Ministry strives to help families affected by domestic violence

October 11, 2016

HOUSTON — Elsa Aguilera, associate director of Family Life Transitions for the Archdiocesan Office of Family Life Ministry, is on a mission to help parishes serve families affected by domestic violence. 

In honor of National Victims of Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, observed during the month of October, she has coordinated the Archdiocese’s first Day of Training for Clergy and Parish Staff. The goal of the training, to be held on Friday, Oct. 21, is to educate clergy and parish staff as to ways they can bring awareness of this often-hidden crime to their parish communities. Aguilera has also created a virtual memorial wall for victims of domestic abuse. 

In addition, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28, there will be Day of Prayer for Survivors of Domestic Violence. The Day of Prayer Courageous Hearts will be held at the Ruah Center at Villa de Matel, 6510 Lawndale, Houston.

To sign up or learn more about each event and to send a message on the virtual memorial wall, visit

Aguilera discovered the need to bring education and resources to parishes in 2014 when she received a call from a local parish. The parish staff wanted her help as to how best address the needs of two families who were grieving the tragic loss of loved ones who died as a result of domestic violence.

“It was at that time I realized the need to address the issue of domestic violence at the parish level,” Aguilera said. “I sensed that our parish clergy and staff would benefit from having more accurate information for referrals or resources to help members of their community who were experiencing violence in their home.”

Utilizing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop (USCCB) Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence, Aguilera started her campaign to bringing awareness into the parishes. She does this through meeting with clergy and parish staffs and providing them with an understanding as to what constitutes domestic violence, and bringing resources as to how clergy and parish staff can help members of their community who are affected by this issue to share ways in which they can respond appropriately when people come for help. 

Presentations on A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence are available to parishes throughout the Archdiocese. Training sessions for clergy, staff and parishioners increase understanding of domestic violence, identify opportunities to address this issue in parishes and share ways to respond appropriately when people come for help. 

“The first time I met with one of our parishes, I really didn’t know how it would be received,” Aguilera said. “But it turned out to be one of the most moving experiences of my career. After my presentation, I asked everyone to hold a moment of silence for a victim of domestic abuse in their lives and passed out a white note card for if they would like to write a note or prayer to do so. It was amazing to see so many cards and prayers turned in. It was a very touching moment.”

As a response to Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, where he denounces domestic abuse and violence, the USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life, Youth, the USCCB Office of Justice, Peace and Human Development and the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, along with Catholics for Family Peace and other Catholic organizations hosted National Symposium called Hope, Help and Healing: A Catholic Response to Domestic Violence and Abuse, during which they explored and presented ideas on how to assist clergy to address domestic abuse in their parishes. 

“I was very excited about the Symposium in July — it provided me with more resources and ideas moving forward. My ultimate hope is to raise awareness and understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence, and provide our local clergy and parish staff with resources so they can be more confident in referring parishioners for assistance. I want all victims know that we are here for them, that there is help available and most of all, that they are precious children of God who deserve to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.” 

To learn more about the Catholic response, read the USCCB Pastoral Letter: “When I Call for Help” at

Important Numbers
•For immediate danger, always call 911.

•For immediate assistance for self, friend or family member, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (24 hours); 800-787-3224 (TTY) and

• Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA) runs support programs at several parishes. 713-224-9911; AVDA offers a Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) available through the Houston area. For more information visit 

• National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 303-839-1852;

• The Maria Goretti Network is a Catholic organization that reaches out to abuse victims, their families and to those who support recovery. The network runs support groups in several local parishes. 713-851-3708;

• National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence (Alianza):; 800-342-9908.

• Shelter Services for Women and Children: Galveston-Houston area shelter services:; 507-285-1010.

A closer look
• The 2014-2015 Harris County Community Plan reported more than 250,000 women in domestic violence situations. 
• 20 women were killed in 2013 in Harris County due to domestic violence.
• In 2014, the Houston Police Department alone tallied 23,512 reported incidents of domestic violence.
• 1 in 3 women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
• Only an estimated 25% of physical assaults perpetrated against women are actually reported to the police annually.
• In 2013, 119 women killed by their intimate partner.
• In 2013, there were 185,453 family violence incidents.
• In 2014, 23,311 adults and children were sheltered due to domestic abuse.

Source: Aids to Victims of Domestic Abuse, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Council on Family Violence, Texas Health and Human Services Commission

On Friday, Oct. 28, a Day of Prayer for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Day of Prayer Courageous Hearts will be held at the Ruah Center at Villa de Matel, 6510 Lawndale, Houston. Send a message on a Virtual Memory Wall and learn more at