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Project Rachel: Providing post-abortion hope, healing

More than two dozen priests gathered at Holy Family Parish Center in Essex Center on Jan. 13 for "Project Rachel: Providing Hope and Healing in the Year of Mercy," a five-hour training session focusing on post-abortion trauma and the healing power of sacramental confession.

A Catholic Church-sponsored post-abortion healing ministry, Project Rachel comprises a network of specially trained caregivers, including priests, lay staff, volunteers and mental health professionals. In the Diocese of Burlington, Project Rachel operates an anonymous hotline and offers both day-and weekend-long retreats focusing on individual healing in a group setting (See information on page 18).

The Jan. 13 program was aimed at helping priests identify and respond to the pastoral needs of those wounded by abortion.

"Of all the elements of Project Rachel, sacramental healing is central," said Julia Lewis, a licensed clinical mental health counselor and Project Rachel retreat Leader. She presented a session about the effects of abortion and ways to heal the wounds it causes which "are often profound and complex and affect every aspect of a person's life."

Post-abortion healing calls for special training because, she said, "it often involves psychological trauma, which requires more specialized treatment to integrate the spiritual and psychological healing."

According to the Guttmacher Institute that collects data on abortion, one in three women in the United States will have had an abortion by age 45. It also reports that 28 percent of women having abortions are Catholic.

When one considers that several people may be involved in a given abortion – such as grandparents, fathers, friends or other relatives – there are no doubt many Catholics who might need sacramental healing from involvement in abortion.

Despite this, priests don't always hear a lot of confessions about abortion, noted Father Henry P. Furman, one of the program presenters. "Here is where Project

Rachel and Rachel's Vineyard come in and why we have a five-hour inservice for priests occasionally," he said. "These apostolates can help in the healing process, in reparation for past sins."

He noted that "Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel, compared living with the memory of an abortion to holding a beach ball under water. You can do it for a while but eventually it will come up, and often quickly and forcefully."

With its emphasis on confidentiality, Project Rachel can help break long-held silences around abortion and lead to healing, said Lewis. Abortion is often shrouded in shame and silence, and for a person who has been involved in an abortion to come forward to seek healing can be very difficult. Many people wait decades after the abortion before seeking help, she explained, adding that it is not unusual for retreat participants to be in their 60s, 70s and even 80s.

It is important to the healing process for a person to know that he or she is not alone and that others have experienced similar feelings, Lewis said. The retreat experience facilitates such recognition.

It also involves a number of activities designed to help the participant find forgiveness, particularly from her-or-himself, as well as from God. Often people with post-abortion trauma don't believe they can be forgiven, and Project Rachel brings them into direct contact with God's mercy, she said.

"I've always seen the retreats as part of the new evangelization. I've seen people's faith come alive as a result of the healing that takes place. It brings people to Christ in a very powerful way," Lewis said.

Last modified onWednesday, 27 July 2016 09:54
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