Project Rachel provides hope
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) official pro-life program, the Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, urges pastoral care efforts that encompass "a broad range of services" that "includes spiritual assistance and essential material help..."
"Providing pastoral care to those in need is a primary way that the church expresses its love for all God's children."
Among the pastoral services urged by the bishops is an outreach to post-abortive women and men, which can include one-on-one care, support groups and retreats. In Nebraska, and in most states, the one-on-one outreach is called Project Rachel. Project Rachel provides specially trained priests and professional counselors who provide confidential counseling and spiritual care.
September is the month in which we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. This feast provides an appropriate liturgical opportunity to focus on the sorrow that post-abortive women and men experience and to promote awareness of God's limitless mercy to those who seek it.
Witnessing the intense spiritual and psychological wounds that abortion causes and then seeing God's mercy and love heal those wounds through Project Rachel, punctuates the importance of post-abortion ministry to the church's pro-life efforts.
In addition to healing hearts and souls, post-abortion ministry can reduce abortions by healing women before they have repeat abortions, which comprise at least one-third of all abortions in Nebraska. Nationwide, repeat abortions are even higher.
During September, my office is distributing various materials to assist parishes in promoting awareness about Project Rachel and the hope and healing that it facilitates. One of the materials is a flier produced by the USCCB's Pro Life Secretariat titled "How to talk to a friend who's had an abortion." One critical way that each of us can facilitate healing among those wounded by abortion is to know how to respond if we encounter someone who is post-abortive.
This flier asks the question, "If a friend confided in you tomorrow that she had an abortion, would you be able to respond in a way that brings her closer to healing?" The flier then provides some guidance:
"If this is the first time your friend has told you about her abortion, she may be afraid that you will be critical or that you will repeat to others what she tells you. She must know that you are a real friend who cares about her, and that you are not sitting in judgment of her."
"Before you talk to her, keep in mind: What does she need today? Someone to listen? A shoulder to cry on? A referral to a professional counselor, a priest or minister? Or even crisis intervention?"
The flier urges us to listen with our heart. "Begin by listening to your friend. Let her pour out the whole story without interrupting her. You don't have to understand every detail. It's important that she lets go of some of the burden she's been carrying and that she no longer feels alone."
Then we should assure her of our love and support. "Much as you'd like to make her suffering go away with the right words, her grief and loss won't disappear after one conversation. Assure her of your friendship. Tell her you will be there for her and help her find healing."
Let her know where help can be found. "Ask your friend if she has ever heard about help for people struggling after abortion. There are safe places where trained people can help her overcome grief and loss, and give her hope. There are counselors, priests and ministers prepared to help."
Finally, help her begin the journey. Encourage her to contact Project Rachel for help and give her the phone number, 888-456-HOPE (4673), and website, www.hopeafterabortion.com.
"Remind her that God's love and mercy is bigger than any sin. Assure her again of your friendship. Promise to be there, not only today, but in the future. Thank her for having the trust to talk with you. It took courage. Her healing journey has begun."
This flier and other Project Rachel materials can be obtained from my office.
Greg Schleppenbach is the state director of the Bishops Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org