Una Allen (pictured), coordinator of the spritual support service Towards Peace, has spoken to CatholicNews.ie to urge people of faith to mark the upcoming Day of Prayer for survivors of Abuse in a special way. Towards Peace is based in Columba Centre of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
Ms Allen said, “In 2014, hugely aware of the trauma and devastation caused by abuse perpetrated by some Catholic Church representatives, combined with the ongoing development of the spiritual impact of abuse, Bishops and the Leaders of Religious Congregations in Ireland came together to establish Towards Peace. Our service offers spiritual support for anybody who has been abused, physically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually, in a Religious or Church environment. Now in its tenth year, and a sister-service to the Towards Healing counselling service, Towards Peace seeks to provide a pathway, a safe space where people who have been hurt can connect with their own spirituality, their sense of God and the Sacred – their own journey towards peace. The service is free and is also available to the families of those who have been affected.
“Research shows that abuse by members of the Church has a major impact on a person’s spiritual well-being. Towards Peace is a response to a request from a number of survivors, who despite having received counselling, are still struggling at some deeper level of themselves. These men and women speak of a loss of faith and a sense of rejection by a Church who betrayed them. They speak of their feelings of darkness, of a deep mistrust and suspicion of that Church which resulted for many, in the loss of a spiritual home. In many cases they speak of a sense of abandonment by God.
“At Towards Peace, support is provided to survivors through conversations with a spiritual director/companion, an ‘anam cara’ or soul friend who endeavours to help each person listen to their own conversations with God – whomever or however they perceive that to be – ever respectful that each person’s individual spiritual journey is his or her own.
“This is a shared experience. There is no sense of the spiritual companion bestowing knowledge or answers, or attempting to bring the survivor back to Church; rather it is a journeying together, unpacking the hurts and the wounds that may have lain dormant for years. There is no pre-determined road map on this journey. Each person travels at their own unique individual pace.
“Soul murder is a term which is often used to describe the effects of abuse, especially when the perpetrator is associated with the Church, because in this context, the abuse of power, particularly against somebody so vulnerable, strikes at the very heart of our belief and connection to a loving God. In light of this, and of the continuing fallout from the abuse both inside and outside the Church, in 2016 Pope Francis invited bishops around the world to establish a special day of prayer in the Church year to support the paths of human and spiritual recovery. In March 2023 he offered victims of abuse a special intention by praying for those who have suffered harm from members of the Church: that may they find within the Church herself a concrete response to their pain and suffering. This intention goes to the very heart of the mission of Towards Peace.”
Ms Allen conluded, “The Day of Prayer is not only for victims and survivors, but also for families and communities affected by grief for their loved one and takes place this year on 16 February next, the Friday following Ash Wednesday which heralds the beginning of Lent 2024. I encourage parishes to mark the Day of Prayer in a special way. For further information and resources see www.towardspeace.ie”