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Project Gabriel: sign of help with pregnancies

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GEORGIA FITZHUGH
Ellis County Press
ELLIS COUNTY - Debbie tried to walk to the emergency room. Pregnant and in pain, she knew something was wrong.

Without a telephone or transportation to get help, she decided to walk up Marvin Avenue in Waxahachie to the hospital emergency room.

Just when Debbie felt she couldn't walk any farther, she saw a sign posted near a church. The sign had a picture of a mother and baby.

Its words gave her hope:

'The members of this church community see in the birth of each baby a fresh experience of God's unfailing love. For the love of God and each and every one of His children we offer immediate and practical help to any woman faced with what might seem to be a crisis pregnancy. The only condition is that the child be allowed to live.'

Debbie counted on those words being true.

She rang the doorbell at the office of St. Joseph's Catholic Community. She was greeted and introduced to Virginia Murphy, who drove Debbie to the emergency room.

Murphy stayed with Debbie there and began a relationship of counseling and support that would last throughout Debbie's pregnancy and beyond.

Murphy, the woman who carried out the promise of the sign outside the church, is the parish director of Project Gabriel, a parish program of assistance to women in crisis pregnancies.

Established in the Catholic diocese of Houston in 1976, Project Gabriel has since spread throughout Texas and several other states in Catholic parishes.

Patty Sherrod, director of Project Gabriel for the diocese of Dallas, said the program 'activates the parish community to be the Body of Christ to pregnant women who are suffering and alone.'

The program is named for Gabriel, the angel who announced the conception of Jesus Christ to Mary, in the book of Luke in the Bible.

St. Joseph's Catholic Community is one of the 24 Catholic parishes in the metroplex which presently have Project Gabriel signs.

These signs publicly announce the offer of help to any pregnant woman in need, intending to reach those who may be considering abortion, in particular.

The signs display the 24-hour hotline number - 972-BABY-DUE - for the Catholic crisis pregnancy center in Dallas, the White Rose, which works with Project Gabriel to offer long-term material, emotional and spiritual support to mothers before and after the baby's birth. Training of volunteers and administrative services of the Project are provided by the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of North Texas, which works under the direction of Catholic Bishop Charles Grahmann. 

Presently, about 65 volunteers called 'Gabriel Angels' from 22 parishes in the Dallas diocese are involved in helping mothers, according to Patty Sherrod, who directs the Project for the diocese. Project Gabriel is always growing, both here in this area and elsewhere.

Sherrod and her training team have traveled to Raleigh, N.C. recently to conduct training in establishing Project Gabriel in that area. Next year, they plan to travel to New York, Tennessee, and Indiana.

'The need for Project Gabriel is there, Sherrod said. 'The people in the churches want to reach out to bring pro-life beliefs into action that saves lives. And there is something that every individual can do to help,' she added.

St. Joseph's Catholic Community was the first parish in the diocese to participate in training, and has maintained an active ministry longer than any parish in the diocese.

All supplies and funds for the Project are provided by donations from parishioners.

Murphy has directed Project Gabriel at St. Joseph's since its establishment in the parish in 1995. She and five other trained 'Angels' work directly with mothers in need.

Murphy remembered Debbie (not her real name) as the first woman who responded to the Gabriel sign back in 1995.

'Actually, we had helped a parishioner even before we got the sign posted, but Debbie was the first who saw the sign and asked for help,' she recalled. Since then about 75 women have received assistance from Project Gabriel at the church.

'Most of the women we see are married and have a low income, so they ask for cribs, car seats and clothes they couldn't afford otherwise,' Murphy said. 'We do see some unmarried women and teenagers who usually need more assistance, like counseling, medical and social services and transportation.'

Virginia and the angels are there mainly for emotional, moral and spiritual support of the mothers.

'We give every woman a Bible and rosary and invite her to come to church,' she said, noting most of the women are not Catholic or members of any church.

'I pray with them,' she said. Most of them appreciate it. I've never had anyone object.'

This year, every Catholic church and mission in Ellis county has become involved in Project Gabriel at some level. In Italy, Epiphany Mission has had its Gabriel sign since 1995 and parishioner Francisca Hernandez has been trained.

In Ferris, at Corpus Christi Catholic Community, Fina Arriaga went to training and has begun an effort to erect a sign permanently. At St. John's Catholic Community in Ennis, Ginger Bush, pro-life coordinator for the parish, has found interest in getting a sign and establishing Project Gabriel there. A contagious enthusiasm for pro-life charity is the motivation for these volunteers.

The Press will continue this look at pro-life ministries in this county

in a series of articles appearing in upcoming editions. If you or someone you know is pregnant and in need of help, you are invited to call Project Gabriel at St. Joseph's Catholic Community during office hours at 972-938-1953 or call 972-BABY-DUE any time.

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