PEER SUPPORT GROUPS

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  • January 15, 2020
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A New Maria Goretti Network Chapter is Started in Chicago

By Mike Hoffman

The Archdiocese in Chicago recently invited a representative from the Maria Goretti Network to help them start a brand-new Maria Goretti Network chapter in the city. During the introductory meeting, the MGN representative described the ways meetings can help and how to use meetings and personal connections to foster healing through forgiveness. This chapter was opened with the help of the Holy Name Cathedral, a Chicago church that is focused on aiding survivors of abuse.

The Maria Goretti Network is a network that is dedicated to helping people to recover from abuse. Founded by Miguel Prats, the Maria Goretti Network welcomes all victims of abuse, including survivors of abuse by clergy but also those who have survived violence on the streets, trafficking, and domestic violence.  The network is open to helping adult victims of all types of abuse find release from the grip of pain and grief.

The network is named after Saint Maria Goretti who was an 11-year old girl from Italy who died from injuries sustained while fighting off an attack from a rapist. Before she died, Maria is said to have forgiven her attacker and claimed that she wished for him to join her in heaven. Saint Maria is also said to have appeared in front of her abuser posthumously while he was in prison and forgave him. She was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

Since her canonization, Maria Goretti has become a symbol of both healing from abuse and coming to find a way forward through forgiveness. For many people from all around the world, she offers strength when they are trying to recover from abuse and to find peace in their lives again.

The Maria Goretti Network sets up meetings where victims of abuse can come together to share their stories and heal. Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral is taking an important step forward to helping the victims of church-related sexual abuse to find a way to heal. At the time the first meeting was held, a number of victims of sexual abuse by clergy, and others who have suffered abuse in different settings, had already declared their intention to be active members of the New Maria Goretti Network Chapter in Chicago.

Setting up the Maria Goretti Network Chapter is an important step for the Catholic church in Chicago to both acknowledge the abuse that has happened to many parishioners, and to create a variety of pathways forward for them to heal. Unfortunately, many people have been abused by priests. However, when a single church wishes to foster healing, there are a variety of things they can tap without having to create a whole new program that can help survivors step forward to find help.

It is worthwhile noting that this move by the Archdiocese in Chicago is just one more step in its many different outreach efforts; e.g., annual Mass, healing prayer services, pinwheel plantings in April, a healing garden, Peace Circles and discussion groups. These are all opportunities to mend many relationships, including between and among Catholics. Moreover, the growing community and awareness that is comfortable caring for the abused becomes its own ministry to the city at large.

The Holy Name Cathedral, and the many survivors of abuse in the Chicago area who choose to be connected to diocesan and parish programs, will be hoping that the Maria Goretti Network chapter will help more victims of abuse find a safe place to share, to heal, and to recover.

One of the most important effects of each program is that victims of abuse are able to connect with one another in a safe community, and they stop feeling so alone. This can be extremely healing to the victims and their family members and other loved ones. Providing peer support in healthful settings is a well-established cornerstone in trauma-informed mental health care.  Its effects are psychological, spiritual and physical.

As far as the Maria Goretti Network, support among peers is the cornerstone element. The idea of forgiveness is crucial in healing but calls for forgiveness have been used to silence victims in inhospitable times. Telling a victim to “forgive and forget” is a common way that victims can be re-wounded. It takes a peer-to-peer, day-by-day walk through forgiveness, at each person’s pace and timing, to make the pathway to forgiveness possible. The ministerial availability of the Maria Goretti leaders and volunteers is a time-consuming and deeply generous one, with strong impact – that will now be felt in the cathedral community of Chicago.


Meetings are held the third Monday of every month. For more info contact: Dr. Christine Lawless (women) 312-972-1828 or Mike Hoffman (men) 773-505-4405 or  Chicago@mgoretti.org

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