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‘So much of this is out of our control’: Pregnancy amid a pandemic

Denver, Colo., Mar 29, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Sarah Sefranek, a Catholic wife and mother living in Parker, Colorado, is 37 weeks pregnant with her fourth child.

While she normally homeschools her other children even when there’s not a global pandemic on, coronavirus restrictions have changed what normal life looks like for everyone.

“It’s not regular homeschooling” right now, she said. “Regular homeschooling means you go out, you see your friends, you do exciting things.”

Sefranek and her family have been doing their best to stay home and maintain social distancing in order to avoid getting the coronavirus, especially so close to her due date. They’ve stopped going to the library, they’ve stopped playdates and book club meetings. Sefranek told CNA her husband leaves the house only to get groceries or other essentials.

But, like most pregnant women, even if Sefranek remains healthy, labor, delivery and postpartum recovery will likely look very different for her than they would have without pandemic restrictions.

“I know the things that were helpful to me when my (other babies) came, like having a meal train and having my mom come over. Now I can't have playdates for my big kids while I'm recovering. I don't even know where people are going to get the meat to make me meal for a meal train. So it is strange,” Sefranek said.

Things “suddenly felt a lot more serious” for Sefranek when her doctor offered to do a telemedicine visit for her 38 week appointment instead of an in-clinic appointment. Normally, at this point in pregnancy, Sefranek would be going in for weekly visits until she delivers. But her doctor told her this time, unless she had serious concerns that something was wrong, it would be best to do the visit over a video call.

Looming large among Sefranek’s worries - what happens if she, or her baby, get coronavirus?

“Recommendations are changing all the time, but right now, if I tested positive, they would want to separate the baby from me at birth, which is pretty scary to me,” she said.

There is also a shortage of coronavirus tests in most places in the U.S. Sefranek wonders what would happen if she showed up to the hospital to deliver, and had a cough or a fever, but could not get tested.

“I feel a little bit like I have to hide in even more of a bubble, because I feel I can't catch anything at all. In a way, I feel I'm more scared of being separated from baby than I am of the virus itself,” Sefranek added, which she admits is “maybe not rational.”

 

A dearth of research on coronavirus and pregnancy

 

Information about pregnancy and coronavirus is scant, as the disease is so new and there has not been enough time for extensive research. 

While pregnant women are not considered immunocompromised in the classic sense of the term, their immune systems are considered “suppressed,” meaning they are more susceptible to illnesses like the flu or coronavirus, and may suffer more severe symptoms and complications than they normally would have, were they not pregnant.

“With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses,” the CDC website states.

The CDC notes that it is still unknown whether mothers infected with coronavirus could pass the illness on to their babies, though it says that so far, no infants born to COVID-19 positive mothers have also tested positive for COVID-19. The virus has also thus far not been found in the amniotic fluid or breast milk of mothers who have tested positive.

There have been a small number of reported complications in pregnancy or delivery in mothers who are COVID-19 positive, though the CDC notes that it is unclear if the complications were related to the infection. Women of childbearing age are also in age categories where coronavirus death rates are not as high as older populations.

Jennifer Murphy is the medical director of the Pregnancy Support Center of Carroll County in Maryland. The pregnancy center helps women in crisis pregnancies or with low incomes with material assistance such as diapers, with medical care such as pregnancy tests or sonograms, and by connecting them with additional resources.

Murphy told CNA that so far, her center has not had any of their clients test positive for coronavirus. As a precaution, they have moved most of their operations to the parking lot, and only bring women into their facility if necessary, and once they have been screened for symptoms.

“You always worry that pregnant women are more susceptible to things than other people. So far, the data doesn't seem to show that,” Murphy said.

“I'm not making light of it, but there's so much in the news that's horrifying, but most people will actually come through this just fine, and there's not so far any evidence that pregnant women do worse than anyone else,” she added.

Murphy said she has been telling her clients to remain calm, to practice good hygiene and quarantine protocols, and to be in close contact with their doctors if they do suspect symptoms of coronavirus.

“It's a lot of quelling of anxiety, a lot of folks who are just very afraid, and understandably,” Murphy said. “But anxiety isn't good for you when you're pregnant either, so we're trying to emphasize positive things they can do quarantine-wise, and keeping their environment clean and calm as much as possible, and trying not to think too far ahead about bad things.”

