Rachel's Vineyard: A ministry of healing - Catholic Courier

Rachel’s Vineyard: A ministry of healing

Rachel’s Vineyard leaders to visit Rochester Nov. 4-5
From psychologist Theresa Burke’s perspective, the finality of aborting a fetus also represents a beginning — one that can involve many years of despair for the mother.

“People say they’re fine for years, perfectly at peace. Then some event will come along and trigger a reaction — the birth of a wanted child, menopause, a death. It can be very debilitating, very painful,” said Burke, who is one of the country’s top experts on the study of abortion and psychology. “Fifty percent of women don’t reveal that they even had an abortion. They repress their feelings for many years and when the feelings surface, that can create many problems.”

Burke contends that the effects of abortion are strongly linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, a syndrome most commonly associated with military combat veterans, where people suffer such deep trauma that they cannot cope with it in a normal manner. She cites alcohol abuse, eating disorders, anxiety and depression as signs of these repressed feelings.

Burke is a pioneer in the growth of Project Rachel, an international movement that offers support and healing for people experiencing post-abortion trauma. Folks in the Rochester Diocese will get to hear Burke’s views in person when she and her husband, Kevin, make a public presentation Thursday, Nov. 4, at St. Anne Church, 1600 Mount Hope Ave., Rochester.

The lecture, “Pregnancy, Loss and Unresolved Grief — A Time for Healing,” will take place at 7 p.m. It will give an overview of Project Rachel as well as Rachel’s Vineyard — the retreats begun by Theresa Burke in 1995 for women and men affected by abortion. Father James Hewes, diocesan director of Project Rachel, said the Burkes’ talk will appeal to a wide range of people — Stephen Ministers; parish staff members; people with Project Rachel training; and friends or family members of those who have had abortions.

In addition, the Burkes will conduct a daylong training Nov. 5 at the Rochester Academy of Medicine, 1441 East Ave. The session is more clinically oriented and geared toward health professionals. Father Hewes said this component is vital because “therapists don’t know what to do with this issue,” explaining that abortion may end up getting sidestepped during therapy sessions if professionals have a pro-abortion stance or are simply uncomfortable with the subject.

Along with Theresa Burke’s presentations, her husband — a licensed social worker and executive director of Project Rachel — will speak Nov. 4-5 about the effects of abortion on men.

“Often when folks think of post-abortion healing, they think of the women. Some folks don’t recognize that men are suffering, too,” Kevin Burke remarked. He said that unaddressed suffering can lead men to extreme anger, problems in the workplace, alcohol and drug abuse, extramarital affairs and addiction to pornography.

Ministry expands

Rachel’s Vineyard retreats are an outgrowth of Project Rachel, which was founded in the Milwaukee Archdiocese in 1984 by Victoria Thorn. The project involves a network of specially trained therapists, clergy and spiritual directors and offers one-on-one counseling for women who have had abortions, as well as for men. This ecumenical ministry has spread to nearly all 50 states and several countries.

Retreats incorporate Project Rachel into a group setting, and are attended by people grieving losses due not only to abortion, but also from giving babies up for adoption as well as miscarriages. The retreats were launched in the Rochester Diocese in 2000, four years after Project Rachel was established here. The next local Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is due to take place Dec. 3-5 (it will be held at an undisclosed location to protect the confidentiality of those attending.) Approximately 350 retreats are held annually in the U.S. and other countries.

“Rachel’s Vineyard is a beautiful integration of spirituality and psychology,” said Theresa Burke, who wrote the retreat manual and does many retreat-team trainings. She has also written the book Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion (Acorn Books, 2002), with David C. Reardon.

The Burkes, residents of King of Prussia, Pa., have been married 19 years and have five children, ages 5-18. Father Hewes said that Theresa Burke’s expertise in psychology, along with her tireless efforts, make her an invaluable figure in the Project Rachel movement.

“I think people (in Rochester) will be enthralled to hear her,” Father Hewes said.

Local effort is solid

The Burkes’ early November appearances will mark their first trip to the Rochester Diocese. However, Theresa Burke said she’s familiar with several people connected with local Project Rachel efforts — particularly Father Hewes, who has served as Project Rachel’s diocesan director since its local inception eight years ago. He is also the pastor of St. John the Evangelist/St. Patrick in Clyde and Savannah, Wayne County.

“Father Jim is fantastic,” Theresa Burke said, further noting that Rochester ranks high with its level of effort toward Project Rachel: “They have a good program and they’re continually working on it.”

The Burkes’ trip to Rochester is being sponsored by Project Rachel in conjunction with diocesan Catholic Charities. Father Hewes said Project Rachel enjoys a strong partnership with Catholic Charities’ Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator, and that the project also benefits from the diocesan Thanks Giving Appeal and Partners in Faith campaign.

“We couldn’t exist without Jann and the diocesan support,” Father Hewes said. He also noted that St. Anne Parish, host for the Nov. 4 event, designated 5 percent of its Partners in Faith allotment to Project Rachel and that the parish’s Knights of Columbus council is a consistent sponsor as well.

Father Hewes said approximately 150 people are trained to provide one-on-one support and referrals through Rochester’s Project Rachel. Although he estimates that the project serves 35 women per year, he said the target group — women who have had abortions — is a tough one to reach and that Project Rachel’s effort need to be continually publicized.

He further stated that because Rochester’s Project Rachel is spearheaded by Catholics, it’s important for women served by the project to know they are welcomed. Otherwise, Father Hewes remarked, “They’ll think, ‘I can’t talk in the pro-life community or in the church; I might feel condemnation.'”

EDITORS’ NOTE: For information about the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat Dec. 3-5, or to contact Project Rachel, call the confidential toll-free number, 888/972-2435; e-mail fhewes@dor.org; or visit www.ggw.org/ProjectRachel. For details about Theresa and Kevin Burke’s visit to Rochester, call 585/328-3228, ext. 1323.

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