Photo: Felix Carroll
Mourning the Missing
By Chris Sparks (Oct 15, 2013)
To mark the annual 40 Days for Life pro-life campaign that began Sept. 25 and runs through Nov. 3, the following is the second part of a four-part series that looks at the message of Divine Mercy and life issues. In part 2, read about Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, and his ministry to those who've lost a child.
Father Anthony Gramlich, MIC, knows more about how abortion wounds mothers and fathers than you might expect from a man vowed to celibacy. But after leading Rachel's Vineyard retreats at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy since 2006, he's heard plenty of stories.
"They want someone to hear their story, to hear why they made the decision at the time," he explained. "A lot of times they were young. Most of the time, they were forced into the abortion. In 95 to 99 percent of the cases I've heard, they were somehow forced into the abortion, either directly or indirectly, by social pressure or by the culture or siblings, parents, etc. Seventy percent of people who have abortions realize it's wrong. They already know that they did something wrong, but if a person constantly moralizes, it makes them feel more condemned because it's like they already know it's wrong. So many of them — all they want is mercy, they want compassion, they want someone to just listen to them and listen to their story and just be sympathetic of where they're at and then to help them to find the healing that they need."
And Fr. Anthony and his team, which includes a professional counselor as well as post-abortive men and women, do just that.
"The retreat is for anyone that's experienced the loss of a child in their life. Many participants have had a child aborted; some have lost their children to miscarriage or other causes," he explained. "It's to help the person to heal."
For many of the post-abortive parents, "[t]he purpose of the retreat is for them to find reconciliation with God, and with their faith, and with the Church," said Fr. Anthony. "Then they can find reconciliation with themselves, because a lot of them are condemning themselves about what they did, so it's to find that peace, to be able to forgive themselves. Finally, they find reconciliation with others, mainly with their child that they lost, to be able to ask their child for forgiveness, to be able to accept that forgiveness from their child, but then to be able even to forgive others who may have hurt them in the decision process — relatives, parents, siblings, doctors, nurses, counselors, the list just goes on and on. At the center of it, it's all about Divine Mercy. It's not just about a person hearing about Divine Mercy, it's about experiencing Divine Mercy in their lives."
"The message of Divine Mercy is the essence of the retreat. Having it at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy is an added element. Toward the end of the retreat, we recommend to them ways of keeping up their faith. We'll hand out pamphlets and prayer cards on the message of Divine Mercy so that they can learn about the message, they can pray the chaplet, they can really grow in their faith. The healing happens at the Divine Mercy Shrine. They can visit the Shrine any time and go back to that good experience.
"The other thing that we try to recommend is the Shrine of the Holy Innocents, which is located in the lower level of our outdoor shrine. We recommend that they have their children memorialized with these other children because that gives them a place to go to pray for and to their child and to be alone and to really have that positive experience. It was the retreatants who were really asking me to have a place they can go to in order to pray for and to their children. That's basically the way the Shrine of the Holy Innocents started. That's a fruit of Rachel's Vineyard. People will say it was my idea. ... It was the retreatants who really recommended it."
"I have retreatants that say to us on the retreat, 'I can't believe this is at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. I can't believe that I'm having this retreat at this place.' They can just feel the prayers and everything for them."
To learn more about Fr. Anthony's ministry and the Shrine of the Holy Innocents, see here. To learn more about the Church's teaching on the life issues, see Bl. Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
For the first article in the series, see here.