By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller - OSV Newsweekly, 1/15/2012
Father Jim Hewes said he was too busy to attend a Project Rachel meeting for priests, but a persistent parishioner persuaded him to go. When he met founder Vicki Thorn and the late Father Blair Raum, also a psychologist, he felt overwhelmed with the intensity of post-abortive issues.
He changed his mind after taking the first woman through the healing process.
“It was a very powerful, transforming experience, and that’s what got me committed,” Father Hewes told Our Sunday Visitor.
For the past 15 years, he has been training priests to work with post-abortive women and men, including nearly 70 priests in the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., where he is parochial vicar of three parishes.
“I tell them that they may feel very overwhelmed, but really, God is directing the process,” he said. “God is the instrument.”
Many post-abortive women and men confess the abortion repeatedly, yet still find no peace. Trained priests can be more effective confessors for them and offer the penitent more than an “in and out of the confessional” experience, he said. They also can refer the people to Project Rachel, where they can prepare for a confession beyond “I had an abortion.”
“Part of the process is naming their child and writing a letter to that child to explain what happened,” Father Hewes said. “Then when they come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they are confessing that they have taken the life of their unborn son ‘Jack.’ When priests take part in this process, they come away in awe seeing the healing that has happened.”
Trained priests often report that they can now preach more effectively about abortion.
“Many don’t know how to approach this topic and are afraid of hurting someone in the congregation,” Father Hewes said. “So they learn how to approach this issue not just as the loss of the child, but also as the devastation of these women. People are usually moved by these stories and you can see tears in their eyes.”
Many who are healed are eager witnesses, and priests may be able to connect them with women who are considering abortion, or are suffering in the aftermath.
“I have been a priest for 37 years, and the most wonderful experiences have been walking with these women and men and seeing the transformation,” Father Hewes said. “Many come extremely down and they come up on the other side, truly amazed at what is transformed for them.”
Grace of forgiveness
Father Richard Rohrer considers his work with Project Rachel “a most wonderful gift” that has taught him how to be a priest.
“It really reveals to me who Christ is, and it forms everything else I do as a priest,” he said. “Through this work, I see what are almost miraculous healings.”
Father Rohrer is pastor of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Church in Cary, N.C., in the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, N.J. He is spiritual director for Project Rachel in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh.
Many times, he has seen the grace of forgiveness lift burdens and change lives.
“Imagine how awful they feel,” Father Rohrer said about people with abortion experiences. “They think, ‘I have killed my child and God will never forgive me.’ It opens a whole new life for them to bring them to an understanding that their children love them and that their children are with God. It also brings them to a new knowledge of who Christ is and how much God loves, and that he really destroyed death. All those things that we talk about can become theoretical, but for those who have had no hope, to see how they are healed is to see the reality.”
Compassion, not condemnation, helps healing.
“We don’t need to talk about how horrible abortion is,” Father Rohrer said. “Everyone knows it is, and we don’t have to pretend it’s not. Rather, we should talk about forgiveness and the healing of God. Christ’s love is unconditional, and they are stepping into the arms of Christ and the love of his mother, and they are stepping into the arms of the Church.”
The work may still need to continue after the healing of forgiveness, he noted, because abortion is often the result of things of the past, and the beginning of things to come.
“For many people, forgiveness breaks the logjams of things in their lives, like the family they came from and other relationships,” Father Rohrer said. “Healing those relationships can now become possible. We are all called to be part of the healing.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
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