Photo: Felix Carroll
"This Shrine of the Holy Innocents will honor the souls of all children whose lives have been lost, through abortion, miscarriage, still birth, and young death," explained Fr. Anthony, in a tour of the future shrine following Mass. "This will be a sacred place that will provide a place for prayer and healing for parents and others who have been touched by the loss of a child."
"God can do anything," says Nicole Peck, holding her adopted son John Paul. "God uses us, and He has so blessed me in responding to Him, and I really think that my son John Paul is a blessing because I cooperated with God."
"I think sometimes, from our mistakes in life, we look at ourselves as nothing but a lump of coal," says Dr. Bryan Thatcher. "How could God love us? Yet from the heat ands the pain and the struggles of life, God takes that carbon and that lump of coal and presses it down and converts it into a beautiful diamond, which is what we are in God's eyes."
"Let us all remember that some babies die by chance; no baby should die by choice," says Maureen Digan.
A post-abortive mom. A couple whose young son died. A man who's learned the value of suffering. A priest determined to honor the holy innocents.
These were the featured speakers at the Retreat for Life on Saturday, July 18, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., a retreat that Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, said would promote the sanctity of life and focus "not on politics, but on persons."
Now, about those persons:
In her talk, Nicole Peck focused on two people: the child she aborted when she was a confused teen, and the person she is today, a pro-life speaker who turned to God and now bears witness to His mercy.
In their talk, Bob and Maureen Digan focused on three people: their severely handicapped son Bobby who died when he was 18, and their own lives, which have been marked by continual reassurances to trust in Christ.
In his talk, Dr. Bryan Thatcher focused on the need to respect life at all stages of human development.
And in his talk, Fr. Anthony focused on children whose lives have been lost through abortion, miscarriage, still birth, or young death, and how the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge plan to honor their souls through the Shrine of the Holy Innocents, planned for the lower level of Eden Hill's new Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine.
"So many of us have experienced the loss of a child or know someone who has lost a child through abortion, miscarriage, stillborn, little infants who die suddenly," Fr. Anthony said. "It's very devastating. This is the reason for the Shrine of the Holy Innocents: to provide healing, hope, and mercy to those who have lost a child. This is something that the Lord has put on my heart for us to do, to combine the message of The Divine Mercy with pro-life. It seems like God keeps leading the Shrine in this area."
'Called to Be Here'
It seems God was also leading a woman named Margaret. She was one of about 40 people who attended the morning talks. More than 100 celebrated the 2 p.m. Mass at the Mother of Mercy Shrine, a Mass dedicated to the holy innocents.
"I had heard about the retreat only last night," said Margaret, from upstate New York. "I had had an abortion years ago. I felt called to be here today because I know the Shrine is a place where I can find peace and mercy through the sacraments of the Church."
The Shrine's confessional doors themselves give testament to that. They are etched with the words of Jesus to St. Faustina: "The greater the sinner, the greater the right to My mercy" (Diary of St. Faustina, 723).
"I learned, after many years of pain, that you cannot experience healing unless you seek forgiveness and reconciliation from God — and He is a God of mercy who loves us," said Ms. Peck of Connecticut, a regional coordinator for Silent No More. In her witness, she spoke of when she got pregnant at the age of 15, back in 1978. "I thought, 'This baby is going to ruin my dreams,'" she said. In a decision that would haunt her, she gathered $300 from her savings, went to a doctor, and aborted her baby.
"In church, back in 1978,we didn't hear abortion was wrong," she said. "I never heard that premarital sex was wrong. We were not formed in the faith. We were not educated in God's laws and how those laws were established to protect us.
"Make sure the kids in your life know and understand these things," she urged.
About these things, she indeed is silent no more. Neither is Dr. Thatcher, founder of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM), an apostolate of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. He, too, described how careless and uninformed about life issues he once was. As a pre-med student, approached by a family member about the issue of abortion, he off-handedly said a fetus is "nothing but a ball of tissues."
"Years later, when I was preparing the book Rachel, Weep No More, about how Divine Mercy can heal the effects of abortion, I felt like my heart was being ripped to pieces," Dr. Thatcher said. "God had felt it was time for me to understand what was happening, how sacred life is."
But life is also a valley of tears, he said. "We all experience suffering in our lives, in our families, and through our own brokenness," he said. "But St. Faustina writes, 'Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering loves becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love'" (Diary, 57).
Maureen Digan of Lee, Mass., whose healing from lymphedema in 1981 led to the beatification of Sr. Faustina in 1993, spoke of her own suffering. When her son Bobby was born in 1973, doctors urged her and her husband Bob to institutionalize him because of his severe brain damage. They refused. Bobby defied the odds. He lived 18 years.
"Before he died," said Maureen, "he told us he knew God was going to send His Son Jesus to take him to heaven soon, and he told us to not be afraid and not to cry 'because I'm not afraid. Who would be afraid to go to Jesus?'
"God gave us Bobby for a short time," Maureen said, "but he gave us Bobby for a special reason. We learned so much love from Bobby," Maureen said.
Witnesses to God's Mercy
Bob Digan then spoke, giving both good news and bad news. The bad news first: We live in an age of "spiritual warfare, hot and heavy," he said. Abortion, euthanasia, and stem-cell research are signs of how "the devil is trying to destroy us. He is influencing good people" to make dire choices.
But the good news, he said, is that God is aware of what's going on. "So He is giving us tremendous people to be witnesses of this reality of His love for us," he said.
"Everyone of us has this exalted dignity," he said. "We are all sons and daughters of the Merciful Father."
Learn more about the Marians' plans for the Shrine of the Holy Innocents.