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Project Rachel: Ministry of reconciliation

September 11, 2015
Christina Gray

Healing is incomplete without sacramental reconciliation for a Catholic woman, couple or family who has lost a child as a result of abortion, said Mary Ann Schwab, longtime coordinator of the Project Rachel Ministry. “Losing a child is one of the most dramatic and traumatic of human experiences” and healing culminates with the sacramental “restoration of the person” through confession with a priest, Schwab said.

“From a Catholic perspective, healing from the loss of a child before or shortly after birth is not complete until the woman or man is restored through the healing mercy of Christ,” Schwab said. Only after that can some people begin to can forgive themselves, she said.

A Project Rachel Healing Liturgy will be held Sept. 19 at 11 a.m. at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, with Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone as principal celebrant.

A ministry of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Project Rachel was started by Vicki Thorn, a Respect Life director in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who had witnessed the self-destructive trajectory of a friend who had aborted a child in the 1970s.

Project Rachel ministries vary somewhat from diocese to diocese based on available funding and staffing, Schwab said. In the archdiocesan Respect Life Office, she extended the ministry to help heal not only post-abortive trauma but also those who suffer other losses of a child, such as miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death.

”It really does require the healing grace of God,” said Rita Widergren, a public health nurse from San Rafael and one of a network of Project Rachel mentors.

Widergren works one-to-one with women and men using a nine-step process that takes the person back in time to examine their life before and after the abortion, including asking who supported their decision at the time, who did not and why. “In that dialogue, greatly influenced by the grace of God, comes an understanding of where that person was at that time of the abortion and why the decision took place,” she said.

Schwab said the symbol of Project Rachel is Christ embracing the fallen woman.

“By fallen we mean someone who is alienated from Christ,” she said. “We want women and men because they suffer to, to be embraced by Christ’s mercy.”

Project Rachel Healing Liturgy, Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma, Sept. 19, 11 a.m., Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, celebrant. Phone (415) 717-6458.

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