“Thus says the Lord: In Ramah is heard the sound of sobbing, bitter weeping!
Rachel mourns for her children, she refuses to be consoled for her children—they are no more!
“Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of weeping, hold back your tears! There is compensation for your labor … they shall return from the enemy’s land. There is hope for your future … your children shall return to their own territory.”
— Jeremiah 31:15-17
Rachel’s Vineyard is a weekend retreat program designed to help women come to terms with an abortion in their past.
The confidential retreats help in healing the emotional and spiritual wounds of women and men who have had or were involved in past abortions.
Nan Freeman, a parishioner at St. Ann’s in Wilmington who leads a retreat team in the diocese, said recently that it’s often decades later that post-abortive women begin to seek healing for her loss.
“They’ve never told anybody,” Freeman said. The abortion “hasn’t been grieved. Sometimes, it’s just having the courage to tell one other person” that can lead the woman who suffered the loss to get some help.
Freeman said that often the women who attend the retreats have already come to terms with God’s forgiveness.
“People can come to terms with God forgiving them,” Freeman said. “What’s harder to come to terms with is them forgiving themselves. They have a sense of being forgiven but they haven’t let go of the shame. The women who come on retreats carry a lot of shame about their abortion.”
The “absolutely confidential” retreats, Freeman said, provide an environment where women can look at their shame that exists, give it to God and receive his mercy. “There is a renewed connection with the woman herself, with God and with the child she lost,”
Mass, sacraments and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament are offered during the Catholic retreat.
Freeman, a certified Associate Counselor of Mental Health who also counsels families at St. Paul’s Church in Wilmington, said the retreat can help people, who have pushed away painful emotions and face their anger and sadness “to provide the opportunity for healing to come in.”
Men, including those were directly involved in an abortion, those who didn’t participate and found out after the fact and those who want to know what their loved one is going through — can also participate in the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, Freeman said.
In addition to Freeman, the retreat team in the diocese includes Jackie Wilson, a parishioner at St. Helena’s in Wilmington; Sheila Dunne, from St. Patrick’s Parish; and Paula La Penta, St. Edmond’s in Rehoboth.
The diocesan team for Rachel’s Vineyard was revived last year after weekends led by a previous team ended several years ago. Father Ed Fahey, a diocesan health care chaplain, is one of the priests who has assisted at the retreat, Freeman said.
Anyone who wants to be on the team has to take the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat first.
Although not post-abortive, Freeman said, “We’ve all aborted something in our lives. I know what it’s like to abandon myself to God’s mercy.”
She also understands, as the director of Birthright of Delaware in Wilmington, an organization that offers life-affirming support for women facing crisis pregnancies, the “crisis” nature of unexpected pregnancies and how a woman’s choice can be affected by pressure and desperation.
“I have a passion for bringing God’s healing to men and women who have been impacted by abortion either directly or indirectly,” Freeman said.
“I grew up in a pro-life family. My mom, especially, had a strong faith. Her testimony to pro-life was having seven kids.
“Pope John Paul II has been the most influential pope in the work that I do. He put such a value and dignity of each human person,” she said.
“Our call is to recognize every human life has a purpose and mission, every human life, if God wills it, has a right to exist.”
Rachel’s Vineyard retreats reflect Freeman’s passion “to evangelize right here where I am to people who are suffering from an abortion.”
She said she once heard from a retreat participant that “the darkness that has always been with her” after an abortion “went away and it has stayed away.”
• March 14-16 in Georgetown, Del., an interdenominational retreat. For information contact Teresa Bolden at 302-856-4344 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• April 11-13 at Jesus House in Wilmington, a Catholic retreat that includes Mass and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. For information contact Nan Freeman at 302-528-8313 or at email@example.com.