“Pregnancy is a time of anxiety anyway, especially first time moms,” Murphy added. “And it's hard not to have this add a great burden, but just to try to stay focused on a few good things and taking care of your baby. So just (focus on) keeping yourself safe, and probably not even overexposing yourself to media, because I think that just makes it worse,” she said.

“Be informed, but don't make yourself crazy.”

 

Disrupting birth plans

 

The lack of information on pregnancy and coronavirus worries Anna H., a Catholic in Long Island, New York, where the pandemic has hit the hardest in the U.S. thus far. She is 22 weeks pregnant with her first child.

“It's just the unknown,” Anna told CNA.

“There isn't enough research on how it affects pregnant women, how it affects babies. I know there's a lot of research that says that it probably isn't too bad for the babies, but I also have asthma,” she adds, an underlying condition that could worsen the effects of coronavirus, a respiratory disease.

Anna, who teaches high school theology, said her school has been closed since March 12. She’s been teaching online, which is easier on her body, and she’s less worried about exposure now that she and her husband are working from home. She said she’s also grateful for the stay-at-home order in her state, and hopes the aggressive approach will slow the spread of the virus and relieve some of the pressure on hospitals and doctors.

Already in New York, some overwhelmed hospitals are not allowing pregnant women to bring any support people with them - no spouses, parents, children, friends or doulas.

“I'm pretty nervous about that,” Anna said. She and her husband joke that they would schedule a home birth with a midwife if it came down to him not being allowed at the birth - and Anna knows a Catholic mom in the area who has delivered all five of her children at home.

But she’s hoping it doesn’t have to come to that, and that things will calm down by the time she needs to deliver.

“Right now I feel like we don't need to worry about that too much. We can put it in God's hands for now,” she said.

Baylyn Wagner, who is 28 weeks along and due on June 19th with her third child, has already decided to change her labor and delivery plans in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Initially I thought, ‘Oh, it'll for sure be over and done with by June and we won't have to worry about delivery,’” Wagner, who lives in Minnesota, told CNA.

But then she started hearing reports of hospitals restricting support people for pregnant women to one person, or to no one. Her own hospital emailed her and told her that they would only allow one support person, even though Wagner had been planning on her husband, doula, and birth photographer attending her labor and delivery.

Wagner said her doctor tried to reassure her. Wagner had a late loss in her second pregnancy - she miscarried a little after 21 weeks - and in light of that, Wagner’s doctor said she would do her best to advocate for the hospital to make an exception for Wagner’s husband to be present for the birth of their third child.

“But she said if it gets to ‘full crisis mode,’ those were her words, they absolutely could limit it down because their priority is keeping their staff healthy. I know hospitals are doing what they can, but for us...with the anxiety we already had with this pregnancy, we chose to look into midwives to do a home birth option,” she said.

After talking with four different midwives, Wagner said it sounded to her like a lot of couples were making the same changes.

Wagner said they’ve also changed their contract with their birth photographer to a more tentative plan, that accounts for whether the photographer is sick and cannot come to the birth.

Wagner lives with her grandparents, so she said they will watch her son while she gives birth at home. Her grandfather is also a Catholic deacon, and she said she is considering asking him to baptize her child soon after the birth, in the event that churches are not yet open.

“There's really no way to know right now what things will look like by June, if things will be better, if we'll able to have Masses again by that point, or what the world will look like,” Wagner said.

 

Keeping calm, trusting God


Claire Le, who lives in Littleton, Colorado, is expecting her first child with her husband Huy. The Le’s said they stocked up on food as they saw the pandemic worsening, and since then they have been staying home as much as possible to avoid any exposure.

“My main fear is if I contract the virus, then I would have been in ICU and then my husband can't be there during the delivery,” Claire said. “And then also, if hospital protocols get even worse, there may even be a chance he may not be there. So, right now we're trying to control what we can, and trying to both stay healthy.”

“I think we just constantly remind ourselves that this is not in our control,” Huy added. “I mean, we can pray for a good May 1st due date where everything's just back to normal, but things like that are not really under our control.”

