FORT WAYNE — Allison Sturm, Project Rachel ministry coordinator of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, will be the first to tell you that she is passionately pro-life. But over the past several years she has expanded that passion to include a deep compassion for those women and men who not only may find themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation but those who suffer from the wounds of abortion as well.
It began four years ago when Sturm was called to the Project Rachel ministry. “I was challenged to go outside my comfort zone,” she says of her need to understand why abortion was still the choice of so many when the physical reality of the procedure is painfully obvious.
That first year Sturm spent much of her time researching abortion and perusing pro-life and post abortion websites. She attended March for Life events and stayed to listen to the poignant stories of the Silent No More witnesses. “I saw a different side of their pain,” says Sturm.
Establishing the Project Rachel ministry, the post-abortion reconciliation program that offers hope and healing for those suffering from the pain of abortion and its aftermath, in the diocese presented some challenges, which Sturm took in stride. She at once developed a Project Rachel training program with a research based training manual for volunteers who were interested in companioning those in need, and in 2013 offered three three-hour sessions in Fort Wayne and South Bend. Seventeen individuals have been trained as volunteer companions to respond to post abortive men and women in need of help.
As Sturm fielded calls from the confidential dedicated toll free number and email she recognized a common theme to the grief she explored with each caller: “They didn’t have anyone close to them they felt they could go to,” says Sturm, adding that she heard the women say “they felt alone.”
“More than half said they would have kept the baby if they had had someone to support them,” Sturm notes.
This year, Sturm reports that the ministry has not had many calls for help. “It’s frustrating, because I know they’re out there,” she says. So, in an attempt to better reach those in need, she went straight to her source — prayer. As she spent time with God she soon realized that those who feel shame and judgment about an abortion would most likely keep it secret. “They wouldn’t seek support because they think they will be condemned,” she says, determined to find a way to educate others about compassionate support.
To that end, Sturm has developed a 30-minute presentation titled “You Can be Both Passionately Pro-life and Compassionate Towards Those Suffering from the Wounds of Abortion” that seeks to educate audiences that she hopes will include high school and college students, teachers, Catholics in the pews and special interest groups, on pro-life issues as well as understanding the importance of showing compassion to men and women in crisis pregnancy situations or to those who suffer the aftermath of abortion. “Pro-lifers can come to the talk and see the other side,” says Sturm, adding, “People generally identify the Catholic Church with its strong pro-life stand, but few seem to understand the Church’s teaching on mercy and forgiveness.”
After sending letters of intent to all parishes of the diocese, Sturm is scheduled to speak at several parishes in the diocese and college campuses.
Her talk begins by asking the audience if they have ever done anything that they regret. She speaks to the pain of holding a secret regret and how seeking support can change lives. “Pain,” she says, “that is not transformed is transmitted.” She notes that without healing support, not only the lives of the men and women who have experienced an abortion are negatively affected, but also the lives of friends and relatives.
During her talk, Sturm encourages each audience member to think of healing and mercy. She reminds them that most would only approach another for support if they knew they would be met with compassion rather than judgment. “It starts with compassion,” she says.
Sturm hopes that her presentations will raise awareness on how to talk to someone with compassion, as Jesus would have it. “We must continue sharing the truth about abortion, but when we speak the truth in charity, we may be seen as someone who is caring, approachable and trustworthy,” she says.
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