By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — As the respect for life battle continues in this country a powerful new program in Fort Wayne offers hope for healing the broken hearts of those who have been wounded by an abortion experience. Divine Mercy Ministry, named after the divine mercy that Jesus offers all of His children, began in earnest in May of this year.
The nascent ministry initiated by Father Andrew Budzinski, parochial vicar of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, and Father Ben Muhlenkamp, parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, seeks to support post-abortive women and men with a program developed by Bethesda Healing Ministry’s foundress, Judy Schlueter, from Columbus, Ohio. Father Budzinski was chaplain of the Bethesda Ministry during his seminary years and Father Muhlenkamp was also involved in the ministry as a seminarian.
Jackie and Laurie (whose names have been changed to protect their privacy) were instrumental in assisting the priests in establishing this ministry following a Bethesda seminar they attended in Ohio. Jackie, the only non-post abortion participant is facilitator of the group, and Laurie, who is 30-years post abortion and participated in a Bethesda retreat, serves as a compassionate companion to the group members.
The Divine Mercy Ministry group meets twice monthly in a safe and confidential location. And though this group is not a therapy group the participants receive the love and support of companions who walk with them on their journey of healing.
Each meeting, attended by both Fathers Budzinski and Muhlenkamp, begins in a loving environment with a meal provided by the parish nurse, which Laurie says, “speaks of the Eucharist and breaks down walls.” Following the meal, participants gather for an opening prayer and then break open their manuals in earnest.
The ministry manual offers structure for healing and is Scriptural and experiential. To journey with these women it was recommended that Laurie go through the manual herself and even after 30 years, she has found much healing. She says, “Going through the manual made all the pieces of the puzzle come together.” Now she says she is even more excited about what the participants will find and is devoted to the ongoing support the ministry offers.
During the meetings the manual exercises take the participants through a process of self discovery and healing, but Laurie assures that there is “no pressure to share” as each participant takes the time she needs to face her own pain. “We have a love and compassion for these women. We hope to reconcile people who feel separated from Jesus,” she says.
Following the exercises the priests offer Reconciliation to anyone who is interested. “Healing happens by way of the confessional,” says Father Muhlenkamp, adding, “Our eyes are opened and we receive all the graces that come with Confession.” Closing prayer and song usher the meetings to a close.
Jackie, who “carries the phone” that offers the confidential number to call for information about the group, says the women who join the group have seen the Divine Mercy Ministry bulletin ad, been invited by the priests or call her directly. “When I get a call I meet with them before they join the group. It’s on a case-by-case basis.”
Father Muhlenkamp adds, “As a priest, I hear the confessions of women who have had an abortion, sometimes 20 years ago, who have put up walls around the pain. … Sometimes the priest is the first person they’ve told.” He feels this ministry invites these women to begin to seek the healing that only the Lord can give.
Though the culture frequently condemns these women, Father Muhlenkamp says, “Our job as a Church isn’t to judge these women. We as a Church love these women who have experienced an abortion, and we know that abortion hurts women, and so we do everything we can to help prevent them from making the quick solution that will cause long lasting pain in their future.”
The fellowship and caring support of this ministry makes all the difference. Father Muhlenkamp confides, “I have to say, that as a priest, since this group has begun meeting, my heart has been expanded, and I have just wanted to show so much love to these suffering women who have had the courage to come and open their hearts to one another. Their stories have really helped me understand both what leads a woman to have an abortion, and also, what happens in the heart and mind of a woman who has suffered a loss like this.”
Father Muhlenkamp invites those wounded by abortion to this ministry, saying, “Christ’s love can penetrate deeper than your hurt, deeper than your pain. He can penetrate right to the depths of your heart, and can bring about the healing that you so long to experience. This is not a quick process, but I can assure you that from the moment you arrive till the moment you leave you will feel loved and supported. …”
Jackie hopes to reach more women and men as the program continues. She says, “There are so many who suffer and never share this with another living soul. If it’s never addressed it can never heal.”
Father Budzinski adds, “I would like everyone who is suffering the wound of an abortion experience to know — you are not broken beyond repair. You are the beloved daughters and sons of God. And Christ is waiting to offer you healing.”
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