Building a Culture of Life Together
6/1/2013Walter Sánchez Silva and Columbia staff
Each year, the Knights of Columbus commemorates the Day of Prayer for the Unborn Child on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. This international celebration, however, is not limited to the Knights. In 1998, the government of Argentina officially recognized the day as a secular memorial, and other Latin American countries followed. In 2002, the Peruvian Congress passed Law No. 27654, which established the Day of the Unborn as a national holiday.
This year, Archbishop José Antonio Eguren of Piura, president of the Peruvian bishops’ Committee on the Family and the Defense of Life, invited Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel and the Milwaukee-based National Office for Reconciliation and Post-Abortion Healing, to participate. Thorn took part in pro-life events surrounding the celebration of the Day of the Unborn Child in Piura, a city in northern Peru, and helped the local Church establish an outreach to those who have suffered from abortion.
‘HEALING AND HOPE’
Project Rachel, which Thorn established in 1984 in response to the U.S. bishops’ pastoral plan for pro-life activities, is a network of healing composed of specially trained spiritual advisors, mental health professionals and others who work together to care for women and men who have been touched by an abortion loss.
The Supreme Council has supported Thorn’s work over the years and has collaborated with her on conferences and other projects (see sidebar). “The Knights have been incredibly supportive of the work of Project Rachel, and I am very grateful for their assistance,” said Thorn, whose husband, Bill, is a member of Bishop Leo J. Brust Council 3702 in Milwaukee.
In the past three decades, Thorn has visited 24 countries, training caregivers who have enabled those who have suffered from abortion to grieve, receive forgiveness and find peace. When Archbishop Eguren learned about the work of Project Rachel, he invited Thorn to visit his archdiocese.
Although Peru is a Catholic country that recognizes the right to life from conception onward, illegal abortions still occur. Archbishop Eguren has seen that post-abortive women often experience devastating emotional and spiritual suffering. “For them, I wanted to offer a program of healing and hope to announce to them in their pain the love of God for his children,” he said.
“I think the archbishop understands as a confessor which happens every place in the world that I go that this is an enormous issue in terms of the women and the men who are touched by it,” Thorn said. “That pain in a mother’s heart is a soul wound, and it needs the attention of the Church.”
Thorn facilitated a training seminar for approximately 70 people at Holy Sacrament Parish in Piura during three consecutive mornings, April 8-10. The diverse group of clergy and laypeople will make up a referral network to provide spiritual and psychological support to those who have been affected by abortion.
During the seminar, Thorn explained that the process of healing and reconciliation for women who have suffered an abortion begins when others “listen with the heart.” She added, “When they are ready, they will be able to confront the anger that they feel against other persons and, with God’s grace, forgive them.”
Women who have had an abortion often judge themselves harshly, and this is an obstacle to God’s grace, Thorn explained. “They cling to their pain as a form of punishment, and they fear that if they are healed and feel well again, they will in some way forget their babies,” she said.
In addition to leading the seminar, Thorn also delivered a public address April 10 to an audience of 600 people filling an auditorium at the National University of Piura.
A FESTIVAL OF LIFE
Just as the Church’s celebration of the Annunciation was transferred this year to April 8, after the Easter octave, many of the events associated with this year’s Day of the Unborn Child took place in April. The Project Rachel training was just one component in a week filled with pro-life events in Piura.
On Saturday, April 6, approximately 40,000 people turned out for a pro-life march in Piura, one of many similar events throughout Peru. The march began simultaneously in four different parts of the city, met in the emblematic Grau Square and continued on to the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel for a festival. People of all ages, including many civic representatives, joined together for the celebration, which included music and presentations.
Hundreds of pregnant mothers were invited to sit in the front and were given either pink or blue t-shirts. They were also given ceramic figures of Baby Jesus, which were made by women at Rioseco Prison as a sign of support.
“It is absolutely necessary to care for, defend and love life,” said Archbishop Eguren in remarks to the crowd. “The family receives the gift of children and … is called to live faithful love, which children need to learn,” he added, before going into the crowd to bless women and their unborn children.
Other pro-life events took place in the days that followed, including speeches, prayer services, parades and civic gatherings.
The joyful atmosphere of the festival and of a pro-life parade, which took place the next day and included groups of young children marching, was an inspiration to Thorn.
“I saw something there that I don’t see in the United States,” said Thorn. “Where do we celebrate pregnant women? Where do we bless them in public? Where do we celebrate that innocence of childhood?”
Thorn said she was also moved when people filled the cathedral throughout the day April 11 to adore the Blessed Sacrament and pray for life.
The annual pro-life events in Piura and the Project Rachel training demonstrated that Catholics in the Americas can learn from each other and collaborate in the cause for life. And they highlighted the twofold task of building a culture of life and fighting against the culture of death.
On the one hand, the celebration of the Day of the Unborn Child in Peru emphasized the importance of rejoicing in the gift of life and not just fighting against the evil of abortion.
“This day is a wonderful occasion for all Peruvians to celebrate the gift of human life and commit to rediscovering it in all its beauty,” explained Archbishop Eguren. “If we want a culture of peace, it begins in the womb loving and caring for the unborn child, the smallest and most defenseless member of the human family.”
Upon returning to the United States, Thorn suggested that local K of C councils and parishes consider organizing similar events during the summer. She noted that such events could be presented as simply pro-life, rather than anti-abortion, and would complement the annual March for Life in January.
“I think that changes the tenor of the discussion,” Thorn said. “This is just a celebration of life, and the willingness to enter into the discussion about the value of life is important.”
Catholics in Peru, meanwhile, increasingly see the need to address the pain of abortion and the push to legalize it. While Peru’s constitution recognizes the right to life from conception, the government receives heavy pressure to legalize abortion from nongovernmental organizations based in North America and Europe. According to Archbishop Eguren, those outside Latin America can help prevent the spread of abortion there “with their prayers, but also with their bold action to fight the battle for life and family in their countries.”
With Project Rachel, the introduction of a post-abortion healing ministry in Peru has also helped to strengthen the local Church’s “pastoral voice” and fill an important need.
“The Church has a prophetic voice regarding the sacredness of human life and the evil of abortion,” Thorn explained. “But we also have a pastoral voice, which says if you come to the Father of Mercies with a repentant heart, he is waiting.”
WALTER SÁNCHEZ SILVA is a reporter with ACI Prensa, a Catholic news agency that was founded in Lima, Peru, in 1980.