“Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved, and forgiven.” Pope Francis.
We are a Church of mercy.
Does the young mother who feels as if she has committed the unforgivable sin know that? Does the father who did not stand by the mother of his child in a time of fear know that? Does the grieving grandparent or aunt or uncle know that?
Tragically, the answer is all too often “no.”
Statistics tell us that one third to one half of women over the age of 45 have experienced the loss of an abortion. They also tell us that this loss is often followed by increases in anxiety, depression, marital difficulty, eating disorders, loss of faith, addiction, and grief, among many other post-traumatic stress symptoms. Statistics are helpful, but what hits me are the stories I hear on the phone or at a retreat or read in an email to Project Rachel – the woman who has suffered unthinkable abuse and felt unworthy of being a mother, the couple sobbing 40 years after losing their child to abortion, the woman who tells me that the month of January has been unbearable since her abortion in January 1989.
Too often these women and men in need of healing have no idea how desperately Christ wants them to seek Him and his forgiveness. They have no idea that healing is possible and hope available. They are surprised that the Church is a Church of mercy.
Upon entering your parish building or visiting your parish website, what would a grieving family encounter? Would they see the merciful face of Christ, the resources the Church offers in spreading a Gospel of Life and of love? Would they find an invitation to healing?
We must extend that invitation.
Last year on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, a young man who was raised in a home that rejected God and faith shared his experience of a Scripture exercise. After reading the Scripture passage about the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak, the retreatants were invited to come to kneel at the altar, reaching out to Christ, and pray. This young man confided in us that, until that moment, he had never felt worthy to approach God.
This is evangelization. Evangelization in the Church of mercy takes many forms – including serving meals to the hungry, offering job training to the unemployed, and consoling the grieving families of children lost to abortion.
Project Rachel is the Church’s confidential, Christ-centered outreach to those suffering after involvement with abortion. On a practical level, here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that means a network of lay and licensed counselors, clergy who can hear Confession and offer spiritual direction, Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreats, Come to the Waters one-day retreats for women, and Companions for the Journey post-retreat support group.
On the last retreat, two women – one who had fallen away from her childhood faith and another who professed another faith – said that the words of Pope Francis about mercy brought them there. They were both surprised and delighted to know that the Church offered such a ministry to “outcasts” and “back benchers” like them. We hear things like this too often. How can we better communicate this message of mercy, hope, and healing after abortion?
Here are some concrete ways your parish and community can help:
- Post retreat announcements and Project Rachel contact information in your bulletin
- Link to www.project-rachel.net from your parish website
- “Like” Project Rachel on Facebook and share posts
- Share the ministry from the pulpit (people never tire of hearing about mercy!)
- Post tear off fliers on bulletin boards and in restroom stalls
- Leave Project Rachel business cards in the restrooms
- Pray as a parish and in individual ministries for those who are suffering, for those who are afraid to reach out, and for those attending retreats
- Ask a volunteer from your parish to serve as Rachel’s Awareness Advocate, to ensure that the message of mercy, hope and healing through Project Rachel is present (refreshing cards and posters, requesting bulletin announcements, keeping updated retreat information, etc) at your parish and ask him or her to connect with us for resources and ideas.
Let us take this moment, the day before we commemorate the forty-third anniversary of the legalization of abortion at the March for Life (this year’s theme is Pro-Life & Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand), to reflect on how we show Christ’s mercy to all of those wounded by abortion.
How does your parish reach out to these families suffering in silence? How have you seen the fruits of post-abortion healing in your parish community?