Post abortion outreach promises spiritual healing
October 27, 2015
HOUSTON — Linda described herself as a good Catholic who went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through college and always deferred to her parents. As a young woman, she married, soon became pregnant and gave birth to her first child. But an unexpected second pregnancy in the wake of that birth gave her pause. Linda said she and her husband worried about providing for a second child, and on her mother’s advice she had an abortion.
Though Linda went on to have two more children, and the ups and downs of life proved a distraction, she never forgot her “naïve” decision. She knew what she had done was wrong, but she believed her actions were unforgivable in the eyes of God. Almost four decades later, that fateful decision continued to haunt Linda, now 62.
“It was always there — whenever the topic came up — I knew it was something I shouldn’t have done at all,” said Linda, whose real name has been withheld to protect her privacy.
Changes in her life, including the recent separation from her husband, prompted Linda to seek spiritual guidance through Project Rachel, a confidential and compassionate outreach for women (and men) affected by abortion. Linda attended Project Rachel’s recent one-day retreat, where she could talk freely and in confidence about her experience and where she received Absolution and was reconciled to God.
“For some reason or other I felt like it was a sin I couldn’t be forgiven for, until I went to this retreat,” she said. “Now I know I’ve been forgiven for that sin — it’s a burden that’s been lifted off me.”
Father Paul Felix, pastor of Annunciation Catholic Church who runs Project Rachel, said he hears from many women who, like Linda, don’t know if they can be forgiven for what they have done.
“They are very disoriented with how they stand with God, he said.
Project Rachel, an arm of the Office of Pro-Life Activities, offers retreats, individual counseling by telephone or in person and provides information and advice to women, men and families affected by abortion. The ministry, named for Rachel mourning the loss of her child in the Old Testament, also offers referrals for medical or other professional intervention.
Father Felix said they take a holistic approach to each person who reaches out to them, listening to what they say and focusing on spiritual guidance, with an emphasis on the sacred Sacraments. He said often the women he sees found themselves in difficult situations — an abusive relationship, pressure from parents, a spouse or boyfriend, isolated — and resorted to an abortion, only to live afterwards in the grip of pain and regret.
“Abortion is doing so much damage, not only to the unborn but to these women,” Father Felix said. “We have to be there for those who are in need. It is not enough to say, ‘This is wrong, don’t do it.’ You have to be there to pick up the pieces.”
Father Felix and Helena Gonzales, a long time volunteer who coordinates Project Rachel, are eager to get the word out about the outreach program to build a network of volunteers and help more women rebuild their spiritual lives.
“It really is a beautiful ministry that has to do with healing of human beings and making them whole again,” Gonzales said.
The Catholic Church teaches that abortion — the purposeful taking of the life of an unborn child — is gravely immoral. But the Church also offers forgiveness, highlighted by Pope Francis’ recent announcement that priests around the world will have authority to absolve Catholics, who are contrite about their involvement with an abortion, through the coming Year of Mercy, beginning in December. Father Felix said while many priests in the U.S. have long had the power to grant absolution, the Pope is universalizing this permission.
“Nevertheless his statement should not be lost in terms of raising consciousness that there is a very generous means for mercy available,” Father Felix said of the Pope.
About Project Rachel
Started in 1984 in Milwaukee to offer hope after abortion, Project Rachel has spread to more than a hundred dioceses across the nation, including the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The Archdiocese’s Project Rachel outreach provides a return to the Sacraments, information and advice, healing Masses and spiritual guidance through retreats, individual counseling and support groups. Retreats are conducted four times a year, twice in English and twice in Spanish, at confidential locations. The next retreat, in Spanish, is from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., ending with a Mass, on Dec. 12. For more information, contact Helena Gonzales at 281-642-5761 or visit www.archgh.org/Respect-Life/Project-Rachel/.