‘From the Friars’ Daily eLetter: February 17, 2007
Last weekend I was privileged to witness an extraordinary healing of several women. This work of God didn’t happen at a popular Marian shrine or charismatic prayer meeting, but rather in an elegant retreat house almost hidden in a hilly and wooded suburb of Stanford, Connecticut. Despite the wide range of ages, personalities, and cultural backgrounds, the women were one—bonded like blood sisters because they all shared a common affliction. However, the pain they brought with them on Friday evening was replaced with a deep peace by Sunday morning.
The weekend retreat was conceived by Theresa Bonopartis and the Sisters of Life, a religious community dedicated to support the dignity of human life. Theresa was inspired to name the retreat “Entering Canaan,” which refers to the forty year journey of the children of Abraham through the desert and into the Promised Land. Who, you may ask, does this retreat serve? Who is it who journeys so long, and what is the desert they wander through? The answer simply stated is this: The retreat is for women who have suffered the loss of a child through abortion.
Theresa began the Entering Canaan retreat weekend because she knew that women need a quiet, safe, and non-judgmental environment in which to face a fact which follows them like a very dark shadow: one day they decided to take the life of the child within their womb. While some have experienced a certain sadness and anxiety from “day one,” others did not feel any of the symptoms of Post Abortion Syndrome until many years later. For those who suffer from this syndrome, the list is long, yet very familiar: guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, nightmares, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts. Yes, the desert is dry and deep, and the journey very lonely and painful.
Those who participate in the Entering Canaan weekend don’t have to wait long to discover why Theresa Bonopartis believes post-abortive women need healing. She, in fact, is one; she has “been there and back.” It is her own healing which validates her words and the reason why she now spends all of her time in this wonderful work. Theresa will be the first to admit that the retreat weekend is not terribly creative, yet it is re-creative. Avoiding anything which might be dramatic or over emotional, she and the sisters simply use the tools recommended by the Church, namely, silence, prayer, adoration, confession, communion, and fellowship. The Entering Canaan retreat cleanses both mind and soul more like a warm bath than an invigorating shower.
Theresa has told her story on radio and television, and before an almost countless number of audiences. The Catholic Bishops Conference highlighted her testimony in a nationally distributed mailing on pro-life. Little would she know that the secret tragedy of her abortion would one day be known by so many. Yet, it would not be the shame and guilt of the abortion which would send her out on her mission, but rather her dramatic healing. In short, she tells us, “I was healed by the Divine Mercy of God.”
Theresa Bonopartis is no visionary or mystic, yet I believe that she is an apostle on the edge of a work which may one day be akin to Alcoholics Anonymous. She is convinced that we are rapidly developing a post-abortive culture where literally millions of people bear the negative effects of the evil act of abortion. She has proven that not only is the woman deeply wounded, but also the father and the extended family. When Theresa decided one day to tell her grown sons about the abortion she had when she was young, one of her sons said, “Now it all makes sense. I never knew what went wrong—it now all makes sense.”
Entering Canaan isn’t about the politics or the controversy which often surrounds abortion; it’s about healing and hope. Yet this message of healing is not only for women. For this reason, Theresa is also working with the friars to provide retreat days for men affected by abortion. How is it possible one simple retreat can bring years of wandering in a painful desert to an end? The answer is mercy—Divine Mercy. How do I know? I was there.
Fr. Glenn Sudano, CFR
Most Blessed Sacrament Friary, Newark, NJ