As parishes reopen, one of the first things Archbishop Alexander Sample hopes they’ll do is find a way to accompany and assist pregnant women.

On March 3, as the virus was beginning to make news, the archbishop sent an invitation to clergy and parish staff to participate in “Walking with Moms in Need.” The initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops asks Catholics to support local pregnancy centers and find other ways to meet and aid mothers who are struggling.

The project has turned into a call for a year of service to pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Huge challenges face many women in difficult or unplanned pregnancies —including a lack of financial resources and life-affirming support networks,” Archbishop Sample wrote. “These women are among those on the peripheries whom Pope Francis calls us to serve more intentionally. The parishes of western Oregon must be places where they can turn for support.”

The archbishop said the project is a natural to bring those who tend to focus on social justice efforts together with those who work on the pro-life cause. “The protection of human life and human dignity is a hallmark of Catholic social teaching,” the archbishop wrote. “We must be Jesus’ heart of mercy.”

The goal for parishes is to make an assessment of local pregnancy aid resources and strategize on how local services might be improved and better communicated. Most of all, the hope is to help parishioners walk in the shoes of moms in need.

“When more than 20% of the workforce is unemployed or underemployed, when parents struggle with balancing life and home schooling, every pregnancy may be challenging,” wrote Matt Cato, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace.

“Imagine a future when any pregnant woman in need can turn to the local parish and get connected to life-affirming help for her and her child,” Cato said. “It is about each parish becoming a welcoming parish to moms in need, not handing a mom in need a list of area resources.”

Cato said that assisting young mothers is essential to the well-being of the whole community. “One thing the coronavirus has shown,” he said, “is that we are all connected.”