The most cherished shrine of the Polish people is the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa which has been home to the revered icon of the Black Madonna since it was brought there by Duke Ladislaus II of Opole on August 26, 1382. The history of this icon begins with Saint Luke—an Evangelist not just in the written word but also in the painted image. It is believed that he painted this icon of the Mother and Child during Mary’s lifetime. It was brought from Jerusalem to Constantinople and then was bestowed to the Princess of Ruthenia before Ladislaus of Opole secured it for the Polish people.
The story of the icon is analogous to the story of the Polish people. The Black Madonna, like Poland, has been battered by the Church’s enemies over the years and has the scars to show for it. The icon has been damaged by a Tartar arrow and a Hussite sword slash leaving a scar at Our Lady’s throat and two across her cheek. The Polish people have bore the ravages of war as well, having been subjugated many times over by those who sought to destroy their Catholic faith and culture. Yet against the odds, both the nation of Poland and its cherished icon of the Black Madonna remain today.
During this time of year, from the celebration of the Assumption to the August 26th Feast of Our Lady of Częstochowa, millions of Poles make pilgrimage by foot to venerate the sacred image they believe has protected and preserved their people. That is why a large banner proudly proclaims on the grounds of the Jasna Góra monastery to all who approach: “Here the Heart of the Nation Beats.”
But the Polish people are not the only ones to claim Our Lady of Częstochowa as their Patroness. Theresa Bonopartis is the co-founder of Entering Canaan, a ministry helping to guide women suffering from the emotional scars of a past abortion. She is also the author of A Journey to Healing Through Divine Mercy, published by Marian Press. She spoke recently with CWR about her own compelling story, her important ministry, and why she thinks Our Lady of Częstochowa is a fitting patroness for post-abortive women.
CWR: Tell us about your own story and what inspired you to found the Entering Canaan ministry.
Theresa Bonopartis: When I was a teenager I became pregnant. Like most teenagers I was terrified to tell my parents, so I hid it until I was four months along. I came from an Italian, Catholic family so I did not think that abortion would even be considered a possibility. I was wrong. My father kicked me out of the house and told me to forget I was his daughter. I was alone, with no job, no money, and no place to live. He then proceeded to coerce me into an abortion. I finally gave in—not because I had a free choice but because I felt like I had no choice.
That abortion changed my life. I began a self-destructive lifestyle that lasted for years. I searched for help but could not find any. Once I finally did find healing, I was determined to let others know that this terrible sin that leaves us feeling unforgivable can be forgiven and healed by God. In fact, He is waiting for us, longing to heal us.
I used to write to the late archbishop of New York, John Cardinal O’Connor, and tell him of the need for a ministry to post-abortive women. One of the original Sisters of Life, Sr. Lucy, was a close friend of mine. The cardinal promised that when he began the Sisters this would be one of their apostolates, hence, Entering Canaan was born, based very much on my own experience of healing.
CWR: How does the Entering Canaan ministry help women suffering from the pain and regret of having procured an abortion?
Theresa Bonopartis: “Therefore, look! I will now allure her. I will make her go out to the wilderness and will speak to her heart.” (Hosea 2:14).
Taking its name from the Exodus experience of the Jewish people, from slavery into the Promised Land, Entering Canaan accompanies those who have suffered abortion on a journey into the Promised Land of healing.
The ancient Israelites were an oppressed people who longed to be free of their bondage. God called them out of Egypt and away from the sinfulness and idolatry of overlords and the great suffering they endured. They followed the call of the Lord despite their fears as He led them into the desert with the promise of a new life.
We who are post-abortive also long to be freed of our anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, bad behaviors, and the many dynamics manifested from the bondage of abortion. Like the Israelites, it is often this very bondage that is the catalyst which brings us into the desert and causes us to reach out for healing. We have a great fear as well, in embarking on the journey through the desert of post-abortion healing. It requires going out into the unknown, unsure of what awaits you and what truths you may have to face. Just as God brought the Israelites away from the sinfulness of Egypt, He also “allures” us on our journey to the Promised Land.
At Entering Canaan, we provide a multi-faceted approach to healing, consisting of different programs:
• Beginning the Journey: Days of Prayer & Healing, planting the seed of hope for those hurting.
• Fighting the Battles: Monthly Gatherings (groups) addressing specific post abortion issues.
• Hope & Healing Weekends: delving more deeply into the wounds of shame, grief, anxiety, self hatred, anger and other post abortion manifestations.
• Special Gatherings: Advent, Mothers Day and other times that may be particularly painful for those who have lost a child through abortion.
• Mercy Retreats: Yearly renewal retreats to aid in continued growth and healing emotionally and spiritually.
CWR: Can you tell us about the painting you commissioned and how it depicts Our Lady of Częstochowa as the Patroness of your ministry for post-abortive women to find healing?
Theresa Bonopartis: It was not long after developing the Entering Canaan ministry that I was in prayer one day before an icon of the Black Madonna. I had a revelation in that moment that though the wounds of abortion are forever apart of you, like the scars on her face, they can be healed.
