After you have been involved in an abortion, Christmas can be a difficult time. And as the national March for Life — commemorating the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion on demand — rolls around in January, thoughts of guilt, remorse, self-loathing, addictions and suicide can be triggered in post-abortive women and men. A volunteer ministry team that is trained to provide hope and healing is preparing for a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat weekend Jan. 24-26 at the Spiritan Center in Bethel Park. Catholic Charities and the Diocese of Pittsburgh are co-sponsors.
An open emotional and spiritual wound is created by the abortion experience, said retreat facilitator Toni Jester, who has been involved with Rachel’s Vineyard since 2002. “From a spiritual perspective, women and men feel estranged from God. There is a strong feeling of inability to forgive oneself and to be able to accept the forgiveness and love of God, which is always there,” she said.
The emotionally safe, confidential environment of the retreat allows the courageous participants to address the painful issues and reconcile with themselves, others, their aborted children and God.
The retreat team includes a licensed therapist, a priest and people who have experienced the retreat’s healing touch. Claire Lajoie, a licensed therapist who has served on Rachel’s Vineyard weekends since 2012, said she has been surprised by the age range of those on the retreats. It’s a misconception that only younger women and men attend the retreats.
“Some people carry that pain and regret for many years before they seek and receive healing,” she said. “It may be a secret they have never shared because of the deep shame and guilt they experience.
“I think that shows that while abortion can affect both men and women at any age, it’s never too late for God to bring healing to someone’s life,” Lajoie said.
One retreat volunteer said she is living proof of the emotional and spiritual fallout caused by an abortion. “I would also suggest that many of the people they know who suffer from addiction, eating disorders and depression have an abortion in their past,” she said.
One of the exercises during the retreat involves choosing a rock that symbolizes the burden the individual has carried since their abortion. The retreatant is instructed to carry the rock all during the weekend, only surrendering it when they recognize the impact of abortion and are open to God’s forgiveness.
One participant carried his rock through the weekend until the final Mass, when he finally surrendered it along with the burden, said Capuchin Father Philip Fink, who has twice served as a retreat chaplain.
“There are many such incidents that take place during the retreats that I have been privileged to have been a part of — as an individual keeps vigil before the Blessed Sacrament, during the various exercises themselves, in silent reflection, in conversation with other participants or staff members, all a testimony to the Spirit-led healing power of God’s forgiveness and love,” he said.
Lajoie compared the Rachel’s Vineyard healing process to a journey from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
“It is common for participants to doubt that the weekend will really make a difference for them, and doubt that they will ever be able to forgive themselves or be forgiven by God,” she said. “However, without an exception, through the process of the weekend, it is tangible and evident that God is working.
“There is no doubt in my mind after serving on the team for Rachel’s Vineyard retreats that God’s mercy, healing and love is real and great — greater than what I can imagine, and great enough to reach out to those hurting around us.”