Thinking about postpartum recovery is what makes Claire a little sad, she said. Her family is out in California, and they were planning to come see the baby and help out after the birth. But now, they’re not sure when a visit will be possible.

Huy and Claire are also wondering about the baptism, and if it will be performed privately.

Claire said she has found peace in prayer and offering up the situation to God.

“I know God's been with us from the very beginning, from conception, and he's been with us the whole way. I know we'll be okay,” she said.

Huy said staying connected with loved ones, watching daily Mass on YouTube, and praying together as a couple has been helping them stay calm at this time.

“We went to a chapel which was relatively quiet, that gives us a little bit of a release where we can just go there and with God for a while,” he said.

Anna said she has been trying to balance her worries and anxieties by also counting her blessings.

“I always try to think about what blessings I have at this time: more time with my husband, more time prepare for the baby, more time to rest,” she said. “The fact that I'm not on my feet all the time is really helpful...teaching is physically demanding because you're on your feet so much.”

The time at home has also afforded her more time to pray, Anna said.

“I did a novena to St. Gerard (a patron saint of pregnancy) when we first got pregnant and I just started the other day to do another novena to St. Gerard,” Anna said. “(I’m also) able to live stream daily mass, where normally when I'm a teaching I don't have time for that.”

Wagner said she and her husband have been trying to say a daily rosary in order to stay calm at this time.

“(We’re) especially meditating on what Mary and Joseph went through and their pregnancy and their birth with Jesus, and uniting our own uncertainty to what they experienced,” she said.

She’s also been using Hallow, a Catholic prayer app that leads users through guided meditations similar to the popular Calm app, but based on Scripture readings.

“They've had a whole series of little guided meditations on different ways to cope with isolation and stress through all of this, so that's been a nice tool and prayer as well,” she said.

Sefranek said the pandemic has made her identify more closely with women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, and helped her realize how much of life is out of her control.

“I planned this pregnancy nine months ago,” Sefranek said. “I didn't plan to have a baby in the middle of pandemic...maybe every pregnancy, every birth, in a way, is unplanned.”

“I don't want to diminish the pain and the difficulty of a real crisis pregnancy,” she added. “It just is reminding me of that…(because) so much of this outside of my control.”

Sefranek said she’s been saying a lot of “midnight rosaries” when she wakes up from pregnancy discomfort, and that’s been helping her to feel at peace, though she deeply misses the sacraments. She said she’s also been connecting with loved ones virtually to help ease her anxieties.

She is also paying attention to the small blessings in her life. For example, she said, the other day she found out that she had two extra boxes of sticks for her fertility monitor that she will need to track her cycle once the baby is born. She had previously been worried - panic buying has caused the sticks to be scarce online.

“(It was) a small thing, but maybe God had a plan for me and he used my absent mindedness to give me this small thing right now that could increase my peace,” she said.

“So that was a nice reminder that God can work through the things that feel really frustrating in the moment.”

 

Do you believe this?

Pencil Preaching for Sunday, March 29, 2020

HHS clarifies protections for coronavirus patients with disabilities

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is reminding federally-funded health providers that they cannot ration health care based upon the disabilities of patients.

“In this time of emergency, the laudable goal of providing care quickly and efficiently must be guided by the fundamental principles of fairness, equality, and compassion that animate our civil rights laws,” the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) stated in a bulletin on Saturday.

“As such, persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities,” the bulletin states.

The document outlines existing civil rights protections in health care for people with disabilities, in particular Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These are both in force, HHS said, and they prohibit discrimination on basis of disability in federally-funded health programs.

On a conference call with reporters on Saturday, the HHS OCR director Roger Severino said that “we’re doing everything we can to inform health care providers of their obligations under the law,” and that the bulletin “is the first step.”

He said that his office had received “several” complaints about state crisis standards of care being developed in response to the new coronavirus pandemic. The office was in the process of starting investigations into those complaints he said.

As there are now more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S., states are considering “triage” plans in the event that their hospitals and health care systems are overwhelmed by an expected surge in new coronavirus patients.

Such plans would detail how critical care, such as ICU beds and ventilators, would be rationed in such a crisis. However, advocates are sounding the alarm that the plans could be used to deny care to people with disabilities and the elderly, based upon their supposed likelihood of survival.