I began offering my daily prayers to Our Lady of Częstochowa for the conversion of my father who coerced me into procuring that abortion. It took almost twenty years, but he received the sacraments before he died, and the last thing we spoke about together was my aborted son, Joshua.
I commissioned the talented and faithful artist, Michael Corsini, to depict Our Lady of Częstochowa’s patronage of post-abortive women. He did a magnificent job, producing a beautiful image, rich in symbolism.
At first glance, it may be a disturbing image for those suffering from a past abortion. The stark reality of the visual of an aborted baby in the arms of the Sorrowful Lady of Częstochowa at the foot of the Cross is a painful reminder of abortion and the personal loss of a child. However, if one steps beyond this initial impression, the painting reveals the hope for healing.
St. Mary Magdalene is also depicted at the foot of the Cross representing all those who have been hurt by abortion. It is at the foot of the Cross that we honestly admit what we have done in taking the life of our children.
The Cross, though full of pain and suffering, is the source of the ultimate Mercy of God. It is the place where Jesus suffered for our sins, even the sin of abortion, and brings redemption.
Depicting the Sorrowful Mother as Our Lady of Częstochowa reveals how she bears the scars of pain and suffering at the loss of her Child and ours, embracing our children lost through abortion in the same way she embraced her Son. Mary understands the tremendous pain of losing a Son through sin, and yet invites us to stand with her. We too are her children, and she forgives and loves us with this same love of Christ. She longs for our healing and restoration.
To the right of the Cross, behind Our Lady, we can see Mary Magdalene setting out on the journey to healing with many others. The Holy Virgin is walking beside her as her guide. Our Lady’s wounds of suffering and injury have now turned into the marks of warrior ready to battle with you as you confront the demons of abortion on your way across the desert of healing to the Promised Land. Along the way you will face temptations to despair, anxiety, depression, and other oppressions—but Our Lady is there, and we trust in her powerful intercession
Off in the distance, we can see the light of Canaan, our destination. As we look in that direction, we can sense the peace of Christ and the love of the Father as He beckons us ever closer. It is there that we will be with Jesus, Mary, and our children who rest in God’s Mercy.
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Organizations like Entering Canaan, Rachel’s Vineyard, and Silent No More are THE pivot point for ending the injustice of abortion in the US.
From a purely practical standpoint: according to the Guttmacher Institute and the Johnston Archive, about one quarter of adult women have had an abortion. This reflects my experience with women I know generally. Assuming these women are of voting age (or will be in a few years), this means one quarter of female voters are probably highly resistant to the idea of recognizing that unborn persons are “persons” under the Constitution, who have the right to life. Even more, the circle of influence of these women represents a much larger percentage of the voting public — friends, family, the men in their lives, bosses and coworkers. I think this is the core of resistance to a Pro Life Amendment, and what percent of the voting population would you guess it is? I’d guess it’s over 40%. I imagine it is a strong resistance. We are surrounded by people whom we love, and with whom we work, who are traumatized by abortion, or who are closely associated with post-abortive women, and who don’t want to rock their world by changing the legal understanding of abortion. How will it affect the self-understanding of these people if we push through a Constitutional Amendment in the next few years? The parallels to slavery are many. It was not just slaveholders who resisted abolition, but their family members and everyone connected to them. If slavery is suddenly abolished, they thought back then, what am I calling my brother/neighbor who owned slaves all these years? I can’t say that to their face. I will be complicit.
Please God, I wish we could amend the Constitution and stop the killings today, but have we done all the groundwork we need to?
If we are ever going to be able to speak the truth about abortion, these women need to be HEALED. It’s not a matter of suddenly changing our laws, suddenly reframing what has happened to these women, and leaving them to their own devices. It’s a matter of letting these women process their grief, and strengthening them, BEFORE the laws change. Secondarily, it is a way of removing probably the largest obstacle to change, and changing it into the largest proponent FOR change. A post-abortive woman who has healed from her trauma is the strongest proponent of pro-life measures possible.
Whether I look at it from a practical or purely compassionate standpoint, I’ve come to see the work of organizations like Entering Canaan, Rachel’s Vineyard, and Silent No More as a prerequisite to ending the injustice of abortion. Yet the movement to offer compassion and healing to post-abortive women is not the largest arm of the pro-life movement. This gives me the feeling we’re still a ways away from amending our Constitution, at least if we want to do it with justice towards the women who are already traumatized by what society has foisted upon them.
Post-abortive women are not the “other”. They are women just like us, who were told that no one was going to truly cherish them, so they needed to settle for the next best thing; who were told they needed to be sexually active in order to be accepted; who were told they had to make war on their own bodies with carcinogens and procedures, and treat them as objects; who were told that the price of entry into relationships, or the workplace, is to suppress their fertility; who believed the lie “I accept you into the workplace, or into my bed, but only if you don’t bring your fertility with you”; who believed the lie that their fertility was a burden and unlovable. We women who have avoided the scourge of abortion, at least in our own persons, were blessed with someone who affirmed us in some way, or were blessed with a stubborn streak, or some other incidental thing, so we could stand up for ourselves in the midst of a culture that is daily trying to commoditize us. I sometimes run into pro-life women who don’t seem to know any post-abortive women, and don’t seem to understand them. This needs to change.
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