Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreats are a beautiful healing opportunity for any woman or man who has struggled with the emotional or spiritual pain of an abortion. They provide the opportunity to get away from all the daily pressures of work and family and focus on the painful time in life through a supportive and non-judgemental process.
Rachel’s Vineyard is a worldwide ministry offered throughout the year in locations across Canada and the United States. It is based in Catholicism, but individuals of all denominations are welcome.
The name ‘Rachel’ refers to an Old Testament figure in the Book of Jeremiah, 31:15:
Thus says the Lord:
In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping!
Rachel mourns her children,
she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Cease your cries of mourning, wipe the tears from your eyes.
The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward, says the Lord.
There is hope for your future!
Retreat facilitator Patricia Bevan, after having worked with Rachel’s Vineyard in New York, introduced the ministry to Trinidad and Tobago in October 2014 with the “blessing” of then Archbishop Joseph Harris and support of the Eternal Light Community. She told Catholic News the retreat is “not so much on counselling”, but a spiritual and psychological journey for healing. Participants, she said, are persons who have been in pain and “suffering”.
“Some can’t even recognise what is causing the pain. It’s taboo and when a woman has an abortion very often there is no time for grief. It’s done in grief and silence. The emotions are suppressed. You don’t want to think about it…but it rises to the surface at times,” Bevan said.
Bevan said that women who had an abortion experience difficulty sleeping, a deep sense of sadness, shame, difficulty in relationships, lose their sense of trust and some also engage in substance abuse and thoughts of suicide. Very often, she said, persons do not “pinpoint” those effects of an abortion.
Spiritual exercises focusing on God’s love
The weekend retreats are held at the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Retreat Centre, Caroni. It is led by a team comprising a psychologist, priest or lay minister with eight to ten participants.
The retreat is based on scriptural exercises that gets to the “root” of recognising and admitting that an abortion was done.
“So it’s simply for that person to identify ‘Why did I think this was my only solution?’. Then we move on from there into the different scriptural exercises that will take them to that healing process. To move them to forgiving themselves because they have already been forgiven by God…through naming the baby or babies.”
The retreats are usually very emotional and intense, according to Bevan.
“…you realise this pain…I’m not the only one feeling pain and we draw from each other with the nurturing support of the team… in that environment no one is judging you. All they are doing is supporting you. There’s a lot of tears,” Bevan said.
Bevan has observed initially participants don’t want to make eye contact with others “and if you give them a chance, they may run away….But we are trained to handle that,” she said.
The retreat commences Friday evening from 7 p.m. and ends Sunday with a Memorial Service and Mass of Resurrection. “Babies” are blessed during the Mass. “And by the time we get to that you see the participants are standing tall…. It’s amazing because you see a complete transformation and that is a healing process….”
Bevan said while she’s aware that there is another local organisation that focuses on support and healing after abortion, their sessions are Bible focused and it is not a weekend retreat. However, she told Catholic News there is always a need to address abortion because so many women have had abortions and are suffering.
“Part of the difficulty is getting them to understand to take the chance and come….anybody coming in is with strict confidentiality….And I have never heard or anybody said that anyone has suffered the fact that somebody went out and spoke about it because I think it is something sacred …and that sense of confidentiality is very important,” she stressed.
Men and grandparents suffer too
The retreat sees women and men who are “suffering” from after abortion.
“We see in instances where men were responsible for an abortion and they are hurting too. And the hurt for men is just as deep because a man is supposed to be the protector and the provider and when there is an abortion you did not protect that baby. You did not protect your child. So, the trauma from that abortion can be just as extensive,” Bevan said.
She told Catholic News on having grandparents in her weekend retreats in New York to further highlight the “deep” traumatic effects of abortion on the family.
To this end Bevan reiterated the importance of inviting family members and loved ones to attend the Memorial Mass on Sunday to mark the “beginning” of healing within the family.
“The whole idea is we going to lay the child to rest in Jesus. If a baby dies the whole village is supportive of that mother, they share the grief…” she explained.
Rachel’s Vineyard strictly respects your confidentiality and privacy. If you or a friend are hurting, please contact the Eternal Light Community at 645-0525 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact Patricia Bevan at email@example.com or by phone at 764-8888. You can also visit their website at rachelsvineyard.org.
By Kaelanne Jordan