Severino on Saturday clarified the existing civil rights protections for people with disabilities, and said that they were grounded in fundamental American principles.

“Part of the greatness of America is not simply our military might or our economic power, but the beauty of our character in how we treat the most vulnerable among us,” he said.

“We are not a society that is guided by some sort of ruthless utilitarianism, but one guided by compassion, justice, and fairness. And those principles are embodied in our civil rights laws.”

Last week, disability rights groups in Washington state said they had filed a complaint with the HHS OCR over a triage plan being developed by state health officials that they said posed a danger to persons with disabilities.

“While discussions about the details of the plan may be evolving, it is clear that it will discriminatorily disadvantage people with disabilities,” the groups’ letter stated, citing guidance by the state’s health department that reportedly “recommends that triage teams consider transferring hospital patients with ‘loss of reserves in energy, physical ability, cognition and general health’ to outpatient or palliative care.”

This week, 30 members of Congress wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr, requesting that they issue guidance to states on the civil rights protections.

Severino said on Saturday that he was “concerned” that state crisis standards of care might be based on “value judgements” and “stereotypes” about the worth of someone’s life.

“This is about fairness, equality, inclusion, and justice under our civil rights laws,” he said.

Religious health providers objecting to state standards of care could also be protected under federal law, Severino said.

For example, a religious hospital might wish to preserve the life of a patient with down syndrome, contrary to state standards of crisis care mandating that ventilators be given to patients with the supposed highest likelihood of survival.

“That could be an issue that could arise that is included in these questions of resource allocation,” Severino said.

During coronavirus, Rome's homeless find refuge near the Vatican

Rome, Italy, Mar 28, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Along the edge of Bernini’s colonnade, the semi-circular rows of columns which wrap St. Peter’s Square in Rome, many homeless spend time during the day and sleep at night, as tourists and locals walk by.

But during the coronavirus pandemic, which has led Italian authorities to lock down the country, close St. Peter’s Square, and order everyone to stay home, where can those with nowhere to go find shelter?

There are an estimated 8,000 homeless in Rome, according to Massimiliano Signifredi, communications director for Sant’Egidio, a Catholic community and volunteer network based in Rome.

“Unfortunately, no one has thought of these people,” he told CNA. “These people are at risk, not only because of the virus, but because of isolation.”

Of those 8,000 homeless, he explained that around 3,000 will not be able to find room in shelters across the city, and instead choose “to live at the train stations and at places like St. Peter’s Square, which continues to be a place of refuge for those without a home.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, with the streets abandoned and bars and restaurants closed, “those who do not have a home find themselves in great difficulty,” Signifredi said. “Even to go to the bathroom is a problem without a house; and to wash your hands frequently, like we should, you cannot do if you are on the street.”

One state police officer who works near the Vatican, and who spoke to CNA on condition of anonymity, said one of the places where many homeless typically sleep at night – under the gallery of one of the nearby buildings – is now empty.

But the outer edge of Bernini’s colonnade still hosts many of its usual guests, though numbers are slightly reduced. “Some people really do not want to go; they prefer to stay outside,” the officer said, adding that the police cannot force anyone to go to a shelter against his or her wish.

Despite added risks, the services for homeless men and women near the Vatican have continued uninterrupted, including the papal charities-run showers and bathrooms, located under and between the right colonnade and a Vatican wall.

Now, volunteers take names in the morning of people wanting to use the facilities, and police use the lists to allow those people to enter the area, accessible only through the closed square.

Sant’Egidio and another Catholic charity, Caritas Roma, continuing to distribute food to people in need according to their usual schedules.

Access to a meal is especially difficult during the coronavirus lockdown, since there are no open restaurants giving out food at the end of the day and no one passing by to offer something or to give some money, Signifredi said.  

“For these people, we have not interrupted our delivery of food on the street, because we look for these people all year,” he explained. “We know where they are.”

Last November, the Vatican’s office of papal charities and Sant’Egidio together opened a new shelter and soup kitchen in a building facing the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

Palazzo Migliori has around 30 beds. Signifredi said previously people would enter the shelter at 7 pm, have dinner, sleep, and leave around 8:00 the next morning. Now, trying to help people stay off the streets even during the day, they have drastically extended these hours.

