Over the past five years, more than 150 people suffering the effects of abortion have journeyed toward healing with the help of Project Rachel’s ministry to the Polish community in Chicago. Project Rachel is the church’s outreach to people who are coping with the aftereffects of abortion. The Polish-language ministry, led by Sister Maksymiliana Kaminska, was commissioned by Cardinal Francis George in March 2012. It is similar to the Project Rachel ministry offered in English through the archdiocese’s Respect Life and Chastity Education program, part of the Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity. Sister Maksymiliana, a Missionary Sister of Christ the King for Polonia, is a licensed counselor who offers therapy to help people — mostly women, but also a few men — who are dealing with mental health issues related to abortion. She is based at St. Constance Parish Convent, 4910 N. Menard. Women seeking help come after having one or more abortions, but often not until decades later, said Father Peter Gnoinski, who assists with the Project Rachel ministry in Polish. Men who come might have learned that their partner had an abortion, or even encouraged or forced their partner into it, he said. His co-chaplain is Father Jacek Dada. Sister Maksymiliana said it’s also important to note that the ministry also works with people who are suffering following miscarriages, and with women who are pregnant and trying to decide what to do and where they can go for help. Sister Maksymiliana said that mental health therapy can help with psychological problems such as depression, but the people she sees often are in need of spiritual healing as well. For that, she encourages them to attend the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats the ministry offers. The first Polish-language Rachel’s Vineyard — "Winnica Racheli" — retreat was offered three years ago, the first of its kind in the United States. English-language Rachel’s Vineyard retreats also are available, although participants have to travel to the Diocese of Joliet or other places to participate, according to Dawn Fitzpatrick of the Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity. The Polish retreats follow a cycle of Bible stories over three days and two nights, starting with Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Those participating are asked to pick up a stone when they hear that story and carry it with them through the retreat, until they are ready to lay it — and the weight of their shame and guilt — at the feet of Jesus. Other stories include the woman with the hemorrhage, who reached out for Jesus’ help even though she felt unworthy, the raising of Lazarus, and the Samaritan woman at the well. Physical symbols — being wrapped in cloths, in tombs of their own making; carrying and naming a small doll before symbolically burying it at the closing memorial Mass — help participants first connect to their grief and then start to let it go. "They have to grieve well to heal well," Father Peter said. People who have made the retreat as participants come back to help, Sister Maksymiliana said. Throughout the weekend, priests are available for confessions. Father Peter said that several woman have already confessed their abortions and received absolution, sometimes several times, but they were unable to accept forgiveness. "They keep going to confession because they are not ready for it," he said. "The sacrament is valid and the absolution and forgiveness is real, but they can’t feel it." The requested donation for the retreat is $150 per person, but no one is turned away if they can’t pay, Father Peter said, adding that the ministry is grateful for financial support from the Archdiocese of Chicago and private donors. All of the services provided by Project Rachel, including counseling and the retreat, are conducted confidentially. For information about Project Rachel in Polish, call <a href:"tel:773-656-7703">773-656-7703</a> or email <a href:mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>. For Project Rachel in English, call <a href:"tel:888-456-HOPE>888-456-HOPE</a>.