Rachel’s Vineyard retreat helps women heal after abortion

BATESBURG – A group of women gathered at the Kinard Conference Center April 28-30 for the first Rachel’s Vineyard retreat in the Columbia area. The retreat, sponsored by the Diocese of Charleston’s Family Life Office, provided an opportunity for women to deal with the emotional or spiritual pain of a past abortion.

Four retreat teams are currently being trained to serve the Diocese of Charleston. Retreats were held earlier this year in Greenville and Rock Hill, and one is planned for the Charleston area on the weekend of July 28-30. It is expected that each site will continue to offer the retreats at least once or twice each year, so that women (and men) have a choice of locations and dates.

After teams are trained, the ministry will develop aftercare options for retreatants who would like to continue their healing journey together.

One participant at the Kinard Conference Center retreat said she had been hesitant to attend because she didn’t know what to expect, but was relieved when she was told, “You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to. You are not forced to do anything.”

The retreat is centered around Living Scripture meditations. Participants are invited to imagine themselves in stories from the Gospel in which Jesus heals and forgives. Each meditation is followed by an action such as receiving a lighted candle following the story of Jesus’ healing of Bartimaeus, the blind man. With each exercise, there is also an opportunity for discussion within the group.

Retreat participants have been enthusiastic about the help they have received. One woman was afraid of talking about herself to others, but later said, “I felt so safe in sharing my experience and emotions. It was exactly what I needed.”

Another spoke of gratitude for the “atmosphere of complete acceptance and trust.” Participants requested that their comments be shared with others (anonymously) to encourage them to attend a retreat in the future.

“This is the best thing that ever happened to me,” one said. “I found the retreat to be well thought out and powerful,” according to another.

Although the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is wrong, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”) encourages those who have had abortions not to lose hope. The pope wrote that “The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace.” The Rachel’s Vineyard retreat includes an opportunity for individual confession with a priest and a return to the sacraments for those who have not already done so. This retreat incorporates Catholic sacraments and sacramentals, but is also helpful to those of other faith traditions because it is rooted in the Scriptures.

Although the majority of participants are women, men also have attended because of their own issues related to an abortion. They can attend alone or accompany women.

The Rachel’s Vineyard retreat was written by Dr. Theresa Burke, a Catholic psychologist, and is now conducted at over 160 U.S. sites and in countries on six continents. Father Frank Pavone from Priests for Life serves as pastoral director for Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries.

In the Diocese of Charleston, local teams are being trained by consultant Dr. Martha Shuping of Winston-Salem, N.C., under the direction of Kathy Schmugge, family life coordinator, and Rev. James LeBlanc, family life director.

Dr. Shuping will be in the Charles-ton area the weekend of July 13-15 to promote the upcoming retreat at Mepkin Abbey on July 28-30 and to educated communities on the importance of providing healing for post-abortive women and men.

For more information on upcoming events, call Kathy Schmugge at (803) 546-6010. To register for the retreat call (336) 287-8421 or (843) 795-3029 or visit the Rachel’s Vineyard Web site at www.rachelsvineyard.org.