“So people stay inside their ‘home’ as much as possible,” he said.

Now the guests can enter the shelter at 4:30 pm, staying until the next day after lunch, only having to spend a few hours outside. They can also get all three meals at the soup kitchen.    

The Missionaries of Charity also have a center for homeless on Vatican property. One sister told CNA the community in Rome continues “to work and pray” during the coronavirus emergency.

“We continue doing what we are doing, according to the rules and regulations,” she said.

Signifredi said the principle worry of men and women living on the streets right now is “they will not find the necessary help to live, they will be more isolated.”

“They see that the [city’s streets are] empty and that there is no one to help. I can tell you that people are very grateful when we go to find them.”

He said though volunteers are wearing masks and gloves and maintaining one meter of distance between themselves and others, “a physical distance does not mean a human distance.”

“We should continue to communicate the fact that they are our friends… We cannot shake hands or give a hug, but we can continue to communicate our affection for a person.” Even with the mask on the eyes can show a smile, he stated.

The Sant’Egidio community is also sustained by prayer, Signifredi said, and is praying together every day through the internet. “Our online prayer helps us to resist in a moment of great difficulty, in which we lose our reference points, in which we suffer because we cannot pray together, because we cannot celebrate the Eucharist together.”

Prayer, he added, helps you “to not think that these are bad times and you can do nothing, but that really there is a horizon of hope.”

Vatican does coronavirus testing, says Pope Francis does not have virus

Vatican City, Mar 28, 2020 / 11:05 am (CNA).- The Vatican said Saturday Pope Francis does not have the coronavirus, and that recent testing of 170 Holy See employees for COVID-19 resulted in only one new case.

This brings the total number of coronavirus cases connected to Vatican City to six, papal spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement March 28.

“I can confirm that neither the Holy Father nor his closest collaborators are involved,” the spokesman stated.

The six positive cases include a priest who lives in the same Vatican guesthouse as Pope Francis. The priest, an official of the Secretariat of State, was put into isolation as soon as he presented symptoms of COVID-19, Bruni said.

Tests were carried out on those the official had been in physical contact with and later other Holy See employees were also tested “as a precaution,” bringing the total tested to 170, the spokesman said.

According to Bruni, only one other test came back positive from those tests – a Holy See employee who was in close contact with the Secretariat of State official.

The spokesman said other precautionary measures have been carried out, such as additional sanitation.

The Secretariat of State official is not in critical condition but has been admitted to a hospital in Rome for care and observation, Bruni added.

The Vatican’s first case of the coronavirus was found after a patient tested positive in the city state’s outpatient health facilities March 5. The facilities were then closed for one day to allow for their sanitation.

Of the next three cases to have been discovered, two are employees of the Vatican Museums and one is a warehouse employee.

Bruni told journalists March 24 that these four coronavirus patients “had been placed in solitary confinement as a precaution before they tested positive and their isolation has already lasted for over 14 days; currently they are being treated in Italian hospitals or at home.”

Pope Francis’ schedule has lessened during the coronavirus pandemic, though he continues to have some meetings in the apostolic palace, from where he is also livestreaming his weekly Wednesday general audience and Sunday Angelus during Italy's lockdown.

March 28 the pope met with Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, as well as other Vatican officials.

Vatican confirms: Member of papal residence positive for coronavirus

The Vatican confirmed March 28 that a resident of the Domus Santa Marta, where Pope Francis lives, tested positive for the coronavirus and has been recovering at a Rome-area hospital.

EWTN’s Warsaw: Network can be a ‘lifeline’ during pandemic

CNA Staff, Mar 28, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The chairman and CEO of EWTN said Thursday that the media network will remain open and on the air during the coronavirus pandemic. In a March 26 interview, EWTN’s Michael Warsaw said that the organization’s ministry is more urgent than ever.

“I think there's so much anxiety. There's so much fear. People feel untethered. And I think one of the things that EWTN provides is a place that people can turn to ground themselves, to connect themselves with the faith and really to find reassurance that God is there for them in this really difficult time,” Warsaw said on EWTN News Nightly.

