
“We have to ask, ‘Why do we exist as a Church?'” she said to the group of mostly women.
“We exist to be about God’s business … our baptism is a commission, it’s not an insurance.
“It’s an extraordinary privilege and an incredible responsibility.”
Sr Surtees encouraged the group, discerning their own gifts and talents for the benefit of those seeking the support of “Walking With Love”, to be steadfast in prayer.
“We need to be people who respond to God’s invitation to relationship,” she said.
“(And) the only way to do that is to be people of prayer … (and) we must be disciplined in our prayer and set time aside.”
Centacare’s community development officer Rosemary Woods introduced the day’s guest speaker, counsellor and former lecturer at St Paul’s Theological College Penny Carroll, who looked at the bias and challenges associated with an outreach of this kind.
“Every person they walk with will be different,” she said of those who would offer support to expectant and new mothers.
“It won’t necessarily just be young pregnant women. It could be people in relationships with a lot of children who can’t see how they can cope with another baby.”
Mrs Carroll said “the pressure is on women to have abortions from many sectors” and she looked at what supporters needed to be equipped with as a “Walking With Love” volunteer.
“They will need to be compassionate,” she said.
“(They will need) to be prepared to keep learning … to be flexible … and committed to continuing to develop their self awareness.
“It’s a supportive role, not one of caring or telling women what to do.
“It’s about listening.”
The well-versed counsellor took participants on a journey of rediscovering how faith had shaped their lives and when and how they’d experienced God’s presence.
She also assisted much thought on what other religions and cultures they had been exposed to in an effort to “respect differences”.
“These women need to be open to working with others who may be very different to themselves,” Mrs Carroll said.
“It’s important to realise the kinds of assumptions that we can each make when we meet another – without even exploring who they are.
“We need to instead focus on what a privilege it is to be invited into their private space.”
The day also offered insights into the importance of confidentiality and the rights and responsibilities of volunteers.
Volunteers will return to their parishes and Care and Concern groups to further discern the possibility of formalising “Walking With Love” in their neighbourhoods, with a repeat of the training to be offered soon in the Redlands area following much interest there.
For more information about the initiative contact Rosemary Woods at Centacare on (07) 3252 4371.