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Rachel, Weep No More

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Photo: Dan Valenti

Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, center, is flanked by Rachel's Vineyard retreat facilitator Jean Raczkowski, left, and retreat leader Sr. Claire LaPointe, SASV. Father Anthony served as chaplain. Rachel's Vineyard helps post-abortive women heal from their grief and spiritual wounds.

Mercy Turns Post-Abortive Pain into Healing, Hope

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We start with a quiz.

Is the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy ...
(a) a place to pray?
(b) a place for contemplation?
(c) a place of natural beauty in the famed Berkshire Hills?
(d) a place to find healing?
(e) a place where one goes to decompress from life's stress?
(f) all of the above
(g) none of the above.

I hope you realized (g) is one of those preposterous answers every multiple-choice quiz maker puts in, so the quiz taker can immediately rule out. The correct answer is (f). Answers (a) through (c) pretty much have been taken for granted, with (e) related to those first three responses. But what about (d)? It might not first occur to someone that a person might come to the Shrine expressly to heal. This isn't Lourdes. There are no weeping statues, not even in hay-fever season. There's no rejuvenating well of mystical spring water.

A Special Presence on 'The Hill'
Healing, however, takes many forms, something Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, understands.

When Fr. Anthony assumed the Rector's office this year, one of his plans for the National Shrine was to make it known as a place of spiritual and emotional healing. He decided on this from having first-hand knowledge of the infusive power of the spirituality to be found on Eden Hill. You hear it again and again from pilgrims. The words are different, but the message is the same: there's a special power and presence on "The Hill."

Is that why confessions here are different?

"In the confessional, you see the power of prayer," Fr. Anthony says. "In the confessional, people can talk freely. They can unburden themselves. And most importantly, they receive absolution. I call the confessional here on Eden Hill 'The Valley of Tears.' Lots of tears get shed during confession. They are good tears. They are tears of healing, tears of contrition, tears of joy. That's one thing we don't mind at all, having to replace so many empty boxes of Kleenex!"

The 'Other Side' of the Window
This experience, repeated over and over from his perspective on the "other side" of the screened window, led Fr. Anthony to realize that Eden Hill might carry this power of healing outside the confines of the confessional. The possibilities were dizzying. But as so often happens when one goes looking for an application of spiritual energy, God takes the lead. He led Fr. Anthony to a specific path. Fr. Anthony started walking.

The path was the shattering aftermath of abortion.

Healing for post-abortive women (and men as well as family members) remains a largely unaddressed issue facing not just the Church but society as a whole.

"I think this issue forms the Big Picture of where God is going next with Divine Mercy," Fr. Anthony says. "The more I looked into the post-abortive question, the more I realized there's a huge, unaddressed need."

Father Anthony heard about Rachel's Vineyard Ministries, an organization that conducts retreats for post-abortive woman and men throughout the country. He went to one, observed, and came back with a believer's zeal.

A psychologist, Dr. Theresa Karminski Burke, and husband Kevin Burke, a licensed social worker, founded Rachel's Vineyard. They realized through their practices that counseling alone did not result in a full healing for women grieving over an abortion. God was missing. The grieving process needed a spiritual element.

The Suffering Body of Christ
Rachel's Vineyard retreat gathers participants over a given weekend not as "patients" but as the suffering body of Christ. Guided by a leader, a facilitator, and a chaplain, the retreat helps the suffering minister to each other in Jesus' name. They share spiritual exercises focused on God's forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. Psychological exercises help participants work through repressed grief and anger. Spiritual rituals assist them to grieve the loss of the child, ask for the child's forgiveness and intercession from heaven, and accept God's mercy. The retreat ends with a memorial service and a Mass of the Resurrection.

Father Anthony immediately realized that Rachel's Vineyard and his vision of healing at the Shrine aligned perfectly. He seized on the mission of the retreat, and knew that its delivery of healing fit, again perfectly, with the message and devotion of Divine Mercy. After attending a couple more retreats as chaplain, he decided to bring Rachel's Vineyard to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.

Eden Hill hosted its first Rachel's Vineyard retreat in March. It was a great success, and he immediately began plans to bring the retreat back to The Hill again. That took place over the weekend of July 20-22, 2007. Father Anthony said the July retreat replicated the great work of the first. After the July retreat, he pointed to "lots of blessings, healings, and support. It's hard to explain all the great things that were going on."

