By John Heuertz
Special to the Key
It is rightly said that every abortion leaves one dead and one wounded.
Perhaps Sheila Harper speaks for millions of wounded people when she writes about her life and its “seven years of pure misery as I lived daily with this horrific choice I made.”
This misery is known as the “g.a.s.h.” of abortion – guilt, anger, shame and helplessness.
Yet it’s also a matter of observation, and not just Church teaching, that Christ’s mercy can overcome anything.
Christ so wishes to forgive and heal that He told St. Faustina Kowalska, His apostle of Divine Mercy, to “Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. All of the works of My hands are crowned with Mercy.”
Project Rachel is a nationwide Catholic ministry of healing and compassion to those suffering after an abortion. It’s based in confidence in God’s mercy, confidence in the Prince of Peace’s loving compassion for us all.
Project Rachel serves women and men, Catholic and non-Catholic. It’s a ministry to all those united in a common bond of suffering.
“As we see from Sheila Harper’s quote above, abortion can be a completely devastating experience,” says diocesan Project Rachel coordinator Teresa Hoeppner. “The feelings of deep regret and shame most often must be dealt with in silence and isolation, and a deep depression can set in.”
Relations with family, friends and loved ones can be frayed after an abortion. Bonding with other children can suddenly become harder. Drug, alcohol, eating, shopping or promiscuity problems can emerge as coping mechanisms. And not just in women.
“Men can feel full of rage for not protecting their child or their partner,” Hoeppner says. “It can affect the siblings. It has a lot of different consequences people don’t hear about. Even though maybe you don’t realize it, it affects daily life.”
Project Rachel helps people heal in God’s love with small group therapy sessions and two “Rachel’s Vineyard” retreats a year.
The next retreat is scheduled for Nov. 15-17. The retreats are a time for reflection, sharing and healing. Among other things, women participants help act out stories from the Bible. “It’s a powerful experience when you do that with God’s love,” Hoeppner says.
A priest will be available for spiritual advice and to those who might wish to go to Confession. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament will always be available. A service at the end honors and dignifies the child by turning it over to the Lord.
“And if that child is with Jesus, all that child knows is goodness and love. So there won’t be any resentment,” she points out.
Everything at Project Rachel is done confidentially. Women do the work who have been there and know how it feels from their own lives, or the lives of their loved ones. As an example, Harper’s book “SaveOne” has proven effective at promoting emotional healing through small group therapy, Hoeppner said.
Hoeppner’s only been on the job since March, but she’s already forming a group called The Friends of Project Rachel for people who feel they might have a heart for the work.
“One of the goals of this ministry is to give people opportunities to use their God-given talents for good,” she says. “If you have time, talents, or treasure to share, we need you.”
In his 1995 “Gospel of Life,” Bl. John Paul II wrote beautifully about women being healed by Christ after an abortion and one day in Heaven seeing “their child who is living in the Lord.”
“This is a ministry of the Catholic Church,” Hoeppner says. “It’s not just me saying it.”
“When you say, ‘the Pope says it,’ that makes a difference. It shows the support of the Church in a way that I didn’t understand before. It really does help.”
Abortion leaves behind one dead and one wounded. And for obvious reasons, it also wouldn’t be public policy in any nation that’s determined to survive. Wouldn’t it be better all around to persuade women not to have abortions in the first place?
Diocesan Sidewalk Counseling Coordinator Julia Pickert thinks it would.
Pickert, a young and energetic religion teacher at St. Pius X high school, had been on the March for Life for five years. But as she observes, “You call yourself pro-life, but you’re not really doing a whole lot with that.”
About a year and a half ago she was asked to promote sidewalk counseling in front of local abortion clinics to her students. In the course of that, someone suggested she herself might be good at it too.
“I didn’t want to do it at first,” Pickert says. “I wasn’t sure I had the time or the energy.” But she felt God pulling at her heartstrings too.
This conflict continued through her training. “I felt the spiritual warfare,” she says. “One part of me said, ‘Don’t sign up now,’ and the other part said, ‘If you don’t go this week to shadow, you’ll never do it.’”
She went and watched three different people that first week, and decided that she was where God wanted her to be. Working at both locations with sidewalk counselors from the Kansas Archdiocese, she now divides her time between a notorious abortion clinic in Overland Park and another in Kansas City, Kansas.
“It isn’t a comfortable position in life,” she says. “The average person might not want to do it when it’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It’s really an uncomfortable job. But God calls us sometimes to do uncomfortable things.”
There are other hazards besides the weather, she noted.
“The other side lies about us. They lie to the police. They lie to the women who come. They tell women they’re not supposed to talk to us. They say they’re ‘pro-choice,’ but they want to take choices away. The lies are huge and you really see the work of evil when you’re standing out there for a few months.”
“They’re not pro-choice. They’re pro-abortion. It’s very sad.”
Pickert notes that “young people are passionate about the pro-life movement” and she now has three high school girls that are counseling right now.
“Little did I know it would change my own life. It helped me realize the worth of every person,” she says.
“My message today is, no matter what: God always brings beauty even in the discomfort. It really has helped me to realize that God can use us to save a human life and to save a human soul.”
“As difficult as it may be some days, I think it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Call (816) 591-3804 for more information on Project Rachel or the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat Nov. 15-17. Call Julia Pickert at (816) 756-1850 for more information on becoming a sidewalk counselor.