The Language of Walking with Love
As we interact with each other, we are using language that has enormous power to shape and affect those around us. Our words, being the main mode in which we communicate, must be chosen carefully and with responsibility, as each is imbued with significant meaning. People are increasingly feeling like they need and are able to talk about their abortion experience. It is important that a person feels supported and emotionally validated, not judged, at this critical time if they are to be able to work through their loss and grief. Below is a glossary of suggested and commonly used terms you may come across whilst walking with love.
The pastoral response by which a person, especially one motivated by empathy and a sense of justice, extends an intentional hand of friendship to a person or persons in any kind of need and helps them to carry the burden of their journey.
“Accompaniment” takes on a theological dimension which is emphasised by Pope Francis and becomes a key means of witnessing to the love and mercy of God. Pope Saint John Paul II spoke in a similar way of being “in solidarity” with those in need.
Accompaniment involves being present, empathetic, and supportive to the experience of others, with no agenda or intention to preach. It is shown by ongoing acts of friendship, active listening, and finding imaginative and appropriate ways to offer practical assistance.
The Walking with Love project is designed to enable us, in our different roles and ways, to accompany women and their families facing pregnancy-related challenges and decisions.
The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.
(Pope Francis, Gospel of Joy, 169)
“Accompaniment is the very opposite of... distance and detachment, because it invites a “walking with,” a “keeping company with” real persons.”
(Kathleen Glenister Roberts, Universalism in Catholic Social Thought: 'Accompaniment' as Trinitarian Praxis)
Civilisation of Love
A term coined by Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1994 letter to families, Gratissimam Sane. A “civilisation of love” is one which aims to build up a spirit of authentic love and tangible service which is truly and fully human.
In light of this, everyone has a responsibility to put this approach into practice, consciously and intentionally, through all of their relationships and experiences.
...life attains its fullness in the sincere gift of self. Over and above such outstanding moments, there is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. (Evangelium Vitae, 86)
Culture of Life
A society or culture wherein each human being is valued and loved for his or herself. This culture acknowledges that each human person possesses a unique dignity, regardless of their usefulness or utility to others, which cannot be stripped or minimised. Authentic cultural change requires a commitment to life-affirming practices, attitudes and relationships.
We are asked to love and honour the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love. (Evangelium Vitae, 77)
When a woman finds out she is pregnant, she may feel like a decision needs to be made in relation to her pregnancy. Here, we can make a significant difference to her life and choice, since the decision is heavily influenced by the perception of support that she feels that she has. The decision is made first before determining the detailed support that she may need in her choice.
The options explored are: (i) continuing her pregnancy and the ramifications of single parenthood, shared parenthood, or adoption; and (ii) exploring abortion, including what it entails and what her formerly held views of abortion were prior to the pregnancy.
Professional counsellors who can facilitate the discernment process, discuss options, and help clients arrive at an informed decision are available. With a focus on exploring options in a non-judgmental and loving way, these counsellors seek to empower their clients to overcome the obstacles that they face.
In walking with people living with disability, and people facing a prenatal disability diagnosis, it is most important to recognise the sensitivity of our discussions with them, and the need to recognise the dignity of their life journey and personhood.
Since there are many unique challenges that disability presents to a person or family, we have created a dedicated page for this discussion.
Gospel of Life
An encyclical by Pope Saint John Paul II (25 March 1995) also known as Evangelium Vitae, which addresses issues relating to the sanctity of human life.
This encyclical was the inspiration for the Walking with Love project, as it encouraged consideration of the wider social context in which decisions about human life are made and influenced. The Gospel of Life considers a wide range of “life issues” including: genocide, capital punishment, end-of-life decisions, the introduction of a “new feminism,” and the pressures upon the vulnerable created by injustice. It is a prophetic document in that it calls individuals, communities, and international bodies to responsibility for the active protection and promotion of human life.
Life-affirming and Pro-woman Approach
A life-affirming approach is one which upholds and advocates the understanding that every person has an inherent, unique dignity, and holds that all life is sacred and inviolable at all stages and should be treated accordingly. This approach attempts to address in a holistic way, the many challenges which may appear to devalue the life and well-being of the person.
This approach can be taken to all “life” issues such as the promotion of a “new feminism”, adoption, support during difficult pregnancies, and positive alternatives to: euthanasia; abortion; artificial reproductive technologies; and, contraception.
In order to be pro-life, we must support a woman’s welfare during her whole life, not only during pregnancy. The focus is on empowering women, their families, and friends, whilst facing difficult circumstances. In the Gospel of Life (paragraph 99), women are said to occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. We are called to:
promote a "new feminism" which rejects the temptation of imitating models of "male domination", in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation. (EV99)
Life-limiting Illness and Disability
No person is “incompatible with life” if they are alive. We prefer to say that a person diagnosed with a certain conditions may face circumstances which may limit the length of the life and may call on us to give them, and their family more support.
