This past week began like most others for Rev. Thomas Vander Woude at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville, Va.—Sunday mass, confession, and prayer with parish members—but it ended with an amazing testimony to the value of life. On Sunday evening at his high-ceilinged church flanked by stained glass windows, Vander Woude spoke with a couple from his parish who, themselves seeking to adopt, had heard about a compelling plea from their adoption agency. Another couple in another state was carrying an unborn Down syndrome baby. The birth parents told the out-of-state adoption agency that if it couldn’t find their child another home in just a few days, they would abort the baby.
The story struck Vander Woude—a humble man just under 6 feet—with urgency, but he thought, “We’re out of state, there is nothing we can really do to help.” Despite his initial doubt, he handed the matter over to Geraldine Erickson, another member in his parish who oversees the church’s email account and social media pages, hoping it would have some effect. She immediately responded, “Oh, I’ll put it on Facebook,” he remembers with a chuckle.
Neither Vander Woude nor Erickson could predict the response.
Erickson posted the plea at 7:40 a.m. Monday morning. After detailing the situation, she gave this deadline: “If you are interested in adopting this baby please contact Fr. VW IMMEDIATELY. We are asking all to pray for this baby and the wisdom that this couple realize the importance of human life and do not abort this beautiful gift from God.”
The post asked people to either call the church office when it opened or e-mail Vander Woude. Everyone in the office was touched and amazed at what happened next: Calls and emails poured in all day. By the time the office closed, more than 900 people had contacted the church with an unwavering response, “Of course we are going to take this baby.”
Vander Woude could not believe how quickly the offers appeared in his email inbox: “I’m watching it and every ten seconds it’s like, OK, there’s another one, and another one, and another. And I’m thinking, ‘you’re kidding me.’ It does blow your mind how quickly people can react in a good way to a tough situation and the goodness of social media too—technology can be used for good.”
During the week, Holy Trinity Catholic church learned from the agency that it had already found three couples willing to adopt the baby. Although the parents likely won’t come from his parish, Vander Woude is thankful and says the people who offered to help with so little time provides a beautiful testimony to the compassion in people’s hearts: “It shows that people do recognize that life at any age is sacred and no matter what imperfections (as the world would say) there are, [these people] are willing to take this little baby and raise him.”
Annette Wilowatyj, one of the four people taking calls, was inspired by the sincerity of every person wanting to help: “It is one thing to have beliefs, but another thing to be willing to back it up by action. These people did not only believe that the disabled child should be saved, but were willing to take it home as their own.”
The callers included a Congressman with six children and a wife past childbearing age. Another mother, who already had one child with Down syndrome, called wanting to adopt a second, while some called to offer financial aid. Several adoption agencies contacted the church offering their services, one of which had a list of 700 people waiting to adopt babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities.
Diane Grover, president of the International Down Syndrome Coalition, which was among the adoption agencies that reached out to help, said most people in difficult situations who are facing abortion are seldom directed to adoption as an alternative. Her foundation is not necessarily pro-life, but believes that no child should be discriminated against just because of a disability. She says, “There are so many people that are ready and willing and able to adopt. Parents aren’t made aware of the huge amount of support out there.”
Wilowatyj remembered one woman, who already had a child with Down syndrome who called pleading to talk with the birth mother: “She wanted to talk to the parents about what a blessing her disabled child had been in her life. She said the child was a gift and she wanted to share her wonderful experience … and how their child had enriched everyone in the whole family.”