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Like many others, I have been looking forward to the Papal Mass in St. Peter's Square as part of the Year of Faith's "Celebration of Evangelium Vitae: Faithful to Life," a two-day celebration of Pope Blessed John Paul II's encyclical on the Gospel of Life. As I began to wonder what message Pope Francis might deliver on June 16 at his first papal Mass dedicated to the cause of life, my mind drifted back to a muggy day in St. Louis, MO fourteen years ago.
I was part of a pro-life prayer and witness walk across the country during my summer college break.While we were out for dinner at a pub one night, I went to the bar to refill my drink and accidentally bumped into a woman.When I apologized, she asked me about our group. At my reply, her indignation was apparent: "What do a bunch of Catholic college kids know about abortion? Have you ever had one?" I admitted that I hadn't and didn't know anyone who had. She said, "Well, it's easy to preach about something you don't know anything about. But until you've walked in a woman's shoes, you won't understand."
Once I admitted that it probably did seem like I thought I had all the answers, and that I had no first-hand knowledge of what an abortion is like, "Louise" opened up to me and told me she'd had three abortions over the course of two long and difficult relationships.
I'll never forget the despondency in her voice as she gripped her half-empty beer glass and asked, "Who's going to marry me now?" It broke my heart to hear her say that despite having a good career, many friends, and an apartment in the city, she still felt unlovable and unworthy because of her past. Shame and guilt kept her from having any hope of finding love and getting married.
I listened and told "Louise" that God loved her, and that he could forgive anything. Although we never spoke again, she opened my eyes to the wound that abortion inflicts on a woman's heart and soul.
Pope Blessed John Paul II recognized this wound by including a "special word to women who have had an abortion" in Evangelium Vitae (no. 99). He encouraged them to trust in God's mercy, promising them hope, peace and healing, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation.
The Year of Faith event in Rome will celebrate, affirm, and encourage all those who sacrifice time and energy tending to the needs of those who are elderly, disabled, sick, unborn, or dying, or to those who suffer in any way. Evangelium Vitae's special words to post-abortive women remind us that it is also vital for advocates of the Gospel of Life to reach out in love and support to post-abortive women and all those affected by abortion.
As pilgrims from across the world gather with Pope Francis for what he called "a special moment especially for those who care about the defense of the sanctity of human life," may we unite with them in prayer and remember the special needs of women who have experienced an abortion. Let us pray that we might see Christ in them, lovingly offer them hope for relief of their pain and suffering, and bring to them God's special message of mercy, hope and healing.
someone you know has been affected by abortion, she (or he) can find help and a
referral to a listening ear and compassionate heart at a local Project Rachel
ministry by visiting www.hopeafterabortion.com.
Mary McClusky is Special Projects Coordinator at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities, go to www.usccb.org/prolife.
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