Warsaw stressed that although the global pandemic has affected the lives of everyone, including EWTN employees, policies are in place to ensure that news and catechetical output will continue. He said that as the virus spread from the Asia-Pacific region, through Europe - and especially Italy - before arriving in the United States, the global media group adapted to the changing circumstances. 

“Most of our employees are working remotely. And we have essential staff who are still on duty in their posts in Irondale and here in Washington and elsewhere,” Warsaw said. “And we're certainly prepared if we need to do more restrictions.” 

“The bottom line of that is that we will continue to air our channels. We will continue to produce programming, particularly the Mass, news, other key programming that will continue, and we're prepared for that to continue.”

Warsaw stressed that, in addition to its news outlets, EWTN’s pastoral and catechetical content is an important resource for Catholics, and that with shelter-in-place orders active in many parts of the United States and the world, it is vital to serve as a link with the Church and with the wider communion of the faithful.

In response to the coronavirus, all Latin rite dioceses in the United States have suspended public Masses, with many bishops ordering the total closure of church buildings. Bishops have encouraged Catholic to watch livestreamed liturgies, and to use the media of television, radio, and the internet to foster prayer and spiritual communion. In these circumstances, Warsaw said, many Catholics have told him that EWTN’s output serves as a “lifeline.” 

“One of the things that I think we've heard so much about is, with all of the churches closed and the inability of people not just in this country, but globally, really to be able to attend Mass on Sunday, people tying into our Mass and participating remotely in our Mass, has been really a lifeline for many people to the practice of their faith, the ability to watch the Mass on EWTN, both on our linear channels, but also online on EWTN.com,” Warsaw said.

“From its founding, Mother Angelica always wanted EWTN and its audience to be a family. And I think in this time and in this moment we are very much a family for one another,” he added.

During the interview, Warsaw encouraged “three things that our EWTN family can do” together. 

“One is, certainly, pray. We need to pray for one another. Pray for the network, as we pray for them. I think, secondly, share what they have in the gift of EWTN. This is a great opportunity to evangelize. If people are benefiting by EWTN, they need to share that with their friends, share that with their family. That's a very effective way of helping others and evangelizing in this moment.” 

Third, Warsaw said, “keep us between your gas and electric bill, as Mother Angelica would always say.” 

“It's very important that we have the resources to be able to continue our mission and to continue to execute our mission to a much, much larger audience of people that are turning to us at this time.” 

“Financial support is critical for us in this moment as well,” Warsaw said. “And we're always obviously very grateful to our EWTN family for that.”

“So many people have commented how much that has meant to them and how meaningful that has been to them -- to be able to have that opportunity to pray and to know that when they are praying, when they are participating in and watching, that they're doing so with people all over the world who are part of that EWTN family.” 

Warsaw said that, at a time when so many are looking for meaning and answers in the face of a pandemic, EWTN is “really trying to be a resource for people, and to give people hope, and to remind people that in this moment, what's most important is that we need to keep our eyes fixed on Christ.”

“They're looking for hope and they're looking for answers. And I think them coming to EWTN is a beautiful thing and a way for them to find those answers and to find that hope that they're looking for,” he said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 300 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.

'A surge of hope': The fight to keep crisis pregnancy centers open

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Facing limited hours and a shortage of supplies, crisis pregnancy centers are working and praying with pregnant women, helping any way they can during the pandemic.

“I think we need to storm the heavens for all the women in crisis pregnancies, because they are in crisis, which means there’s a crisis at home. And if they’re sheltered-in-place, that means they’re in a situation of crisis, and they can’t get out,” said Mathilde Mellon, founder and CEO of Mulier Care – Pregnancy Help Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread quickly in the U.S., with more than 62,000 confirmed cases on Wednesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Businesses and non-profits across the U.S. are closing down or limiting their hours for public safety, and to comply with state and local health mandates.

This means that crisis pregnancy centers are having to operate short-staffed, at a distance, or even close their doors completely in a time when they are concerned abortion rates will go up.

Pregnancy centers are now developing new care plans, providing counseling over the phone or delivering needed supplies such as diapers and baby formula to the women who need them.

The Sisters of Life run their “Visitation Mission” in New York City for expectant mothers, and in the past weeks have been ensuring that women have the diapers, food, cribs, and strollers that they need, said Sister Virginia Joy who directs the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York.

