By VICTORIA M. THORN | Published September 3, 2009
A priest is a man, clothed in tenderness, who speaks of God’s mercy, who prophetically pronounces the truth, unpleasant though it might be and who reflects God’s love to a hurting world. Sometimes he is shoring up souls and sometimes he is breaking up concrete. He’s comforting the grieving and challenging the young. He’s soothing the dying and blessing the newborn.
In the 25 years since I founded Project Rachel, the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church, I have witnessed firsthand the gift that priests are to the world. I have seen the heart of the priest repeatedly. It is generous, compassionate, willing to sacrifice for others.
At the inception of Project Rachel, when some thought post-abortion ministry was a hare-brained idea, the priests here in Milwaukee supported it, as did my bishop. As I was planning the training, one priest told me not to be disappointed because he didn’t think any priests were going to come, but 60 priests came and generously embraced this new ministry of mercy. And 25 years later, those priests are still involved in the work. If there is anything I need, they are immediately willing to help.
Across the country many priests actively keep me—and the ministry—in prayer, recognizing that prayer is powerful and protective.
Several times I have received calls on our referral line from elderly women somewhere in the U.S. looking to reconcile an abortion loss from 40 or 50 years ago. They have said to me, “I can’t ask my children to take me to confession because they will say, ‘Ma, you are old. What could you possibly need to confess?’” And in every case, I was able to find a priest who would make a house call to ease the fears of an old woman preparing to die.
A priest who was preparing to leave the priesthood received a Project Rachel call the night before submitting his resignation to the bishop. But as he spoke with the woman, he knew he couldn’t leave the priesthood until he had seen this process through with her. When he finished it, he tore up the letter because, he said, he had rediscovered the meaning of his priesthood in this sacramental encounter that set the woman free.
A delayed vocation seminarian I met through a God appointment asked me what the most difficult part of my ministry was and I responded “raising money.” This former businessman supported my ministry for several years while divesting himself of his earthly riches before ordination. How many lives were touched because of his incredible generosity?
It was the pastoral awareness of the bishops of this country, who, as confessors, recognized the pain of women who had had abortions, and called for a ministry of post-abortion healing in the first Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, issued shortly after abortion became the law of the land. And it is this pastoral heart that motivated bishops to personally call me after the founding of the ministry to ask how they could make it happen in their diocese.
A woman who had been convinced by her doctor to abort a child with severe anomalies called me after the hospital had released her dead baby to her, as she and her husband were grieving profoundly over this loss. The hospital had referred her to a chaplain, but he had been of little use, refusing to help them bury their child. I called an experienced Project Rachel priest and explained the circumstances to him. He was a canon lawyer with years of post-abortion experience. He went to the family, held them as they wept, gave their child a proper burial and soothed the wounds left by the insensitive chaplain, keeping them in the church. She called to tell me what a gift he had been to them as he came into my office to thank me for the opportunity to minister to them.
A woman will often call after speaking to a priest she has been referred to, to tell me of her profound experience of God’s love and mercy brought to her through the priest. She will say, “Please tell the priests how grateful we are to them for what they have said and been … the mercy and love of God made manifest, the wisdom of the Spirit speaking to our souls, indeed Father was Jesus with skin for me! Alter Christus made manifest!”
To the many Project Rachel priests in this country and to the multitudes of confessors who soothe a woman’s terror, confront her despair, set her free of her sin and bring her home to the Lord and her lost children: Thank you from the depths of my heart. Without you, this ministry of Project Rachel would not exist! And on behalf of the multitudes of people you have touched: THANK YOU! You change the world, one heart and soul at a time.
Vicki Thorn, the founder of Project Rachel Post-Abortion Ministry, is also the founder and ongoing director of the National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing based in Milwaukee. Thorn is an internationally renowned author and speaker on healing and reconciliation in the aftermath of abortion.