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I learned to love, to listen and to walk with others

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God is always preparing us for what comes next even if we don't know (and most of the time, we don't!) what that might be.

''Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." -- Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Twenty-five years ago, on March 15, 1995, I met Pope John Paul II on a pilgrimage to Rome. This encounter changed my life. This life-changing event set me on a path of searching for answers to questions about my Catholic faith. As I became more involved in different ministries within the Church, one of my youth ministry friends invited me to consider applying for admission to the Master of Arts in Ministry (MAM) program at St. John's Seminary. I graduated in Spring 2013.

The MAM program is composed of the following integrated elements: the Academic Program, Spiritual Formation, Human Formation, and Apostolic/Pastoral Formation through field education. While each is important, I would like to share my experiences in the field education placements and how those experiences were important to providing a framework for my current work and ministry.

Field education consists of training in two different ministries -- one ministry each academic year for a total of two academic years. For each ministry, a student is assigned a supervisor and must write reflections on a regular basis. During my first year in the program, my program advisor invited me to consider prison ministry, which would provide a good experience. I rather emphatically declined the invitation. I had a very narrow view of prison ministry and was sure it wasn't for me. After a series of discussions with my advisor, I was persuaded to try the placement.

It has been 12 years since that placement, and I still volunteer in the Catholic Chaplaincy Program at a local women's prison. I meet one-on-one with the women and walk together with them on this journey of faith. I consider the prison ministry one of the great graces in my life. The programs and experiences provided through the prison ministry are life-changing and life-giving for these women. MAM taught me the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone -- to go where God calls.

In my second placement of field education, I received an invitation from Marianne Luthin, director of the archdiocese's Pro-Life Office, to be part of Project Rachel. Project Rachel is a confidential Catholic outreach ministry offering hope and healing to women and men hurting from past abortions. It is named for the Old Testament figure Rachel, who weeps inconsolably for her children "who are no more." God came to her, freeing her from intense mourning and offering hope for her future (Jer. 31:15-17). Participation in this ministry offered me a glimpse of the pain and suffering people go through in the aftermath of abortion. It also showed me how, through the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist, a resurrection can come about in their lives.

In June 2017, I was invited to work as a nurse at Pregnancy Help, another ministry within the Pro-Life Office. Pregnancy Help is a crisis pregnancy center, where all services are free and confidential and are available to anyone experiencing an unexpected pregnancy. There are offices in Brighton, Brockton, and Natick. Our trilingual staff of nurses and caseworkers serve anyone in need. Originally, my plan was to volunteer and help with outreach. However, for the last three years, I have been the nurse in the Brockton Office. Many parishes, schools, and different groups within the Church have invited me to speak about the office and our work.

It is a great gift and privilege to work with the people whom God has placed in my care at Pregnancy Help. They very often come through the door alone, overwhelmed, hopeless, and pressured by everyone around them to make decisions. Working with the women and men through Project Rachel has taught me that, often, if someone had just taken the time to listen and to help them before they chose an abortion, they would not have. They simply needed to know that they weren't alone and that there was help. They needed to know that someone cares.

I learned to love, to listen and to walk with those placed in my care no matter the situation. God is always preparing us for what comes next even if we don't know (and most of the time, we don't!) what that might be.

During this time of crisis created by COVID-19, there are many invitations to help our brothers and sisters in need. Every human life is created in the image and likeness of God. The Catholic Church has given us the seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching, which lead us in matters of human dignity and social good. I am grateful for the Church, for my faith and for all of the experiences and education that the MAM program provided me in order to be where I am today.

I would like to close with one of the prayers of the faithful from Good Shepherd Sunday: "For those called to priestly and religious vocations and for those called to minister in the world as laypeople, that they respond with generous hearts to the Lord's voice, let us pray to the Lord: Lord hear our prayer."


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