AMS teams up with Rachel’s Vineyard to help survivors find healing and forgiveness
Schoenstatt, Germany – United States servicemen and women suffering shame and guilt over procuring an abortion now have access to a new venue for healing and forgiveness—a spiritual retreat facilitated through the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS). The first of its kind for the military was held August 24-26 at the hilltop Religious Retreat Center in Schoenstatt. Members of both the U.S. Army and Air Force took part in the three-day retreat, attending group discussions, private counseling and using prayer as a way of coming to terms with complex and sometimes repressed emotions such as grief, loss and anger in a safe and confidential setting.
The retreat was conducted by a leadership team consisting of His Excellency, the Most Reverend F. Richard Spencer, Episcopal Vicar for Europe and Asia; Father Matthew Pawlikowski, a U.S. Army Chaplain; and Mrs. Julie Enriquez of Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry for healing after abortion. The format, developed by Rachel’s Vineyard, is designed to address issues that abortion survivors commonly suffer, including women who have had abortions as well as their husbands, boyfriends, family members or others involved in, or affected by, the decision to have an abortion.
Bishop Spencer said:
“Sometimes people don’t make the connection between their current life problems and their past abortion simply because they’re in a state of denial. Their denial can last from a few hours to 40 years while they suffer any of a wide range of symptoms such as anxiety, depression or addiction, with the root cause—or at least a large factor—being the abortion. The retreat at Schoenstatt was a beautiful opportunity for women and men who have struggled with the emotional or spiritual pain of an abortion, as well as deaths due to miscarriages, to experience the mercy and compassion of God.”
Since its origins as a therapeutic support group in 1986, Rachel’s Vineyard has grown into a global ministry that conducts more than 700 retreats annually in 47 states and 25 countries, with many new sites in development, including U.S. military communities around the world. The organization is working with the AMS to plan more retreats for military personnel in the future.
Mrs. Enriquez said the need for a ministry surrounding the aftereffects of abortion is especially great in the military because the military lifestyle may, in some cases, promote abortion.
Mrs. Enriquez said:
“An unplanned pregnancy may affect the readiness and mission capability of a woman or couple in the military, and so she may put herself under greater pressure to terminate the pregnancy. Also, the wife of a serviceman may choose to abort her baby due to the deployment of her husband because she doesn’t believe she can go it alone.”
Bishop Spencer said the need is especially timely now, as the military contends with a growing suicide rate approaching one per day.
Bishop Spencer said:
“The connection between abortion and suicide is very real. In fact, the question of how to deal with suicide thoughts was among the issues raised by participants at the retreat this weekend. In my 41 years working within the military community, I have read many of the suicide notes and a common theme in almost every letter I have read talks about shame, guilt and the inability to experience God’s forgiveness—some of the same spiritual difficulties confronting abortion survivors.”
People outside the military who have attended past Rachel’s Vineyard retreats say it has made a big difference in their lives. One father of an aborted baby said:
“I felt not only loss but failure. Through this weekend experience, I was able to regain a sense of self-worth and return to my faith.”
A woman who attended one of the retreats said:
“After my abortion I was broken and desperate for help. I turned to this retreat for assistance. I left feeling like a whole person again. Forgiveness became a reality for me, a feeling I never imagined was possible.”
The AMS was created as an independent archdiocese by Pope John Paul II in 1985 as the only Catholic jurisdiction responsible for endorsing and granting faculties for priests to serve as chaplains in the U.S. military and VA Medical Centers.
AMS-endorsed chaplains serve at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, making the AMS the nation’s only global archdiocese. AMS-endorsed chaplains also serve at 153 VA Medical Centers throughout the U.S.
The AMS service population also includes American Catholic civilians working for the federal government in 134 countries, but currently, due to limited resources, the AMS cannot adequately serve this population.
Worldwide, an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on the AMS to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs.
For more information on the Archdiocese for the Military Services, visit www.milarch.org, the only official Web site for Catholics in the military and for the Cause of Father Vincent Capodanno, M.M.