Angelica Vega and Maria Elena Brenes, co-coordinators of the respect life ministry at St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish in North Highlands, put their talents and gifts at the service of the Lord, especially when it comes to assisting pregnant mothers in crisis.
“I feel from my heart I must be involved in the ministry of the most vulnerable of all humans -- unborn children, the mothers who experience pain, and also the people who are forgotten by their own families. That’s the reason I am pro-life,” says Maria Elena, a member of St. Lawrence for the past 17 years, who also serves as an assistant in the religious education program.
“All ministries come together and we educate ourselves. Everything starts from hope,” she adds. “We teach our kids that life is precious at all times. We need to fight for every life. Each time I participate in pro-life projects, I realize how God gives us strength, but also sometimes tears of helplessness. God is here to help us fulfill his holy will.”
Angelica, who has been a member of St. Lawrence since 2016 and is also a religious education assistant, says the yearlong “Walking with Moms in Need” effort in the Diocese of Sacramento will help them identify all of the local resources available to pregnant and parenting mothers and be of greater service to their parish and the community.
“If a pregnant and frightened-looking woman walked into our church and sat in the back pew silently crying, would we have the courage to approach her?” Angelica asks. “Could we give her words of support, welcome her and let her know she’s not alone? If a poor and single pregnant mom and her young child came to our parish, would we know where to refer her for food, clothing, pre-natal care and resources to help her choose life for her unborn child?”
She recalls with tears when she and her husband, Alejandro, lost their unborn baby when she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant in 2013. “It was a difficult year, but God continues to heal us and this has made us stronger as a married couple. It gives us the opportunity to support other couples who have lost a baby,” Angelica says. “Life is fragile and strong at the same time. If we always leave our life in the hands of the Lord, he will show the way if we let him. That’s why I’m so involved. I’m doing this all in memory of our child.”
Among the respect life ministry’s activities are praying the rosary for the unborn each third Sunday of the month before Mass; participating in the January West Coast Walk for Life; supporting 40 Days for Life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics; hosting a pro-life booth outside the church every third Sunday of each month; and supporting efforts of the Sacramento Life Center, the Bishop Gallegos Maternity Home and the diocese’s Rachel’s Vineyard retreats.
“We have moms share with children in faith formation about how a baby forms in the womb during the various stages of pregnancy. The children learn from an early age,” Angelica notes. “It’s our duty to promote life, education and awareness in our entire community, from the little children to our elderly.”
Debra Thomas, respect life coordinator at St. Mary Parish in Vacaville, says being pro-life encompasses upholding the sanctity of life in all of its stages.
“As Catholics we are called to encourage and uphold the dignity of life and put our beliefs into practice through prayer and action,” says Debra, who has been a member of St. Mary Parish for 20 years and retired two years ago after working as an accountant for 20 years at UC Davis and for a local irrigation district. “This ministry is near and dear to my heart and I’m so grateful that in retirement I have the time to pursue it more fully.”
The respect life committee takes it mission from the U.S. bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities and Bishop Jaime Soto’s four-point plan, which both include education and formation; pastoral care; prayer and worship; and advocacy.
“We try to be a voice for the voiceless, speaking out for the unborn especially, who have no voice from the womb,” Debra says. “We speak out on behalf of people who are suffering. We trust that God gives us people who will listen, and we speak freely as opportunities arise. We also pray that God shows us where he wants us to invest our time, talents and resources.”
Joining forces with the respect life ministries at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Holy Spirit parishes in Fairfield, Debra says members of St. Mary participate in 40 Days for Life prayer vigils in Lent and in the fall, and also pray year-round during times when abortions are performed at Planned Parenthood in Fairfield. “It’s a bit difficult to actually speak with the women, but they see us out there. We’re a prayerful and welcoming presence and we hold signs that say we are praying for you and your unborn child."
The respect life ministry aims to celebrate diversity and be respectful of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, creating a safe place for conversations and to be holistically pro-life, Debra says. In addition, the ministry looks to partner when it can with other credible ministries and nonprofit organizations who are doing great work in promoting the sanctity of life.
A future project in its early stages is establishing a maternity home for pregnant women in need in Solano County. A committee working on the project currently includes 17 members from St. Mary Parish and St. Basil Parish in Vallejo.
“The need in our county is great, as research has shown that hundreds of currently homeless women are looking for housing and many are pregnant. Many are living in their cars with their children,” Debra notes. “We also have moms who aren’t currently homeless, but on the brink of homelessness. We hope to partner with other churches and existing organizations in this housing effort.”
The respect life ministry, in response to “Walking with Moms in Need,” is in the process of filling out the Parish Inventory Tool, “so we will have a comprehensive resource guide for being able to refer moms who come to us,” Debra says. “Through our work in conjunction with the Gabriel Project, we get requests for housing, food, needed items for babies and other resources. Our parish needs to know what is available and where we can refer as needed.”
Being involved in the respect life ministry has deepened her prayer life, Debra says. “We pray for the moms in need and for their children when our ministry members gather together and when we’re at home. During adoration in our church, we pray for an end to abortion and for specific individuals we come in contact with. Presenting these needs to our Lord during adoration is a great way for me and others to get closer to the Lord and to feel that we are doing his will. This ministry has definitely strengthened my faith.”
(In header photo: Angelica Vega, right, and Marie Elena Brenes at a display table for respect life ministry at St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish.)