A volunteer network has been sending food and gift cards for mothers and families, and women are being helped in their moves to maternity homes in different parts of the country.

Front Royal Pregnancy Center in rural Virginia, 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., is still operating but on an “essentials-only” policy. If women call ahead for material assistance, clinic helpers can bring baby formula or diapers to their door, and the clinic is still accepting phone calls for consultations on a case-by-case basis.

“Last week, we had a huge drop in the number of people who came to us for services,” clinic worker Olivia McDonough told CNA on Monday. The clinic normally serves 25 clients in a week, she said, but had just five clients last week.

In California, the state’s governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order on March 19. Marie Leatherby, executive director of the Sacramento Life Center, said it is “challenging” for the center to maintain its day-to-day operations with the mandate.

“Right now we’re running just kind of with the skeleton staff, mostly doing phone consultations, nurse consultations,” she said, as well as “drive-by baby care packages with diapers or baby baskets for newborns.”

Other centers have had to close their doors, such as Nashville’s Pregnancy Help Center.

“It’s devastating, because Planned Parenthood is still open, and our mayor won’t shut them down, and they’ve been deemed an essential service,” Mathilde Mellon told CNA. “Apparently, their abortions are a critical medical procedure, and it’s horrible.”

Mellon also runs a mobile medical unit, but had to halt its operations as well out of concern for the safety of her staff.

Abortion providers elsewhere have either been allowed to remain open or have done so in defiance of state orders.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York told Buzzfeed News last week that their doors were open.

In Ohio, Planned Parenthood affiliates continued to perform surgical abortions despite the state’s health department curtailing all non-essential or elective surgeries by the evening of March 18. The state’s attorney general wrote Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio’s Cincinnati surgery center on March 20, ordering them to “immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical elective abortions.”

The president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said that Planned Parenthood is “continuing to put abortion and profits before health and safety.”

On Tuesday, Dannenfelser and a coalition of pro-life leaders wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, asking him to urge abortion providers to cease operations and donate their personal protective equipment to hospitals for staff to treat the new coronavirus.

Other states, such as Washington and Massachusetts, have allowed abortions to continue despite canceling other elective surgeries. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, meanwhile, has applied the governor’s order to curtail most abortions in the state.

In New York, pro-life advocates frantically called the Respect Life Office saying that abortion clinics in the Bronx were packed with staff and clients, Sister Virginia Joy told CNA— a clear safety hazard in the very epicenter of the U.S. pandemic.

Tennessee Right to Life has been petitioning the state’s governor Bill Lee to shut down abortion facilities but “have not heard back” from the office, Mellon said. Nashville’s mayor John Cooper has been sympathetic to the abortion industry, she said, and “Planned Parenthood has got a stronghold here in Davidson County.”

And the fact that abortion providers remain open in a climate of fear and economic uncertainty is almost certainly bad news, pro-life advocates warn.

“We’re definitely worried about that,” McDonough told CNA. “I think that the economics is always the deciding factor with women considering abortion.”

“There’s just a lot of anxiety and fear, right now,” Leatherby said, noting that the phone calls and consultations at the Sacramento Life Center “just seem to be the abortion-minded in the past two weeks.”

On Monday the center had several callers hang up in the middle of the conversation. “We couldn’t seem to get women to want to talk to us. They just want that abortion, and that’s it, and there’s nothing we can do for them,” Leatherby said. “

In another case, a woman was told by her family that she was being selfish in bringing a child into the world at this time, Sister Virginia Joy said. In this case, pro-lifers need to be “getting them to be able to answer what they most want,” she said. “I think when you get to the bottom of a woman’s heart, what she most desires is to give life to her child.”

Tennessee’s abortion regulations—an “informed consent” provision and a mandatory 48-hour waiting period before having abortions—are still in effect, Mellon said, perhaps helping to reduce the number of abortions for women who are traveling to facilities in the state.

With the new coronavirus has come mass restrictions on businesses, and layoffs of workers have begun. U.S. consumers also began “panic buying” non-perishable items including baby diapers, which affected the supplies of local pregnancy care centers.

Leatherby noted that “the stores are all out of diapers and wipes,” and that several women had called the center looking for supplies as their baby showers had been canceled.

