If you’re a mom-to-be, it helps to get ready for your newborn with the support of other moms – and a few Capuchin friars.
A Sept. 13 community baby shower in the city’s Frankford section drew more than 50 attendees from several area neighborhoods to the Padre Pio Prayer Center.
Located in the former convent of St. Joachim Church, the center is an outreach of the Capuchin Franciscan order, which purchased the property in 2016, three years after St. Joachim’s merger with Holy Innocents Parish.
Organized by archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS), the free shower was a chance to learn the latest in prenatal and parenting strategies, while accessing an array of resources and enjoying refreshments, gift baskets and the company of fellow mothers.
The friars were key to the shower’s success, said Camille Crane, director of CSS’s Casa del Carmen Family Service Center in Philadelphia.
“They went canvassing door to door with flyers, and making announcements at local parishes,” said Crane. “They’ve been tremendously supportive. They’re a pillar of this community, and they’re on the ground.”
Capuchin Brother Andrew McCarty said that the shower was part of the prayer center’s mission “to rebuild the local church by witnessing to the Gospel in the manner of St. Francis of Assisi.”
“That can mean a lot of different things, but right now it’s clear that for us, it means addressing the needs of families in our neighborhood,” he said.
In particular, he added, there’s an urgent need to “strengthen families.”
“We’re meeting people where they are, and we’re finding they’re looking as much for parenting and relationship skills as they are material assistance,” said Brother McCarty.
For that reason, the shower featured various activities that reinforced the “Abriendo Puertas” (“Opening Doors”) program, a nation-wide initiative that promotes parent leadership skills and knowledge. Founded by longtime community advocate Sandra Gutierrez, the training is the first of its kind developed by and for Latino parents with children ages five years old and under.
Both Crane and McCarty agreed that partnerships, such as that between CSS and the Capuchin Franciscans, are vital to such outreach, especially collaborations that avoid “reinventing the wheel.”
“We work together in a way that makes the most efficient use of resources already in place,” said Brother McCarty. “That’s why we’re teaming up with Catholic Social Services.”
Crane noted that moms-to-be and their families can often feel overwhelmed in seeking assistance for their numerous needs.
“We’ve come to learn, especially through our CSS help line, that callers often don’t have any awareness of the benefits available to them,” she said.
Crane added that CSS’s five family service centers, located throughout the Archdiocese, act as one-stop-shopping for clients seeking help with food, medical coverage, prenatal and child care, life and social skills, literacy and personal finance management. Last year, CSS provided more than 5,000 pregnant women with such “wraparound” support, thanks in substantial part to donations made to the annual Catholic Charities Appeal.
Both the friars and the CSS team infuse their practical outreach with the awareness that “people need relationship with one another, with the church, and with God,” said Brother McCarty.
That’s exactly what drew Imani Davis and her eight-month-old daughter Isani to the shower. A resident of West Philadelphia, Davis traveled to the Padre Pio Prayer Center after receiving a personal phone invitation from Casa del Carmen staff.
CSS’s diaper banks and classes (including instruction in breastfeeding and diaper changing) were helpful, said Davis, but equally important was the opportunity “just to come out and socialize.”
For center volunteer Joe Pokorny, the shower was a chance to celebrate the gift of new life within the community.
“I’m the greeter today, and I’ve also brought homemade banana bread and marmalade,” said Pokorny, a secular Franciscan and a member of St. Bartholomew Parish in Philadelphia. “I love people, and God seems to tell me to do these things, and I just do it.”
Brother McCarty endorsed that strategy.
“We’re following the example of St. Francis, who followed the example of Jesus,” he said. “We’re first encountering and accepting people as they are, which in turn will bring conversion.”
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