By Claudia Mathis
An increase in the number of telephone calls requesting help for someone involved in an abortion raised a red flag for Lisa Hall. Hall is director of the diocesan Respect Life Office. The Respect Life Office offers a confidential phone line, a facet of Project Rachel Ministry (PRM), the Catholic Church’s post-abortion ministry. PRM is a program of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
“It’s been on my heart to expand Project Rachel Ministry for the last six years,” Hall said. “I wanted to be able to offer something more.”
As a result, two workshops and an evening Mass and awareness program were held on July 23 and 24. Hall said she hoped offering the information sessions would raise awareness of the people around them suffering the after-effects of an abortion. She wanted to make people aware of the need for post-abortion healing. Hall cited the statistic provided by the Guttmacher Institute that nearly one in every three women in their childbearing years will have an abortion.
“I also hope that priests will talk about the forgiveness available through our church,” she added. “Our primary focus is to connect people to the healing mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.” Hall wants those suffering with post-abortion grief to know that they don’t need to suffer in silence. She stressed the importance of creating a culture in which people feel safer to talk about their abortions.
An evening Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham and an awareness program took place at Holy Family Church in Syracuse on July 23 as part of PRM’s plan to raise awareness about post-abortion trauma. The program included an overview of PRM and a discussion of opportunities for involvement and support. Between 90 and 100 people attended.
A PRM training team consisting of two USCCB staff members, two representatives from successful PRMs in the Archdioceses of Boston and Washington and a priest from the Archdiocese of Washington who was trained in PRM, led sessions.
On that same day, the team presented information to key diocesan staff to help them become more aware of the scope and magnitude of abortion in the U.S. They were also shown how their ministries could intersect with PRM, enabling more people to be referred for help.
On the morning of July 24, at Christ the King Retreat Center in Syracuse, the team conducted a training workshop for 20 mental health professionals. After listening to an overview of PRM, the attendees learned how to make referrals to and receive referrals from PRM. A counselor who specializes in trauma attended the workshop that day. Many of her patients have struggled with the trauma of post-abortion grief. She refers the victims to a priest for sacramental reconciliation. “I’ve seen a number of people over the years that were stuck in that pain and trauma,” she said. “Because they keep it silent, they suffered greatly.” She was happy to learn at the workshop that PRM is hoping to offer additional support in the form of prayer ministry and a Bible study group.
The counselor said she attended the training because she wanted to be an integral part of the more comprehensive healing that PRM offers.
A training session was offered to 18 priests and the bishop on the afternoon of July 24. One of the priests voiced his opinion of the session. “It was very well done,” he commented. “The materials were exceptional and there were some very good tools to help those who are grieving, to open them up to healing.” By following the manual, Project Rachel Ministry: A Post-Abotion Resource Manual for Priests ad Project Rachel Leaders, the priests learned to minister to those suffering from the aftermath of abortion. Detailed instructions were presented for administering the sacrament of reconciliation and for spiritual counseling.
He said the training reinforced and deepened his understanding of women going through the emotional and spiritual trauma of post-abortion. As a result of attending the training session, he volunteered to take referrals from PRM.
The manual covered such topics as understanding the aftereffects of abortion on the mother, father and extended family, a parish’s commitment to hope and healing, and how to launch or strengthen PRM in a diocese.
In addition, each session included a personal audio testimony from a person who had been helped by PRM and how it was life changing for her.
By offering the training sessions, Hall hoped to help people understand the integrated approach that PRM offers. “The ministry recognizes that in post-abortion healing, there are both human and spiritual elements of the grief process that need to be addressed,” said Hall. “By training both priests and those in the mental health profession, we can address the needs of the whole person, not just parts.”
There are many opportunities for those who want to become involved with PRM. One could become a prayer partner, a member of a regional PRM team, a volunteer on the PRM phone line or a PRM promoter in parishes.
For more information on PRM, contact Hall at (315) 470-1418.
Due to the confidential nature of the ministry, the mental health professional, priest and those involved with the PRM training were not identified by name.