|February 29, 2016 • VOL. 54, NO. 4 • Oakland, CA|
Rachel's Vineyard retreat step
toward post-abortion healing
The decision to attend a Rachel's Vineyard retreat is not easily made.
She said she saw in them "a desire and willingness to reach out" to those seeking post-abortion help.
"Priests are on the frontlines," she said, putting them in "a good position to refer people to healing programs."
Another strength of post-abortion ministry, she said, is strength of volunteers, who continue to make programs available in times of ever-tightening budgets.
"I was so impressed with those running the Spanish program," Burke said. The volunteers keep the program alive, "don't want services to fall through the cracks."
It's an example, she said, of "the laity exercising their vocation."
The well-trained retreat staff, Burke said, "understands the safety of being able to enter the grieving process without interruption."
Talk therapy, Burke said, "doesn't work with victims of trauma." But the retreat's carefully planned sessions provide opportunity, through Scripture, to work through the pain.
"Retreat allows you to go deep into the wound without interruption," she said.
A person attending a weeknight therapy session, for example, might face distractions — kids to put to bed, preparing for work the next day — that might interrupt the progress made during the session.
"The only way out is through, with support day and night," Burke said.
"Part of healing is dismantling the isolation and secrecy so many victims of abortion go through every day," Burke said.
Maldonado said the retreats have helped people overcome the loneliness of feeling "I'm the only one with this stigma."
A look around the room can help one see "I'm not the only one who has gone through this."
During the 40 hours of intense work, Maldonado said, "there's a camaraderie that happens."
Those attending the retreats may have waited many years. "Everyone is in a different place in their healing," she said. Perhaps the abortion happened when the woman was in high school, "now she has a child in high school." Another trigger might be a decision to marry or have a child.
"They didn't have the opportunity to mourn that child as they didn't know consciously what they were doing," she said. "There are so many people living with this for such a long time."
Maldonado would like them to know: "There is mercy. There is love."
The work begins before arriving at the retreat center, said Maldonado, who as the contact person for those considering a Rachel's Vineyard retreat, can provide confidential information to callers.
The Oakland diocese is partnering with the Diocese of Stockton to make the retreats available, with two in the English language and one in Spanish scheduled this year.
Rev. Jerry Brown, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Brentwood and director of continuing formation for priests, said about 50 priests heard Burke's talk at the study day, which left him "pretty enlightened" about what Rachel's Vineyard sets out to accomplish.
"What she presented was compelling," said Father Brown, who has been involved in after the choice ministry for a long time. His background as a registered nurse, he said, told him Burke's description of the medical aspects "were right on."
All priests of the Diocese of Oakland, have the faculties to forgive abortion.
"We all deal with it," said Father Brown. "It's a reality in our culture."
But one of the fears many women have is that they haven't — and cannot — be forgiven.
What Burke offered, he said, was insight into that continuing pain. Burke encouraged priests, for example, to be watchful for those who confess again and again to abortion.
She encouraged the priests to talk about healing after abortion, he said.
"You can't just say it on Respect Life Sunday," Burke told priests, adding they should "always want to be making the invitation."
It can be difficult.
"One of the major issues, if we even mention it, they feel condemned," said Father Brown.
"We intend it to be positive," he said. "We're not wagging our fingers."
Among the takeaways, Father Brown said, "is how much abortion affects marriage relationships."
"Until that's dealt with, counseling will go nowhere."
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