Support for a pro-life counselling centre in Magadan

Father Michael Shields is from Alaska, but he has been living and working in Magadan for 20 years now. Set on the coast in the extreme Far East of Russia, this town, which today has a population of around 96,000, was built in 1929 as a forced labour and transit camp. Until 1991 the entire area was a militarily closed region. Magadan is so far east of Moscow that the time difference is eight hours. When people are going to bed in Moscow, a new day is just beginning for Father Michael in Magadan.

When he first came to Russia, Father Michael wondered at the deep depression he sensed in the general atmosphere around him. At first he could not put his finger on it precisely. But then one day it struck him that this oppressive atmosphere might have something to do with the appallingly high rate of abortions. And so he decided to do something about it and set up a counselling centre to try and encourage women to accept their unborn child.

He realised however, and he emphasises, that in order to help these women to decide for their child, it is necessary to provide real practical help. “Good words alone are no use”, Father Michael insists. “These women need to know that they will really be supported. They need food, medicines, money to pay the rent. When we give them help for the first time, they are astonished. We also help them as soon as possible to obtain an ultrasound picture of their unborn child, so that they can already begin to bond with him. We also encourage them to start early on buying baby clothes, so that they can already begin to look forward to and prepare for their child. We also have to help them buy everything they need for the hospital, since there is nothing in the clinics. You have to bring everything you need with you yourself.”

Many of the women also need a roof over their heads. Thanks to the support of ACN, Father Michael has been able to set up an apartment in his parish for young women who have nowhere else to go.

But Father Michael is also working to help those women who have already had abortions. And “already” means, in many cases, women who have had, not just one or two abortions – which would be bad enough – but those who have had even up to 20 abortions. In Soviet times abortion was a routine and widespread form of birth control, and even today the situation is not fundamentally very different. On one occasion Father Michael was counselling a group of women, just five of whom had had 47 abortions between them…

The women in these groups reflect on their lives and seek forgiveness, lighting candles for their aborted children and giving names to each of them. Subsequently, many of these women get involved themselves, helping to explain to other young women about the personal trauma and suffering that an abortion can bring them.

But equally, again and again, Father Michael witnesses beautiful moments, which bring hope. Many women do eventually decide to keep their child. And many of the young fathers, who had initially insisted on an abortion, eventually become endeared to their own child when it does come into the world. And then a little family is also born. In other cases, the young mothers have been able to obtain some kind of professional qualifications in the meantime, with the support of the Church, and so are now able to stand on their own feet.

ACN is supporting Father Michael Shields in his work and especially for his counselling centre for mothers and their unborn children. This year we are contributing 15,000 Euros.