Springfield Diocese Steps to the Plate
The Diocese of Springfield was heavily involved in the July session. Retreat leader Sr. Claire LaPointe, SASV, from the diocese, provided overall direction. Sister Claire says, "The participants were significantly different from Friday to Saturday." Retreat facilitator Jean Raczkowski, also from the diocese, kept conversations going and encouraged participants to share their stories. "They arrive on Friday feeling abandoned and lost," Jean says. "By Saturday, you see the healing taking hold. On Sunday, they leave with Christ by their side."

To reinforce the healings that were taking place over the weekend, Springfield Bishop Timothy McDonnell, in conjunction with the retreat on Eden Hill, said a private memorial Mass for all participants and for their babies.

"It's a tremendous thing to have Bishop McDonnell involved," Fr. Anthony says. "All the children were remembered for the weekend, both here on Eden Hill at the retreat, and at the bishop's Memorial Mass. The Diocese of Springfield has consistently shown its pastoral concern about this little known aspect of the pro-life movement, and we thank Bishop McDonnell for his leadership and support."

A Spiritual Spa
Eden Hill is much like Rachel's Vineyard — a spirit as much as a place, a frame of mind as much as a destination. They are both places of renewal, safe abodes where lives are rebuilt and hearts are redeemed. In the case of post-abortive women and men, participants find restoration, renewal, and healing through the express, release, and reconciliation of toxic emotions. Combine the retreat with Divine Mercy, and people can explore in emotional and spiritual safety their deepest, most closely held feelings about their abortion experiences.

During the weekend of July 20-22, nine participants in the Rachel's Vineyard retreat found a place, many of them for the first time in their post-abortive lives, to dismantle their poisonous secrets in an environment steeped in God's Divine Mercy. They experienced the wondrous relief that attends the letting go of a destructive burden. They felt the soothing presence of forgiveness as Divine Mercy began to flow into their hearts.

It might all be expressed as a collective, spiritual, "Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h." The breathing slows down and gets deeper. The tension drains out of the body, replaced by healing warmth. The eyes close in relaxation and peace. Participants feel as if they're at a Spiritual Spa.

Help. Empathy. Action. Love. Intercession. Nurture. God. They spell H-E-A-L-I-N-G. They are the call letters of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, a place to go when there is nowhere else to go, a place to go when you can go anywhere else but would rather be there.

Mercy's Soothing Balm
Some comments from the participants of the July retreat express it so well:

* I loved every minute of the retreat — the caring, the sharing, the embracing of each other, the living Scripture, the Eucharistic Adoration, Mass, Confession ...
* What was most meaningful? The opportunity to be embraced by The Divine Mercy, Love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus and God, our Father.
* The retreat was Godly — God-directed, God-fed.

Then there's this one: "I have been through 14 years of therapy and anti-depressants. I've confessed my abortion a hundred times. Just when I thought I could take the pain no longer, I found Rachel's Vineyard. This weekend literally saved my life."

See a pattern here, do you? That's right. It's the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, fulfilling a vision of its Rector as a place of healing, where mercy's soothing balm turns pain into hope, bitterness into love, and reluctance charity.

The next Rachel's Vineyard Retreat will be the weekend of Nov. 16-18 at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Anyone interested in the retreat should call 413-452-0661. All calls are strictly confidential!

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Mary Ann - Nov 14, 2007

I too will be attending a retreat this coming weekend with the help and guidance of Fr. Anthony. This retreat will be in Michigan but I know that the Holy Spirit along with St. Faustina will be with us. Please pray for us and let all the members of your retreat know that I will be praying for them. We are not alone, Jesus is so full of Mercy.

lms - Aug 2, 2007

To attend a Rachel's Vineyard retreat at the Shrine is truly to be at the place where one meets Divine mercy, forgiveness and love, and Jesus will just pour Himself into you if you let Him. This is truly a gift from God. I thank Fr. Anthony and the Diocese of Springfield for listening to God's call and bringing this healing to the Shrine. I pray that more men and women will open their hearts to receive these gifts of healing and forgiveness from the fount of His Divine Mercy and love. You truly do leave enveloped in the embrace of Jesus' love. All glory, honor and praise belong to You, Almighty Father. I place my trust in You, Jesus. God bless...