By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — A national team from Project Rachel spent three days in the Davenport Diocese training core leaders, volunteers, licensed mental health professionals and priests for reintroduction of the ministry in the diocese. Project Rachel is the Catholic Church’s ministry to those who have been involved in abortion. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) oversees the ministry.
Those who received training will be able to respond to individuals suffering from the aftermath of abortion. The sacrament of reconciliation, pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, support groups, retreats, and counseling with licensed mental health professionals are key components of the ministry.
Leading the training June 17-19 at diocesan headquarters in Davenport were Tom Grenchik, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities in Washington, D.C.; Mary McClusky, assistant director of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities and Project Rachel Ministry Development in Washington; Julia Shelava, director of Project Rachel for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.; and Marianne Luthin, respect life/Project Rachel director for the Archdiocese of Boston.
Grenchik said the U.S. bishops have pushed for dioceses to offer Project Rachel as a way to respond to women and men who suffer from the effects of abortion. He noted that Bishop Martin Amos took up the offer to restart the ministry in the Diocese of Davenport. It is estimated that 28 percent of women who have abortions are Catholic. “It has a huge impact on our family and Church.”
McClusky said Project Rachel emphasizes Jesus Christ’s merciful love as the ministry’s foundation. It is a diocesan ministry that ensures confidentiality, provides a designated helpline answered by screened and trained staff/volunteers and takes an integrated approach to healing.
She said the website www.hopeafterabortion.org is a great resource. Additional resources from the USCCB include brochures, a national toll-free referral line (888-456-HOPE), and training.
Shelava spoke on the integrated approach to healing. Its components are: Christ as the foundation; training, prayer support, coordination (staff and volunteer network), professional counseling (mental health referral), reconciliation (priest ministry and referral), pastoral/spiritual guidance, liturgies and retreats, support groups, outreach and awareness, and confidential response. Luthin said Project Rachel is a “ministry of mercy.” People are in pain and need to reach out. “We see a transformation because they encounter God and his love. They find healing.” She said prayers are important for the ministry as a whole.
Bishop Amos celebrated reintroduction of Project Rachel with a Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport on June 18. Concelebrants were Father Paul Connolly, Father Rich Adam, Father Chuck Adam, Father Hai Dinh, Father William Meyer, Msgr. James Parizek and Father Chris Young.
The bishop’s homily focused on Psalm 23 and shared insight from the book “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller. Following Mass, Luthin explained the Project Rachel ministry and played a recording of a woman who sought help decades after she had an abortion and shared how the ministry helped her in healing.
On June 19 the trainers worked with 17 mental health professionals in the morning, including some from outside the diocese. Fifteen priests attended afternoon training.
Father Paul Connolly, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt and St. Anne Parish in Welton, said, “I chose to get involved in Project Rachel because I want to help those who made the choice to either have or support an abortion to know that God loves them and they do not have to be defined by a choice they made in their past.
“In my 31 years as a priest, I have heard the confession of a number of people who either had an abortion or assisted another in having one and even though the event took place many years ago, they were still dealing with the pain it has caused them knowing they made that choice. The Church has to make every effort to help those who are hurting from the aftermath of a choice they made earlier in their life.”
He said the presenters tried to help the priests see the whole picture of “how we can aid those hurting from their past decisions. It is important to the people to know that although the Church is against the taking of innocent life, we still have love and compassion for those who made this wrong choice.”
Msgr. James Parizek, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, responded to the invitation because he saw a need in the diocese. He said the training was an informative presentation with Powerpoint, audio and video woven together. He said there are likely women and men in every parish “who have been touched by the tragedy of abortion, and some are in great need of forgiveness, healing and hope. Also, Pope Francis has called the Church into a mission of mercy to express God’s love and care for all persons.”
Msgr. Parizek was trained for the ministry by founder Vicki Thorne many years ago when she came to the diocese. Dan Ebener, then social action director for the Davenport Diocese, established a confidential “Rachel” telephone line and formed a group of priests and health professionals who were willing to respond to these calls for help. “I recall having only a couple of women who made appointments for face-to-face conversation,” Msgr. Parizek said.
He said it is important to establish a private, confidential phone line to receive calls to protect anonymity, and to establish a neutral place to meet with people seeking what Project Rachel has to offer.
“To meet in a pastor’s office during normal office hours might be intimidating for the person seeking the help. Parish staff often try to screen calls to protect the pastor’s time and schedule, and the ‘client’ might be seen and recognized by staff when coming for an appointment.”
Following the training sessions, Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and Catholic Charities, said there is “incredible support shown by parishes, priests, mental health therapists and volunteers across the diocese. Others are willing to assist with this ministry through time, talent and treasure.”
He plans to follow recommendations for the training team as it gets Project Rachel up and running. “We want to get out there and help people experience God’s mercy.”
Jeanne Wonio, a member of the core team, felt training went better than expected. “We have a great group of people willing to volunteer with this ministry. The diocese was outstanding in their response to the training program.”
Bishop Amos reiterated, “Pope Francis has repeatedly said we need to be a Church of mercy. This is such a wonderful opportunity to be God’s instruments in bringing healing and mercy to those burdened perhaps by guilt and shame.”