February 26, 2010

Speakers encourage teenagers to embrace pro-life service

St. Bartholomew parishioner Kayla McClaine, a Columbus East High School senior, passes out pro-life literature to teenagers during “Keep the Fire Burning,” a pro-life rally she organized for her community service project. Kayla said she hopes the teenagers will share the pro-life information with other young people, which could help save the lives of unborn babies. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

St. Bartholomew parishioner Kayla McClaine, a Columbus East High School senior, passes out pro-life literature to teenagers during “Keep the Fire Burning,” a pro-life rally she organized for her community service project. Kayla said she hopes the teenagers will share the pro-life information with other young people, which could help save the lives of unborn babies. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

COLUMBUS—Pro-life speaker Christine Harrington carefully placed five chairs in a row across the front of the room.

Then she smiled at 25 teenagers participating in “Keep the Fire Burning,” a pro-life youth rally on Jan. 30 at St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus.

The chairs represent her family, Harrington told the young people.

She walked over to the last chair and sat down before sharing her emotional testimonial, often wiping tears from her eyes and pausing to take a deep breath before speaking again.

“Abortion is not a comfortable subject to talk about,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage to be a part of the pro-life movement. I’m here to bring you the face of the reality of abortion. I’m going to take you down a road that is not comfortable. It’s not going to be easy to hear my story. … Whenever I speak in front of young people or to pro-life groups, it’s always very painful because I relive the pain of abortion every time I talk about it.” (Related: Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats are scheduled in March and July)

That pain “never, ever goes away,” Harrington said, even though she has experienced God’s mercy, love and healing grace through the Church’s confidential Rachel’s Vineyard abortion reconciliation ministry.

She is a member of St. John Vianney Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“Every day of my life, I wake up with the pain,” she said. “Every night when I go to bed, I go to bed with the pain. What the pro-choice people don’t tell you is that you will live with that choice—the pain, the shame and the embarrassment—for the rest of your life.”

Twenty-one years ago, Harrington said, she began trying to convince herself that she made the right decision when she chose to have an abortion.

She was a successful Catholic businesswoman in her 30s at the time, but couldn’t talk about her “deep, dark, ugly secret” with anyone except her parents and sister.

“I couldn’t tell people that I was the face of abortion,” Harrington said, even during counseling sessions.

“When you have an abortion, you are then in spiritual conflict and you become detached from God,” she explained. “After I had an abortion, I couldn’t go to church anymore. I quit going to Mass. I couldn’t tell the priest. So I started rationalizing my decision and running away from it all the time. But you can’t justify this decision. It can’t be done. I had a very hard time dealing with abortion so I ate [a lot] to try to cover the pain.”

Eighteen years ago, after experiencing two abortions, she chose life during a third pregnancy and her son, Luke, was born.

“That’s when I truly knew what I had done,” Harrington said. “You cannot have a child and watch your child grow up without thinking about how old your other child would be. As a mother, I was not able to be whole for him because I kept this ugly secret about myself so hidden. There were times that I was emotionally detached from my own son because of the pain that I carried within me. Throughout those years, I kept getting a calling from God to go back to the Church. But I resisted it.”

After 20 years of keeping her painful secret, Harrington finally said yes to God two years ago and spoke with a priest about her abortion experiences. He encouraged her to participate in the Rachel’s Vineyard program, which helped her start on the journey toward healing.

“Rachel’s Vineyard is designed to help women work through the pain of abortion,” she said. “You come to understand that God forgives you, but the hardest part is being able to forgive yourself. … My greatest shame came two years ago when I had to tell my son the truth. It’s not easy to admit to your own child that he could have had a brother or sister, especially when he was an only child. But I have a remarkable son because he was able to forgive me.”

Then Harrington introduced Luke, who walked to the front of the room, sat down in the chair next to his mother and smiled at her.

“This is my son, my precious gift from God,” she told the young people. “Luke has never been with me for one of my speeches before. He will be 18 in June.”

Walking behind the three empty chairs, Harrington said the third chair represents her daughter, Ashley, who would have been 21 years old, and the other two chairs represent her twin daughters, Sarah and Lauren, who would have been 19 years old if she had not chosen to have abortions.

“This is my family,” she said, blinking back tears. “My son had to grow up alone not knowing his family because of my decisions. This is the reality of abortion.”

Harrington thanked the teenagers for listening to her story then encouraged them to pray the rosary for the strength to practice abstinence until marriage.

“The answer to not going down the road to abortion is obvious,” she said. “It’s not to have sex. You have to remember that you are a sacred being and a gift from God. Sex was meant to be saved for marriage between you, your spouse and God. Marriage is a blessed union, but that’s not what society is saying to young people.”

St. Malachy parishioner Stephanie Engelman of Brownsburg, who also spoke at the rally, reminded the teenagers that Scripture teaches us to respect life from the womb to the tomb.

“To be truly pro-life involves how we live every moment of every day,” Engelman said. “It means placing value on the life of every single person—born and unborn. Whenever we have an opportunity to do something to help others, we are sharing our love and showing God’s love to people.”

The pro-life youth rally was organized by St. Bartholomew parishioner Kayla McClaine of Columbus for her senior service project at Columbus East High School. It concluded with a candlelight prayer service, and an opportunity for the teenagers to share reflections and ways to “Keep the Fire Burning” with pro-life volunteer service.

After the rally, Harrington said she realized two years ago that God is blessing her pro-life ministry when she wrote a story about her abortion experiences and sent it to The Criterion for publication.

Harrington wrote the article because she felt called to try to help other women who are experiencing crisis pregnancies to choose life for their unborn children.

Her story, titled “Abortion—One Woman’s Journey,” was printed in The Criterion’s “Be Our Guest” column—amazingly on her son’s 16th birthday—which she believes is a blessing from God.

Listening to his mother’s presentation was “really intense,” Luke said. “I believe people were changed here today, especially the youths. Sharing this with my Mom has brought us closer. It has opened my eyes more to my faith.”

(To read Christine Harrington’s 2008 “Be Our Guest” article, log on to http://www.archindy.org/criterion/local/2008/06-13/guest.html.)

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