- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

Eric Eckenrode was 17 when he talked his girlfriend into having an abortion. He wanted to live his life as he pleased. It took several years for his childhood secret to start slowly tearing him apart, he said.
Yesterday, he left a special prayer session at St. Peters Catholic Church feeling better than he has in years. "Im sorry that I ever did it," he said after the 45-minute service. "For men, abortions are a loss too. The pain that a man suffers from this is real."
The service, given by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, was the first time the Archdiocese of Washington held such a Mass for parents who had lost their unborn children to abortion.
"It was decision that I will regret forever," Mr. Eckenrode said as he stood outside the church on Capitol Hill yesterday. "I hope that she will forgive me."
"She" is Mr. Eckenrodes former girlfriend, who became pregnant with his child when the couple dated years ago in high school. They are no longer in contact.
Mr. Eckenrode, now 28, asked for forgiveness at yesterdays Feast of the Divine Mercy prayer service a feast celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter when Catholics ask God for complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.
"Everybody knows that the Catholic Church is against abortions," said Maureen Breitenbach, a coordinator for Project Rachel, a ministry that provides counseling for men and women, of all religions, who have encouraged or undergone abortions.
"But what many dont know is that we care about the parents just as much as we care about the children," Miss Breitenbach said. "We want them to know that they are welcome to come to our church and that the doors are always open. We want them to realize that Christ rose for them, too, and He understands."
The prayer service was held the same time the National Organization for Women hosted a pro-choice rally outside the U.S. Capitol. At its rally, NOW warned the Senate against packing the U.S. Supreme Court with anti-abortion rights justices.
The service at St. Peters was sponsored by the Pro-Life Office of the Archdiocese of Washington and Project Rachel.
During a brief homily, Cardinal McCarrick urged those who gathered for the service to reach out to the men and women who had or cooperated in an abortion and forgive them. "God loves everyone," Cardinal McCarrick said. "God forgives us, and we should never hesitate to forgive others."
The cardinal also said those who had abortions should turn to God for help. "Dont let your feelings of guilt and sorrow be a barrier from trusting in His mercy," he said. "The only way to overcome the pain is by trusting Him."
Those who attended the service shared the cardinals sentiments.
"We have to let people know that there is love and there is forgiveness," said Stephanie Padgham, a member of St. Augustines Catholic Church in Northwest. "We have to let them know that there is nothing that they did that they cant be forgiven for."
Dana Kilby of Northeast agreed. "We have to reach out to them and let them know were here for them," she said. "Our doors are always open."
Hearing those words of support and forgiveness has made life more bearable for Mr. Eckenrode, who now volunteers for Project Rachel, helping men who were in the same situation.
He also wrote a song, "My Plea," that is dedicated to his unborn child, whom he named Vaughan.
Part of the song goes: "The baby thats on my mind I hear his very cry. Now much time has passed.Of all the things Ive done this one beats them all." he sings in the song.
The child answers back: "I kept trying to speak but you didnt listen to me.
"I wish I could have lived to be held in your arms."
"God started healing my pain," Mr. Eckenrode said after the service. "When you experience Gods mercy you want to share it with the world. Once you experience that, things begin to change for the better."

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