Formation Day at Bethesda Healing Ministry
By Tim Madrid
In a very poignant and touching episode from the Last Supper, the Apostle John leans and rests his head on the chest of Jesus. John is deeply troubled and concerned, so he puts his head next to Christ’s Heart as though he were trying to listen to that Heart, as though he were attempting to find out what that Heart feels, as though he wanted to make his own heart like that of his Lord, abounding with love and forgiveness.
That scene in the Gospel (John 13:25) continually came to my mind as I had the privilege to participate with Bethesda Post-Abortion Healing Ministry at the annual Companion & Seminarian Formation Day. Disciples of Christ listening to His merciful Heart, ready to share that experience of hope with others.
On the weekend of Oct 3rd and 4th, 2008, Julia Shelava, Director of the Project Rachel program for the Archdiocese of Washington DC, and her two assistants Luz Menjivar and Sister Assumption, came to experience the richness and depth of Bethesda’s Companion & Seminarian Formation Day. Prior to the Formation Day, they also joined members of Bethesda Healing Ministry and Becky D’Alesio, representative of Project Rachel in Columbus for a day of prayer and dialogue. Project Rachel carries out tremendous work as a network of counselors and priests to assist those suffering from an abortion. In the Columbus Diocese, Project Rachel refers many of those wounded by abortion to Bethesda to experience God’s forgiveness and healing.
Bethesda strives to be a confidential, safe place providing support, prayer and reconciliation, and spiritual renewal for anyone wounded by the tragedy of abortion. In providing that care for souls we have been blessed with having the support and participation of seminarians and priests from the Pontifical College Josephinum. Our clergy obviously play a crucial role as they bring sacramental forgiveness and spiritual mentoring to those in need, and it is the great joy of Bethesda’s to be able to host the Companion & Seminarian Formation Day to help future priests serve in the vital, yet highly delicate ministry.
Thirty-five participants came for the Formation Day on October 4th, which included talks and presentations on topics related to post-abortion ministry, mass, testimonies from several women who have gone through the healing journey with Bethesda and now serve as Companions for others, and a panel discussion with Q&A. Theresa Shively, the Companion Coordinator for Bethesda, facilitated the day’s events and Fr Dean Mathewson, Bethesda’s Ministry Chaplain, offered advice to the seminarians on how they might incorporate these ideas into their priestly ministry in the future, teaching them how to approach and handle pastoral situations with the heart of Christ, and how to make sure the mercy of God does in fact reach souls. These were priests and future priests once more listening to the heart of Christ.
Nowhere was this more evident than when the Companions gave their testimonies. These women shared with everyone present their heart-rending stories of having made the sorrowful decision to abort their babies, the subsequent grief it caused them, and the effect it had on their lives. They spoke of the painful period - often years - when they struggled and grieved until they finally came to rediscover the love and forgiveness of God. They summoned the courage to start on the difficult journey of healing. They sought to come home to be made whole, to be forgiven. And they were.
There was not a dry eye in the room as these women spoke from the heart.
Afterward, one seminarian commented, “Now I know what my priesthood is for; now I know what it’s all about.” His classmates nearby all agreed and voiced similar sentiments. These seminarians and all those present for the Formation Day sought to make their hearts more like that of Jesus who is meek and humble of heart, like that of Jesus who leaves the ninety-nine sheep in search of the one lost sheep, like that of Jesus who died on the cross to forgive us our sins – even those that grieve us most.
Bethesda is a ministry of compassion and understanding, open to all men and women who have been wounded by abortion. We strive to guide these grieving women and men through a healing process to rediscover forgiveness and love. These two events enabled us to form more people who will guide souls on the path to healing, and helped us to reaffirm our own identity. We pray that all who suffer from the tragedy of abortion may find Bethesda to be a place of comfort and healing in the heart of Christ who offers the invitation to all, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are weary, for I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11-28)
Tim Madrid is Administrator of Bethesda Healing Ministry