Picking up the hotline at Centro Tepeyac Silver Spring Women’s Center in Silver Spring, Md., director of counseling Mariana Vera listened to a Hispanic male ask for an abortion for his wife. He had misunderstood an ad Centro Tepeyac was running in buses.
“Why abortion?” asked Vera.
“Too expensive to have children,” the man said. He worked only part time, their car was small, and their 8-year-old twins liked playing in the backseat (a baby car seat would take away their play area).
More than a little upset with that argument, Vera — who is now the center’s executive director — counseled him gently. Then his wife called, worried because the twins were born at 28 weeks and the boy had heart problems and a pacemaker (although he acts and plays like any normal, healthy boy his age).
“See how precious life is,” Vera told her. “Where there is life, there is always hope.” Plus, she insisted, the twins would be happy to have a baby brother or sister — a prediction confirmed when the family came to Tepeyac and their daughter got excited over a sonogram. She said she wanted to help feed, diaper and teach her little sister to ride a bike. The parents changed their minds.
“It’s a baby saved for sure,” says Vera, adding that her cell phone number in that ad has now become Centro Tepeyac’s second hotline.
Since the Catholic agency was founded in 1990 under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and went independent in 1993 to serve the greater Washington area, more than 500 babies have been saved. In 2008 Centro Tepeyac in some way helped more than 2,768 women. Some 230 women and their families received material help, and 175 received healing through the center’s Rachel’s Vineyard program.
“We’re the hidden secret of the D.C. area,” says Maria Suarez Hamm, the center’s former (and longtime) executive director who recently retired from that post and now serves as director of development. “The reason we’ve been so successful is the center is under Our Lady’s patronage. We tap into those graces.” They’re most needed, considering the many difficult challenges the center deals with in an urban area with much abortion.
A great many of the women are Latinas dealing with immigrant issues, split families and cultural differences. “We have to counsel in a way that really gets to the heart of why she’s choosing abortion,” says Hamm. “She never chooses it as a good, but as the least of three evils.” Perception is everything: The other two “evils,” according to a recent major study, are adoption (giving away your child to someone else to raise) and motherhood (seen by many in our day as more burden than joy).
Centro Tepeyac approaches the confusion as a spiritual matter with an emotional undercurrent. Hamm credits Msgr. Philip Reilly of New York, who said: “When the woman leaves the center, whether for an abortion or not, you hope the last exchange with the counselor is one where we try to be Christ with skin on.”
Take the young Latina who recently came to Hamm via referral from sidewalk counselors. She’d been abandoned by her husband, and then had taken up with an abusive boyfriend. She has a 4-year-old in her home country and speaks only Spanish. Thanks to Hamm’s continuous support, she’s going to have the baby. Hamm is trying to connect her regularly to a church with Hispanic outreach.
“We can’t possibly solve all these problems if we don’t connect them to Our Lord and Our Lady,” says Hamm. “That’s the lifeline. They’re not going to abandon you, and you need to get back to the Church and the sacraments in order to get the grace and strength to choose life and strengthen your marriage.”
The center has been a godsend from the time of its founding, when the available Spanish-language resources were few and of poor quality, remembers co-founder Tom Grenchik, executive director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. bishops’ conference. At the time of the founding, he was director of the Washington archdiocesan pro-life office.
The seed was planted when people praying the Rosary by an abortion business saw Spanish-speaking people entering in surprising numbers. Quickly, Centro Tepeyac sprouted as “the first completely Spanish-speaking crisis-pregnancy center in the Washington area specifically aimed at this population,” says Grenchik.
The impact? Thousands of lives saved and a stronger connection between the Spanish-speaking community and the pro-life work of the Church.
Centro Tepeyac has “enjoyed a very close relationship with the Church,” says Grenchik, calling it “a very Catholic program dedicated to the care of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
Today, while many of the women and families are Hispanic and Latino, the center serves anyone in need.
“Centro Tepeyac affirms for the women the possibility of healing,” says Father Victor Salomón, director of Hispanic outreach for Priests for Life. He is highly involved with Tepeyac’s Rachel’s Vineyard post-abortion recovery and face-to-face counseling. He is cheered by Tepeyac’s instruction of women in Catholic teaching on prayer and chastity.
Hamm, a mother of 11 youngsters when she was asked to lead Centro Tepeyac in the early ’90s, is also a former board member of Heartbeat International and testified at the United Nations on the Catholic viewpoint on women.
Vera, the new executive director, remains in place as director of counseling. In this role she can help women like the one who came last year; she was pregnant, coughing up blood and stressed out by her construction job. The woman had been exposed to asbestos. X-rays revealed dark spots on the lungs, and doctors thought she might have tuberculosis.
Tepeyac stepped in, and a miracle happened. When the young woman saw her sonogram, which showed the baby sucking his thumb, she told Vera, “I cannot do an abortion.”
Fast-forward to the baby’s birth. After the delivery, x-rays showed her lungs were perfectly clear. The month before delivery the woman could breathe easier, even with the baby pressing on her lungs. She stopped coughing. Now baby Joseph is perfectly healthy and growing normally.
“It proves when you are brave and willing to risk your life for a baby, God always provides,” says Vera. Tepeyac continues to assist the mother, who came back to the Church, married in the Church and baptized her baby in the Church.
“To whomever comes through our door,” says Vera, “we are going to provide good service, and they will find Christ in our center.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
INFORMATION CentroTepeyac.org / (301) 587-9516