By Catholic Extension Catholic
Extension’s Lumen Christi Award honors an individual or group working in an Extension Diocese who demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives and communities.
The Lumen Christi Award is accompanied by a grant for the honoree and his or her nominating diocese to be used for enhancing a specific area of ministry.
This year 34 inspiring nominees are as varied as the Church itself and have shown great resolve during this most difficult year. They are nominated as hidden heroes of the Church who are serving their communities selflessly to bring faith and hope to the forgotten corners and peoples of our country, inspiring those around them to be the “Light of Christ” as well.
This year’s nominee for the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau is Carol Szopa, a retired registered nurse who is a beloved member of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Anchorage, Alaska, working in several ministries and playing a variety of roles. However, the one that stands out is the pivotal role she performs as the coordinator of the local branch of Project Rachel. This healing ministry provides spiritual support to those who have been impacted by abortion. She is widely recognized as a compassionate presence who brings hope and renewal to those she serves.
For more than 20 years, her confidential and gentle leadership has been a transformational support to those who have long suffered in silence. The impact of Carol’s ministry is nothing short of life-saving for those who go through the program.
Carol’s healing ministry helps people realize that despite having lost a precious child of God, they themselves are beloved, and they can be forgiven.
As a result, Project Rachel participants report experiencing a more profound spirituality and new hope in the grace and mercy of God. The program has also made an impact on preventing future abortions, not only among the participants but also for all those they go on to counsel based on their own experience.
Although Project Rachel includes Catholic-specific components, such as a healing Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation, non-Catholic participants are also welcome.
Those who attend the sessions experience a new sense of forgiveness from God’s infinite mercy and find the courage to forgive themselves. The ministry also provides training for pastors, parish staff and internal volunteers. This training includes research on the emotional, physical and spiritual impacts of abortion, guidelines on appropriate pastoral responses to this challenging reality, and resources for continued education.
Carol has quietly and humbly worked all these years ministering to people with some of the greatest wounds in our society. Without fanfare, she often contributes her own funds, airline miles or whatever is needed to serve the fragile individuals in her care. And she does so without any expectation of recognition. Yet, understanding so many more people require this particular ministry, Carol has been instrumental in expanding awareness of Project Rachel by building an online presence that can serve those in need regardless of geographical location. In addition, she now provides distance healing ministry through private video conferencing sessions.
With the newly merged Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, Carol is working to acquire more resources and serve more people. She has also spearheaded the writing and copyrighting of the program’s handbook in hopes that other dioceses across the country will adopt the program. Also, under Carol’s guidance, Project Rachel has expanded its Facebook outreach ministry and has set up a website for all of Alaska (projectrachelalaska.com).
Carol’s quiet yet powerful ministry is making an impact far and wide. Recently, one young woman from the Philippines, who read about the program on Facebook, reached out to Carol, who connected her with a contact in her area. A glance at the testimonials page of the Project Rachel website illustrates how her devotion to God and her ministry are making a difference in people around the globe.