October 7, 2005

Life is linked to the Eucharist
for pro-life workers

By Sean Gallagher

(Editor’s note: The Catholic Church is observing the Year of the Eucharist. This article is part of a Criterion series exploring the importance of the Eucharist in all facets of the life of the archdiocese.)

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council taught that the Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life. For many Catholics in central and southern Indiana who serve in various pro-life ministries, this sacrament is also the source and summit of their promotion of the sanctity of life.

year of the eucharistAs a source, the Eucharist is for them a font of strength to carry on their often-challenging ministry to mothers and their children. As the summit, they have experienced new dimensions of their appreciation of the Eucharist emerging through their pro-life service.

“In order to serve life, you must be immersed in the font of life itself. And that’s where the Eucharist comes in,” said Servant of the Gospel of Life Sister Diane Carollo, director of the archdiocesan Office for Pro-Life Ministry.

One of the ministries that Sister Diane oversees is Birthline, whose volunteers do crisis pregnancy intervention and distribute material assistance to mothers in need.

Lois Richter, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, has been a Birthline volunteer for five years. Once a week, she works in the basement of the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center distributing material assistance. Every other week, she assists with Birthline’s crisis telephone line and schedules clients to come to the Catholic Center to receive aid.

She said that her ministry can be difficult at times, but that the Eucharist helps her maintain a healthy perspective.

volunteers“Sometimes you don’t renew and refresh yourself, and you’re busy down here and you get caught up with the mechanics of it,” Richter said. “Sometimes you get a little [on] edge because it’s not easy working with poor people. [The Eucharist] keeps you calm and patient and sympathetic and empathetic.”

At the same time, Richter acknowledged that her pro-life ministry has shaped the way she approaches her participation in the Eucharist.

“There is never a time, not one single time, when I go to Mass that I don’t pray particularly for the clients,” she said. “And there’s almost never a time when I listen to the readings or a homily or a sermon that something doesn’t strike me from my experiences with clients. Things pop into my mind constantly about stories that I hear from the clients.”

Another Birthline volunteer is Rosie Mitchel, a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis. As a student at the then-Cathedral Grade School, she received her first Communion at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral more than 60 years ago, just across the street from where she now does her pro-life ministry.

For many years, she acknowledged that the concerns of her own family kept her attention away from the concerns of others. But Mitchel said that a renewal in her appreciation of the Eucharist has changed this.

“It opened my eyes to the world,” she said. “I was living in my own little world.”

However, the connection that Mitchel makes between the Eucharist and her pro-life ministry remains a simple one.

“I feel like if I’m here for these children, Jesus has always been there for me,” she said.

Many of the women that Richter, Mitchel and the other Birthline volunteers serve have chosen to allow their babies to be born.

Bob Rust, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Enochsburg, has ministered for years as a sidewalk counselor to women who are on the verge of having an abortion.

For more than 15 years, Rust has traveled from his Greensburg home two or three days a week to offer an alternative to abortion to women going into abortion facilities in Indianapolis.

Through it all, Rust is convinced that the Eucharist has upheld him in his ministry.

“I can’t imagine that I could be sustained in doing this without the Eucharist,” he said. “It would be hard for me to imagine that in any spiritual way …”

Rust’s ministry can be difficult at times. He does it in both extreme cold and heat, in snow and rain. Rust and his fellow sidewalk counselors are often abused verbally by the people they’re trying to serve. More than once Rust has been physically attacked.

“All of life is a battle for salvation,” Rust said. “So in my particular case, in what I am called upon to do, I am looking at the strength of the Eucharist and the fact that the Lord is with me as an aid for my soul and the souls I’m with and the souls we attend to out there.”

After completing several hours of counseling, Rust frequently will go to the 12:10 p.m. Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. Even though discouragement can easily happen for sidewalk counselors, he said his mind is focused on gratitude when he goes to there.

“The Eucharist is always a sacrament of thanksgiving, of course,” Rust said. “So when I would be going to Mass after being there, I give thanks to God that he would allow me and the few people that we have to be out there and to see us through. It’s a place where you need spiritual help.”

Over the course of the many years of his ministry, Rust estimated that he has witnessed between 1,500 and 2,000 women who have changed their minds and kept their babies. He admitted, however, that countless others have ignored his offers of help and have gone through with their abortions.

The Church’s pro-life ministry continues to reach out to these women after they have had abortions, many of whom suffer negative physical, psychological and spiritual aftereffects from the procedure.

Pam Leffler, a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood, is a licensed clinical social worker who has recently become involved in Rachel’s Compan-ions and Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats, respectively support-group-based and retreat-based ministries to women who have had abortions.

However, for approximately the past 10 years in her clinical practice, Leffler has counseled an increasing number of women who have struggled with the negative impact that abortion has had in their lives.

Over that same time, her life of faith has been renewed, with a special focus on the Eucharist. Leffler sees a connection between these two trends.

“I could say God is probably sending more people to me,” she said. “Or I could say because of my love of the Eucharist, I have grown more in love, a softer heart full of love, and was able more to hear these things in women, which, either way, it is still God working.”

Through her experience, Leffler concluded that a clinical approach alone was inadequate to treat the aftereffects of abortion. A spiritual approach was also necessary.

“It needs the clinical dimension and it needs to be treated from a faith-based perspective,” she said, “because what I was seeing in my clinical experience was so many women who were so angry and had just totally turned off to God because they didn’t believe that God would forgive them.”

For Leffler, this is where the Eucharist is vital, for in it she sees the embodiment of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

“I think when you really begin to understand that and understand that God has given us such great love through the Eucharist, you know that you can be forgiven for such a thing that you have done and that through this you can be healed,” she said.

Despite the many challenges and setbacks that these men and women experience in their ministry, they continue to be dedicated to promoting life. And in their conviction, they echo the words of Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”).

In that document, the pope wrote that the blood of Christ in the Eucharist can be for the faithful an inspiration to continue proclaiming the good news of life:

“It is from the blood of Christ that all draw the strength to commit themselves to promoting life. It is precisely this blood that is the most powerful source of hope, indeed it is the foundation of the absolute certitude that in God’s plan life will be victorious” (#25, emphasis in original). †


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