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Rachel's Vineyard

A voice was heard … of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not.  Thus saith the Lord: Let thy voice cease from weeping and thy eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, saith the Lord.

 – Jeremiah 31:15-16


Rachel’s Vineyard begins to bear fruit in central Wisconsin

By Joseph O’Brien

Staff Writer, Catholic Times
originally run April 21, 2011 - reprinted by permission
photo credit, Lisa Sommers, reprinted by permission

STEVENS POINT – Since 1973, the year that made the horror of abortion legal, the U.S. has been tearing itself apart in a war to see the ruling overturned. While there have been some important pro-life legal victories, the rhetorical war over the fate of the unborn continues. The pro-abortion side accuses the pro-life movement of ignoring the women’s rights; the pro-life side asserts the pro-abortion side lacks compassion for the unborn.  

According to Lisa Sommers, though, there’s one group in danger of being marginalized by both sides.

“There is a huge need for people to reach out to post-abortive persons,” she said. “These people are falling through the cracks.”

A member of St. Peter Parish, Stevens Point, Sommers recently announced that she’s opened a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat site for central Wisconsin at the Sacred Heart Convent of the Felician Sisters in Polonia. The program is the only one in the Diocese of La Crosse and will serve most of central and northern Wisconsin. According to Sommers, the next closest sites are in Oshkosh, Madison and Minneapolis.  

The program is part of the internationally renowned Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, headquartered in King of Prussia, Pa. Founded in 1995 by Catholic psychologist Theresa Burke, Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, Inc. is the result of her work in post-abortion trauma healing. Growing from 17 retreats in 1998, Rachel’s Vineyard sponsors more than 700 retreats annually in 47 states and 25 countries.


A sore need

Through her involvement with the pro-life movement, Sommers said she first recognized the need for post-abortive healing ministry.

“When I started looking at this ministry, I didn’t know where I wanted to go with it,” she said “I felt there was a huge gap of misunderstanding, so that millions of women and men who are suffering because of abortion have not had anyone to turn to, no one who understands.”

Pointing to the generally accepted number of 55 million abortions since the Roe v. Wade ruling, Sommers said the U.S. has become what she calls “a post-abortive society.”

“The abortion culture has permeated every aspect of our lives whether we know it or not,” she said. “There are layers and layers of effects that abortion has had on our society and many of them we haven't even begun to understand.”

Since announcing the opening of the retreat site, Sommers has been contacted by 24 individuals wanting to know more about the retreats. As she assembles her retreat team, including a Catholic priest and professional counselor – both yet to be named – Sommers said she hopes to have the first retreat in October.

If nothing else, the search for healing among these two dozen individuals – many Sommers knows personally – have convinced her of the great need for the program – especially considering the long list of symptoms that those who suffer from post-abortion syndrome can exhibit.

“Behaviors that people have been engaging in,” she said, “to cope with their grief and guilt include eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, chronic lying, shoplifting, shopping addiction, gambling addiction, financial self-sabotage, suicide attempts, physical self-mutilation, depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorders, sexual addictions, promiscuity, infidelity, divorce, abandonment of their living children, getting into physically violent or sexually abusive relationships, embezzling, and other thefts.”


Healing retreat

A typical Rachel’s Vineyard retreat takes place over a weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, Sommers said. The retreat includes multi-sensory exercises, she said, which include readings from the Gospel that show Christ’s healing powers.

“There’s a meditation on each exercise and scripture reading,” she said. “Each exercise has a reenactment which gives participants a chance to do something that would involve different senses.”

There’s also a sacramental component, Sommers said, at the core of the retreat, including confession and the Eucharist.

“The most important thing is the sacrament of reconciliation on Saturday evening after the participants have had a chance to do the lion’s share of their grief work,” she said. “That’s the crux of the weekend really – being able to sacramentally reconcile themselves with God. ... Some people confess their abortion hundreds of times to themselves and others, but they never feel forgiven because they’re blocking it, and not accepting the forgiveness. The sacrament helps them achieve this forgiveness.”


Grief and memory

The high point of the retreat, Sommers said, occurs on Sunday with Mass and a memorial service for the child killed by abortion.

“The memorial service is a healthy way to dignify the memory of their child,” she said.  “It respects the dignity of the life of the child and the parenthood of the person grieving and their right to grieve that child. Even if they participated in the death of that child, they learn that they still have a right to grieve for that child.”

Non-Catholics, Sommers said, also experience the retreat’s benefits.

“We find the common ground among religions,” she said, “and work with a person to help choose the good rather than negative coping methods.”

Sommers said she’s confident that Eucharistic adoration will also be part of the retreat – especially with the enthusiastic help of program volunteers and supporters.

“The response to the program has been phenomenal,” she said. “There’s been an overwhelming outpouring of community support and people who want to volunteer and get involved in the ministry itself.”

Thank you to Joseph O'Brien for his permission to share the above article with West Central Wisconsin Catholic readers.