Catholic San Francisco


(Photo by Christina M. Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

Mourners bury leaves symbolizing children who lost their lives before, at or after birth at the Project Rachel shrine at Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma, on Sept. 14.

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Project Rachel: More than 200 mourners grieve lives cut short
September 18th, 2013
By Christina M. Gray

More than 200 mourners sought the warmth of their faith and each other as they huddled together on a windy knoll at Holy Cross Cemetery on Saturday, Sept. 14, remembering children who lost their lives before, at or after birth.

A Mass and healing liturgy are sponsored every two years by the archdiocesan Project Rachel ministry and cemeteries. The event welcomes anyone mourning a life interrupted by abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth as well other tragedies such as accidents, disease or crib death.

San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice was the principal celebrant of the bilingual morning Mass held at the cemetery’s mausoleum and the healing liturgy that followed at the outdoor Rachel Mourning Shrine. The shrine recalls the mourning of the Old Testament’s Rachel as described in Jeremiah 31:15-17.

“As we write the names of our lost little ones, let us remember the parable of the mustard seed which after being planted in the ground, died. But from it grew forth a beautiful, vibrant tree,” he said as each mourner placed a leaf bearing the name of a child into a small, open-earth grave at the Rachel Shrine.

Project Rachel is a nationwide, diocesan-led ministry founded over 20 years ago by Vicki Thorn, a Respect Life director in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who had witnessed the self-destructive trajectory of a friend who had aborted a child. Project Rachel can be a path to peace and reconciliation for those suffering post-abortion anguish.

According to San Francisco Project Rachel coordinator Mary Ann Schwab, the loss of young life is difficult to recover from no matter what the cause. “We pray together today, whatever the circumstances of our loss,” said Schwab, a social worker and dedicated pioneer in Respect Life work dating back to 1973. She has led the archdiocese’s volunteer-run Project Rachel ministry since 2003.

Sheela Zavala of Brisbane attended the service with her husband, Jorge. She smiled, but held a protective hand to her belly when asked about the baby they expect in January. They plan to name the child -– a boy – Daniel. Today, however, they remember the daughter lost in miscarriage two years ago, and continue to heal from the loss.

“There is still a longing,” said Jorge. “We call her Marie because her due date was on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,” said Sheela who admitted that losing their first child was incredibly hard on both her and her husband. “But we had hope because of our faith and prayer.”

Project Rachel is rooted in the knowledge that the lost promise of a child deeply affects not only the mother but also fathers, grandparents and members of the extended family.

Maribel Martinez of Menlo Park can vouch for that. “I am here to remember my niece, my brother’s baby girl,” she said. “It helps to be here today.”

For more information about Project Rachel, contact Mary Ann Schwab at (415) 717-6428 or email



From September 20, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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