It is important to realise that every pregnancy loss carries emotional weight, no matter how it happens. The intentional termination of pregnancy can be further complicated for the mother and her family by medical interventions which result in the early induction of a baby as a response to the diagnosis of life-limiting illness or disability.
This movement is a renewal of all that is valuable in feminism. It includes the affirmation of the dignity and value of women, and of women’s need for access to opportunity and resources which enable to make life-affirming decisions.
The deepest longing of woman’s heart is to give herself lovingly, to belong to another, and to possess this other being completely. This longing is revealed in her outlook, her personal and allembracing, which appears to us as specifically feminine.
(Edith Stein, Woman)
See "Life-affirming and Pro-woman Approach"
Pastoral Response to Abortion
The Walking with Love project is, above all, a pastoral response. To be pastoral means to offer a listening, encouraging, practical and loving response to a person and their family - especially when that person is facing moral, social or spiritual challenges.
A pastoral response is a particular concern for Church to those affected by abortion and other pregnancy-related issues.
Perinatal Palliative Care
Palliative care combines the best of healthcare science with the art of personal care and support. Perinatal Palliative Care offers this support to terminally ill newborns and their families.
You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die. (Cicely Saunders)
The quality of a human being, who from conception until death, has an innate dignity that is not dependent on age or ability, and which can never be stripped away or diminished. This demands the respect and recognition of the unrepeatable and unique value of that individual.
Grief is the emotional response to a feeling of loss. Post-abortion grief, then, is the particular grief that someone experiences when they are affected by abortion. The experience of this grief can vary: it may occur immediately; may develop some time after the experience; or may be experienced in waves. It may be experienced without the recognition of its cause.
This type of grief can be very difficult to diagnose, and yet it may produce complex symptoms. Some women may experience grief that can be resolved by counselling and spiritual support over time, others experience severe symptoms which may resemble post-traumatic stress. This may require professional mental health support.
Many people carry their guilt, depression, and other symptoms for many years, sometimes decades. Some believe they are unworthy to have another child, or a healthy relationship or even of being loved. It is important those experiencing post-abortion grief or trauma know that healing and forgiveness is possible. It is crucial that they encounter people who will walk this journey of healing with them. This support includes professional physical and mental health support, and experiencing God’s forgiveness and healing through special ministries within the Catholic Church, such as Rachel’s Vineyard retreats.
When grieving has been thorough enough to be reintegrated as a normal and easily accessible process of the psyche, love and forgiveness can also become out consciously chosen values. (Pete Walker, “Forgiveness: Begins with the Self,” Recovering: The Adventure of Life Beyond Addiction 35, 1991)
Rachel's Vineyard Retreats
Rachel's Vineyard enacts the mother-centred tenets of Walking with Love for people who are living with grief following an abortion. There is an extra focus on the importance of ritual in the path to healing. The people who attend Rachel's Vineyard retreats are welcomed in love and affirmed in their worth as human beings, reminded that they are appreciated and valued, and most importantly, that they have been forgiven – a clean slate; in reaching and releasing their grief, they walk anew. Likewise, their lost Little Ones are loved, remembered, mourned, cherished, and laid to rest – they are in heaven, praying for their families.
For more information on Rachel's Vineyard, click here.
There are two main types of support that can, and should, be offered:
(i) Emotional support;
- A “listening ear,” someone to offer encouragement to reflect and discern, which often helps those facing tough decisions to make free and strong, life-giving decisions
- Professional support, e.g. trained counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist
- Pastoral support e.g. spiritual direction, opportunity for healing retreats
(ii) Practical support:
- Enabling people to access services and resources for pregnancy and beyond (e.g. financial advice, care, etc.) that is offered by people who will take the time to look at the person’s whole situation and care for them)
- Donation of resources
- Social work support
Surviving Abortion in your Family
(Abortion Survivor Syndrome)
The experience of people of any age, “who come to know the history of abortion in their family and have experienced a great sense of insecurity and fear, a loss of confidence, hatred against their parents, or even guilt for what happened.” (Maria Luisa Di Pietro, “Being the “Good Samaritan”: Between Works of Healing and the Responsibility to Educate”)
In these cases, similar support to post-abortion grief is required.
Termination of Pregnancy
Women experience pressure to terminate pregnancy either medically or surgically for many reasons: medical; financial; relational; emotional; or situational. The decision in the face of such pressure can be isolating and stressful. This is all the more so with the advent of telephone or online “at-home” termination services. It can bring a woman into conflict with her own moral beliefs and principals. Sometimes this experience is called a “crisis pregnancy”.
The Walking with Love approach enables women to make a genuine decision by giving them practical and emotional support to freely consider the alternatives to abortion. These include:
- single parenthood;
- shared parenthood; or,