In Front Royal, women who had lost their jobs did request formula or diapers last week, McDonough said, adding that “we’re expecting to see a lot more clients like that over the next few weeks.”

Centers are also concerned about donations coming in. “Our fundraisers are all going by the wayside,” Leatherby said, noting that “anybody that could spare a gift would be really great, because I think that’s going to be a big worry coming up.”

“God is good. He’s taken care of the Life Center for 48 years now,” she said.

Prayers, however, are most needed, pro-life leaders say.

“It’s a supernatural grace that these women have to receive to choose life. It really has to be a work of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Virginia Joy said.

Last week, five women reportedly turned around before entering area abortion clinics even though no sidewalk counselors were present, she said.

They had seen people praying outside the clinic, and “that, kind of gave them a surge of hope,” she said. “They saw it as a sign to reach out for a different sort of help, not abortion, but to actually be able to choose life.”

The present crisis also presents a critical “opportunity” for society to rediscover the human dignity of the most vulnerable, she said.

“This could potentially be a huge moment of conversion, this desire to preserve life in the face of this virus,” she said. “May it be an opportunity to preserve and uphold the dignity of every human life at all stages.”

Pope Francis prays for everyone going hungry because of coronavirus

Vatican City, Mar 28, 2020 / 04:29 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed Saturday for everyone who is going hungry, or who will go hungry, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In recent days, in some parts of the world, there have been consequences – some consequences – of the pandemic; one of them is hunger,” he said March 28 before the start of Mass.

“We begin to see people who are hungry, because they cannot work, they did not have a permanent job, and for many circumstances,” he added.

This, the pope said, is the “after” of the COVID-19 outbreak: “We pray for families who are beginning to feel need because of the pandemic.”

Pope Francis is offering his daily Mass in the Santa Marta guesthouse for those affected by the coronavirus.

In his homily, the pope spoke about the “elite” doctors of the law, the Pharisees, who hear the words of Jesus but do not believe.

As recounted by St. John in the day’s Gospel, after hearing Jesus, the crowd was divided: some believed he was the Christ and others did not.

After Jesus spoke, “each went to his own house,” the pope quoted from the Gospel, noting that “after the discussion and all of this, each returned to his own convictions.”

But the Pharisees feel “contempt for Jesus” and “contempt for the people, ‘those people,’ who are ignorant, who know nothing,” Francis recounted.

“The holy faithful people of God believe in Jesus, follow him,” he said, “and this group of elites, the doctors of the Law, separate themselves from the people and do not receive Jesus.”

Pope Francis drew a comparison between this attitude of the Pharisees and clericalism today – explaining that this clericalism can impact the Church during the coronavirus outbreak.

He said he has recently heard some criticism of healthy religious sisters and priests who are taking food to the poor, that they are putting themselves at risk of catching COVID-19.

Some people say, he continued, that he should “tell the mother superior to not let the sisters go out, tell the bishop to not let the priests go out!”

Those people argue priests should administer the sacraments, but to feed the poor and hungry is the job of the government, he said.

According to Francis, this is a clerical attitude, which thinks the poor “are second-class people: we are the ruling class, we must not get our hands dirty with the poor.”

He said there are even many good priests and religious sisters who do not have the courage to bring food to the poor and hungry.

This kind of clericalism stems from losing the memory of belonging to the people, he argued.

“They lost their memory, they lost what Jesus felt in his heart: that he was part of his own people. They have lost the memory of what God said to David: ‘I took you from the flock.’ They have lost the memory of their belonging to the flock.”

But there are also many men and women, including many priests, who have not lost this sense of belonging to the people, he said, sharing the story of a priest who is a pastor in a several mountain villages, and who took the monstrance with the Eucharist through the snow to bless the people.

“He did not care about the snow, he did not care about the burning the cold made him feel in his hands in contact with the metal of the monstrance: he only cared to bring Jesus to the people,” Francis stated.

Brazilians campaign for canonization of 18th-century indigenous leader

Commentary: Organizers of the campaign for the recognition of Sepé Tiaraju's sainthood believe it will certainly reposition him as a true Catholic martyr and a symbol in the struggle for justice and sovereignty.