Feature Article, Welcom 6 October 2010
Wendy Hill, Wellington
Pope John Paul II’s words to those grieving the loss of a child by abortion, ‘The wound in your heart may not yet have healed … do not lose hope …’ are at the heart of the work of Rachel’s Vineyard, which offers healing retreats for anyone who has been touched by abortion. New Zealand’s first Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat was held in June in the Wairarapa where a small group of people entered into the process of a weekend retreat, in the hope of turning years of struggle and grief into hope and healing.
Post-abortion stress lasts for years, often worsening with time and the anniversaries of what ‘would have been’. After abortion, many women face a daily internal battle between condemning and defending themselves.
The wound strikes at the heart of their spiritual life, causing feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing and alienation from God. These symptoms can plague women’s lives for decades. The secret is borne deeply in the hearts and souls of those who suffer. They are frightened to expose this shame and grief for fear that others will judge them or think less of them. Many women re-enact their abortion experiences through repeat pregnancies and abortions, substance abuse, eating disorders, broken relationships and worse. The Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries offer such women forgiveness, peace and hope. Rachel’s Vineyard was launched in 1996 in the United States by Theresa Burke, a psychotherapist, author and mother of five from Pennsylvania, and has been operating in Australia for the last six years.
The retreat exercises help participants accept forgiveness and reconnect with their lost children spiritually. Through many psychological and spiritual exercises, participants journey through their grief and experience God’s transforming power and healing in their lives. God wants to help women to rebuild their lives but, without awareness of the presence of God, it is impossible for a mother to reconcile with the death of a child.
The retreat culminates in a Mass of Resurrection and a memorial service. Follow-up sessions help participants to process their experience and continue developing a spiritual life.