Project Rachel provides healing and forgiveness Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Oct. 06, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- “Draw close to my heart. There you will find the peace and happiness you seek.”

Jesus speaks these words to every human being, even those who have sinned or fallen short of what God expects of us.

Women and men who have been involved in an abortion can find forgiveness and healing through Project Rachel. This is the Catholic Church’s post-abortion healing ministry.

Said one woman, “After my abortion I was broken and desperate for help. I turned to Project Rachel. After the experience, I left feeling like a whole person again. Forgiveness became a reality for me, a feeling I never imagined was possible.”

Project Rachel reaches out

Project Rachel reaches out to women and men, as well as family members of those who have experienced an abortion.

It operates through a network of special trained caregivers, including priests, deacons, Sisters, lay staff and volunteers, mental health professionals, spiritual directors, mentors, chaplains, and medical personnel.

These people provide direct care to those touched by an abortion loss, enabling them to grieve, receive forgiveness, and find peace.

In addition to individual counseling, Project Rachel programs include support groups and retreats.

Founded in 1984 by Vicki Thorn in Milwaukee, today Project Rachel programs can be found in about 150 Catholic dioceses in the United States and in other countries.

In the Diocese of Madison

Since its inception in 1995, over 10 Project Rachel Training and Information Days have been held in the Diocese of Madison.

Project Rachel began at the encouragement and support of the late Bishop William H. Bullock.  The ministry was first directed by Beverly Hartberg in the diocesan Office of Family Ministry. In 2002, Hartberg added the Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreat program to the ministry of Project Rachel with Leslie Graves becoming the first facilitator and coordinator of the retreats.  The retreats have normally been offered twice a year in the fall and spring.

Later Susanna Herro in the diocesan Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach continued the direction of both ministries and went on to help Vicki Thorn with the first Men and Abortion Conferences held in San Francisco and Chicago.

Bishop Robert C. Morlino has continued his wholehearted support of Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard, and in April 2008 awarded the Diocese of Madison’s Respect Life Award to the volunteers of the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats.

Today, Mary T. Mead serves as the coordinator of Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard in the Diocese of Madison.

Training session

Vicki Thorn came to Madison in August of this year to present a Project Rachel training session. Attending the training were 10 priests and 10 lay people from 19 different parishes. These included diocesan staff, Catholic Charities therapists, crisis pregnancy volunteers, pastoral counselors, Rachel’s Vineyard volunteers, and respect life coordinators.

During the training, Thorn  discussed how both women and men are changed by abortion. She said women experience “biological memory” of an aborted baby, since cells remain in their bodies for many years.

Men, too, are affected by an abortion. Some may be opposed to it; some may not even know that there was an abortion until years later.

Women, men, and other family members may suffer from grief. They may experience addictions and suicide attempts.

Thorn said that counselors should be aware of symptoms of abortion and learn how to care for people affected and lead them through the process of healing.

She said healing might involve telling their story, processing anger, and coming to forgiveness. For Catholics, this could mean going to Confession, acknowledging and naming the child, and having a Mass for the child.

“Abortion is a life-changing event. The effects may be felt right away or may even come up years later after menopause or in old age,” said Thorn.

“People in the Church can help people affected by abortion come to forgiveness and healing.”

Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats

One method of healing is through Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats , which are an opportunity for any person who has struggled with the emotional or spiritual pain of abortion.

The weekend is a very specific process designed to help participants experience the mercy and compassion of God. Each weekend is run by volunteers who care deeply about participants’ needs. Many of the facilitators have suffered the same loss.

One participant said, “This retreat has been a life-changing and spiritual awakening for me. It allowed me to come in touch with past losses and grief. I feel that any woman who has had an abortion should come to Rachel’s Vineyard’s safe haven to experience healing and forgiveness.”

In the Diocese of Madison, Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats will be held November 4 to 6, 2011; March 23 to 25, 2012; and October 19 to 21, 2012.

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