Nearly three decades after their abortion, Linda and Chuck Raymond found solace through a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.
The Raymonds traveled to Cincinnati in 2004 to attend the retreat, which Linda Raymond described as a “safe and loving environment” where women, men and couples can heal from their past abortions.
A couple of years ago, the Raymonds were invited to be part of a team to bring Rachel’s Vineyard to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. They instantly knew they wanted to be involved in a ministry that would bring others the same kind of healing that they experienced.
In 2021, the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate expanded its Abortion Healing Ministry through the addition of Rachel’s Vineyard, an intensive weekend retreat for women, men and couples. Up to six weeks of follow-up care is offered after the retreat.
The program was founded in the mid-1990s by Catholic psychologist Theresa Burke. The retreat model features a trained team, including a priest and professional therapist, and leads participants “through the critical steps of healing after abortion and helping them encounter the merciful love of Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician,” wrote Cynthia Haehnel, Respect Life Apostolate director, in a letter to pastors introducing the retreat. The programming is rooted in the Catholic faith, but anyone from any religious background — or no religious background at all — is invited to attend.
The ministry compliments two existing programs, Project Rachel and Project Joseph, both of which offer healing and hope to women and men wounded by abortion. All of the ministries offer ongoing support, including a spiritual support group, Bible study, referrals to spiritual directors and priests, and a day of reflection twice a year.
The Respect Life Apostolate also partners with the archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center to provide ongoing spiritual direction to post-abortive men and women. For those who have attended Rachel’s Vineyard, up to six sessions with a professional counselor are available.
Sister Marysia Weber, RSM, who with Haehnel is co-facilitating Rachel’s Vineyard in St. Louis, said that the expansion of the archdiocese’s ministry to post-abortive women and men will help even more people to experience God’s healing mercy.
Sister Marysia, a physician and board-certified psychiatrist, said that Rachel’s Vineyard retreats use creative “Living Scripture Exercises” coupled with therapeutic facilitation and discussion, group activities, prayer and opportunities to celebrate the sacraments.
Nearly one in four women have an abortion by the age of 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that researches abortion among other reproductive health topics. While there are a many circumstances that contribute to abortion, fear is often involved, Sister Marysia said. Having an abortion can lead to other mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, distrust in relationships and fear of intimacy.
“Some will develop flashbacks of the experience, such as going to the clinic, or maybe remembering the food they ate or a song that played that day,” Sister Marysia said. “It reminds them of the abortion and it’s the psyche’s way of saying, ‘I have a hurt here. I need to find a safe space to address these thoughts and feelings that are really the hurt.’”
Healing is a process, not an event, said Sister Marysia. That’s why she sees the Abortion Healing Ministry as a place where the seed for healing is planted. “It’s a safe place to talk about their pain and be a bridge to the truth,” she said. “She doesn’t have to suffer alone, and it’s where healing can begin. They see that God has a unique plan for healing, and the abortion is not the end of the story.”
“The culture looks at suffering as something to get rid of,” she said. “Jesus offered the greatest gift of love: redemption through His own suffering.”
“God’s miracles working”
The year was 1976, three years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal in the United States. Chuck Raymond was a senior in high school and Linda was a freshman at a local junior college when the two discovered that Linda was pregnant.
The Raymonds eventually married in 1981 and had two more children. They put the abortion behind them, suppressing their emotions about it for years.
By 2004, the Raymonds sought out help from Rachel’s Vineyard. It was there that the two began making progress in their healing. In that retreat setting, the couple was able to see Christ’s presence in the midst of their woundedness.
The retreat is an opportunity to recognize the humanity of the child, and to see God’s intense love and forgiveness, Chuck Raymond said. The two have witnessed couples who have reunited, as well as people who have come out of their shells as a result of being able to reflect in a safe and confidential environment.
“The transformation is phenomenal,” Linda Raymond said. “To have a front row seat to their healing, you see God’s miracles working.”
Rachel’s Vineyard is considered the world’s largest ministry for healing after abortion, and to date has helped more than 320,000 women and men globally since its founding. Rachel’s Vineyard is currently offered in 49 states, 70 countries and 15 languages. The ministry was endorsed by St. Teresa of Kolkata and holds an imprimatur from Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia and former St. Louis archbishop.
The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate’s Abortion Healing Ministry provides hope, healing and forgiveness for women, men, couples and families wounded by abortion. Several retreats are planned through 2023. They include:
- Aug. 18, 2022: Abortion Healing Ministry monthly Scripture and support group
- September 16-18, 2022: Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend Retreat (men, women, couples)
- Saturday, March 18, 2023: Rachel’s Vineyard Day of Hope & Healing (men, women, couples)
- Saturday, May 20, 2023: Project Rachel Day of Hope & Healing (women only)
For more information on the Abortion Healing Ministry, call or text (314) 406-0815, email [email protected] or visit www.archstl.org/hope-healing.
Walking with Moms in Need
There are a variety of resources in the St. Louis area for women and men experiencing an unexpected pregnancy. A guide of organizations that offer financial, housing, emotional and/or spiritual support is available at walkingwithmomsstl.com.