Priest recalls powerful retreat for abuse victims

Fr. Michael Shields


“It is a pain that talking about doesn’t get at because it is so deep.”

This is how Dr. Theresa Burke describes the impact of abuse in a person.

I was blessed and deeply, emotionally challenged to be on a retreat in Pennsylvania at the end of March. The retreat dealt with the degradation and violence of emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse.

Dr. Burke is the author for the healing retreats called “Rachel’s Vineyard” for women who have had an abortion. For the past seven years, the program has also provided additional healing retreats for men and women who have suffered different forms of abuse.

I have been on many retreats and have seen much healing and much pain. I have never in my life, though, seen such hurt and at the same time witnessed how Jesus Christ, through prayer, support and Scripture meditations, brought healing to men and women.

I heard the horror of childhood abuse and watched as each person, faithfully and with encouragement from others, opened to the deep place of secret, shame and guilt. I am still praying for each person from the retreat. I have been given an awakening to the deep burden abuse stamps on the soul.

In serving as a priest in Russia, I have also seen this kind of abuse and wondered what could we bring to these people who have such deep pain?

I attended the retreat to see if this is an answer to our needs in Russia where 14,000 women die every year from domestic abuse. In my parish in Magadan, many women growing up have been abused by family members.

Promiscuity and subsequent abortions often follow after  women are abused early in life.

The retreat “Grief to Grace” is growing slowly in the United States with only one or two gatherings a year so far. But the power of these occasions brings a new beginning and new hope to those who suffer.

To be able to say, “I am loved” is the deepest need of every human being. Those who are abused, though, have a hard time believing this.

I have seen grief, heard stories and witnessed grace. If anyone is interested in this kind of healing they can find out more at the retreat Web site,

“This retreat is a journey into the heart of suffering,” the Web site explains. “It is a passage of surrender into the cross of our own afflictions. It is a voyage directly into the outstretched arms of God himself. Jesus has removed the barrier that has separated us from the almighty ‘I AM.’ The curtain has been torn and there is no longer any divide between God and his chosen people. He invites us to learn who we really are. He welcomes us. He longs to comfort us. He encourages us to come close to him, and thereby discover our own true selves. His mission is a cry for justice, until all forms of violence are conquered through the power of Love. He invites us to new life!”

The retreat manual has received both the nihil obstate and imprimatur.

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.

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