Being their keepers
FORT WORTH — In 1973, shortly after the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote this short prayer and exhorted Catholics to spiritually “adopt” an unborn baby in danger of abortion:
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn child that I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion. Amen.
For the first time, more than 1,000 seventh and eighth grade students in all diocesan schools will spiritually adopt and pray for an unknown unborn baby in danger of abortion. Martha Jacobi, program liaison and member of Holy Family Parish in Fort Worth, said three parish youth groups also use the program.
In 2008, Jacobi and her sister, Tricia Hunter, also a Holy Family parishioner at the time, started the diocese’s first Spiritual Adoption Program for their parish school.
“We got involved in respect life activities and wanted to further expose our children to the beauty and dignity of human life,” Jacobi said.
In researching respect life programs for youth, Jacobi and Hunter borrowed a few ideas from the Baltimore Archdiocese, modified them for middle school, and organized everything into an easy-to-follow program.
The program targets seventh and eighth graders because students who attend public high school “won’t get this message ever again,” Jacobi said.
After its first year at Holy Family, the Spiritual Adoption Program quickly spread to include most diocesan elementary schools.
“We’re just volunteers and moms,” Jacobi said. “We paid for it ourselves. We thought it was so important for teens to get the beauty of life and respect life message that you can’t put a price on it.”
In 2012, the diocese approved funding for the Spiritual Adoption Program, but Jacobi still volunteers as program liaison to make sure each campus receives necessary materials.
The Spiritual Adoption Program usually occurs during religion classes and has four components.
For nine months, students pray for an unknown baby in danger of abortion. They receive a laminated prayer card and may name the baby.
Each month, teachers display a poster showing the development of an unborn baby. For example, the third month poster explains: “The baby can now squint, swallow and move his tongue.” Students also receive sticky notes, pencils, or magnets with respect life messages.
Students receive monthly thank you notes from their baby with messages such as “I’m one month old now. I have a heart pumping and a backbone. Thank you for praying.”
At the end of the school year, they have a baby shower and donate items to a local crisis pregnancy center.
Jacobi said some schools supplement the program’s format with additional activities such as videos, field trips and letter writing campaigns to lawmakers.
Diana Yandell, who teaches religion, math, and history at St. Peter School, extends the program to a full class period each Tuesday and includes lessons on chastity and a visit to Eucharistic Adoration to pray for unborn babies.
Eighth-grader Harley Tyree said students also carry a baby doll to classes every Tuesday.
“It reminds us all day to pray for the baby,” she said. “It’s important to pray because they don’t really have anyone to pray for them if their family is considering abortion…I feel our prayers will be answered, especially when we’re in Adoration.”
In addition to posters, Yandell also uses three-dimensional fetal models spanning six to 30 weeks gestation to illustrate a baby’s development.
“They see the dramatic difference in the growth of the baby…and I tell them you were once this size too,” she said.
Kaitlyn Jones, a St. Peter eighth grader, said the models helped her realize “how fast the baby develops is a miracle.”
“To intercede for a baby who could be aborted is the most important thing,” she added.
Terri Schauf, Respect Life coordinator for the diocese, said spiritual adoption fosters formation of children’s natural pro-life instincts.
“Children are naturally pro-life. If you asked any child if they knew about abortion, they would be horrified.So, having a program like this helps continue the development and formation of their natural pro-life beliefs,” she said.