By Sr. Natalie Sayde Salameh, MSCL
I attended and participated in a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA on Friday, November 1st through the 3rd. Rachel’s Vineyard was founded by Dr. Theresa Burke, co-author of Forbidden Grief, to provide a safe place for women and men to express, release, and reconcile painful post-abortive emotions and to begin the process of restoration, renewal and healing.
I, personally, am not post-abortive, however, God stirred my heart to attend one of these retreats to understand the pain of abortion and its devastating effects on the human person, in order to be better formed to help our Maronite women and men suffering from the pain of abortion. I can honestly say, after having attended this retreat with six other women and one gentleman, that the pain of abortion goes so much deeper than anyone can ever imagine, and touches some horrendous traumas and painful memories.
We are ever so good in our society at brushing aside abortion as simply “another medical procedure” or an “emptying of the contents of the uterus”, or “no big deal, just get on with your life”, but I can assure you, after attending this weekend and attentively listening to each retreat participant and their deep post-abortive grief, that this is simply not the truth.
The shroud of darkness and silence that penetrates our culture regarding abortion is overwhelming. Very few open up about their painful trauma with abortion and are content to sweep it under the carpet. However, the undealt-with trauma of abortion, has many negative effects on one’s spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being. Dr. Burke’s book helps in understanding this, and I personally understood this first-hand during my retreat experience.
All of us retreat participants, including the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat facilitators and team, started on Friday night as complete strangers, but by Sunday afternoon, we were a beautiful family. Most of the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat team are post-abortive women themselves who completed their weekends in years past and now want to help others heal from post-abortive grief, as they themselves did. They were a beautiful, attentive and caring team, working alongside a professional therapist, and a Priest from the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
During the course of the weekend, I witnessed powerful miraculous transformations. Women who had once been engulfed and plagued by shame, guilt, self-loathing and unforgiveness, tasted and experienced the healing mercy of God and were transfigured by it. I was humbled by the experience and what I was able to witness. All I could do was praise God for the ocean of His great mercy and the power of His grace which transforms all darkness into light.
Not only were the retreat participants able to reconcile with God over the course of the weekend, they were able to reconcile inwardly with themselves and with their unborn children in Heaven, and were given countless opportunities to honor the dignity and memory of their unborn children.
On a personal note, this retreat was life-changing for me and I am not even post-abortive. Imagine what a retreat like this can do for those women and men in our communities who are struggling with post-abortive grief, but are too ashamed to come forward and break their silence. A Rachel’s Vineyard retreat is a safe, confidential space to process and heal from grief. Jesus came to liberate us, to set us free from the sins that torment us, and Rachel’s Vineyard is an opportunity to be liberated from what many falsely call “the unforgiveable sin”. There is, of course, no sin that God cannot forgive, on the contrary, He longs to forgive us and set us free.
To find a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat near you, please see their website https://rachelsvineyard.org this is how I found the retreat I attended in Stockbridge, MA or call the national line on 877-467-3463.
 Dr. Theresa Burke with Dr. David Reardon, 2002, “Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion”, Acorn Press.