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Sidewalk advocacy aims 'to save babies' by reaching out to women first

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WEST PARK, Fla. — Libby Johnson, a retired delivery room nurse, has prayed near a Miramar, Florida, abortion clinic for the past six years for miracles that would close the facility and end abortions there.

But now, after reflection and many talks with the Lord, she said she feels called to do more.

Johnson, a parishioner at St. Edward in Pembroke Pines in the Archdiocese of Miami, confessed that she has prayed for but never actually talked to any of the Miramar Women's Center clients.

She simply doesn't know the proper approach to encourage them to choose life and direct them to alternative services and help.

"They don't know that there is help out there. We want to help them. We don't want them to make a second mistake," she told the Florida Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Johnson was among more than 80 people who attended a recent sidewalk advocacy training at the Madonna Retreat Center in West Park.

Hosted by the archdiocesan Office of Respect Life, the session focused on successful sidewalk advocacy or crisis intervention on public walkways near abortion facilities.

The training was a first for the archdiocese but not the last; the plan is for future training sessions to take place four times a year.

The five-hour program, presented in both English and Spanish, marked the beginning of a joint venture between the archdiocese's respect life ministry and Sidewalk Advocates for Life, a national nonprofit based in Allen, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

"We are lucky to have Lauren Muzyka, the organization's founder, coming from Texas to be at the training," said Rebecca Brady, director of the archdiocesan respect life ministry.

Established seven years ago, Sidewalk Advocates for Life offers training, tools and full-time staff support to sidewalk advocacy groups around the globe, to help them peacefully and lovingly reach out to those entering an abortion facility.

So far, the organization has trained volunteers at 214 locations in the United States, Mexico and Australia.

"We have more than 25,000 abortions in the area a year," said Brady about South Florida's high abortion rate. "We are losing our brothers and sisters. We need help to do something more."

Florida is among the top three states with the highest abortion rates in America. New York leads all the states, followed by California and Florida. According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, 74,868 abortions took place in the state in 2020.

"We know that lives can be changed. We do see people change their minds. The faithful want to get involved, but they want to do it the right way. It needs to be done in love. We need to preach the truth in love," said Brady.

Muzyka spearheaded the national organization after working in the pro-life movement for more than 20 years, often standing on the sidewalks talking to desperate women seeking to terminate their pregnancy.

"We see a lot of high school girls and girls in college. We have seen young girls. One was only 11 years old," said Muzyka, an attorney who is executive director of Sidewalk Advocates for Life. She also was a former strategist for the national 40 Days for Life organization.

Her national team at Sidewalk Advocates for Life includes mothers, fathers, professionals, parish ministers and lifetime pro-lifers.

The group's mission statement, as posted on its website — sidewalkadvocates.org — is "to transform the sidewalk in front of every abortion facility in America and beyond into a place of real help and hope and end abortion."

"We want to teach people to reach out on the sidewalks to help women," said Muzyka during her presentation. "We cannot save babies without reaching women first."

The initial goal is to deploy volunteers to the 24 abortion centers in the Miami Archdiocese, she added.

"Our goal is to see every abortion facility in the archdiocese with God's people," she said. "Our goal is to have two people at the facilities during every hour of business. We all hope you will be open to being the Lord's hands and feet in the darkest places."

During the training, Muzyka announced her team has brought on a Florida Catholic to be the organization's southeast program coordinator. Linda Fernandez, a member of St. Augustine Parish in Coral Gables, will serve parishes and the community by getting people trained.

"This approach to sidewalk outreach is, first and foremost, rooted in peaceful prayer," Muzyka said, adding that a smile, a friendly greeting, listening and letting the vulnerable know about low or no-cost resources and support are key to touching a pregnant woman's heart and giving her hope.

"We let them know that they will soon find everything they need at the pregnancy center, including ongoing support, medical assistance, financial support, baby items, and referrals for an array of other powerful resources, as well as a chance to put their faith in Christ," Muzyka said.

The training included talks and video presentations. Pro-life shirts and other items were on hand for purchase, with proceeds going to support the Office of Respect Life's five pregnancy help centers.

Steven Foley, who heads St. Ambrose's Ministry for Life, attended the training with a small group from his parish in Deerfield Beach, Florida. He said he was familiar with Sidewalk Advocates for Life and even completed a remote training program, offered via DVD by the organization.

"I came today to train in person," he said, adding that he is hoping his parish can help grow the number of sidewalk advocates in the northern part of the archdiocese. "We want to have a training center out of St. Ambrose in the northernmost end of the archdiocese. I am here to network and get more training."

Eduardo Serer of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Miami participated in the training with his wife, Maida.

They lead pro-life ministry at their parish and faithfully pray near a Planned Parenthood facility on a regular basis. But they have never ventured onto the sidewalk to talk one-on-one with a woman in a crisis pregnancy.

"I want to learn how to reach out to women and rescue them and their babies from abortion," said Serer. "I want to do more to save babies."

Reeves is a correspondent for the Florida Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021