Perpetually renewed by the joy and grace of healing, Eliza Cobos radiates gratitude for her journey to God after decades of anguish.
“It’s nice to say I have a relationship with God,” Eliza offers candidly, with emphasis on relationship and deeply aware of its saving grace. Now 47, and empowered with a newfound clarity of faith and purpose, she reflects on a 10-year succession of events which reconciled her past and defined her life as a new creation in Christ.
“In 2010, I decided to go back to church,” Eliza speaks softly, disclosing her long absence from the pews “because after I had the abortion, I couldn’t go.” Feeling shame she confides, “I didn’t think I deserved to go near because I knew what I had done.”
Nearly 20 years had passed since her abortion at age 18.
Seeds of faith
Raised Catholic and having received her sacraments at Holy Spirit Parish in Fairfield, Eliza summons broken memories of how even in her youth, attendance at Mass was irregular and religion muddled as her parents explored other faith practices. Still, Eliza and her husband chose to enroll their four children, two girls and two boys, in Holy Spirit’s faith formation program. When their oldest teen daughter received her first Communion in 2009, Eliza believes it sparked her spirit and led to her eventual return to Mass.
“The day I went to church was Tuesday, March 8, 2010,” Eliza easily recalls, noting it was the day before her birthday. She also vividly remembers an announcement that the “40 Days for Life” vigil would begin the next day. After Mass she asked about it and learned about its mission and prayers to end abortion.
“In my heart, I felt God was calling me back and this was the beginning of a new relationship with God,” Eliza says, overcome with how the vigil occurred on her birthday. “I signed up for the 40 Days for Life and I offered them to the Lord.”
The vigil prompted Eliza to do more. Inspired to go to confession, she describes a tearful yet compassionate experience which was “very emotional for me to open up to somebody.”
Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation were breakthroughs, but Eliza continued to suffer silently and alone as she processed homilies, pro-life messages and little reminders of her inner turmoil.
In 2016, Eliza accepted an invitation to attend a diocesan respect life gathering in Sacramento. Fellow parishioners attended as a community and listened to pro-life activist Lila Rose.
“She had me in tears,” Eliza remembers of the pivotal evening when she also met Paula Segno, coordinator of the Diocese of Sacramento’s Project Rachel ministry for post-abortion healing. After the meeting, Eliza approached Paula and quietly conveyed, “In 25 years, I haven’t told anyone.” There was unspoken understanding. Paula knew what Eliza meant.
Paula’s subsequent outreach and compassion led Eliza to commit to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat weekend. It was time to cast off her fear and revive her healing journey.
Passage to healing
Attending the retreat meant an opportunity to alleviate a buried numbness. It also meant full disclosure to her husband of all the wounds and transgressions that haunted her. A childhood fraught with abuse, teen years marked by two incidents of assault and an abortion, substance abuse to cope, and suicidal tendencies all marred her memory before she met and married her husband of 27 years.
Eliza asked him to park in front of the church. She began to tell him her story. “His eyes opened up so big,” she recounts with a quiver in her voice, still saddened at the thought of causing him pain.
He listened intently as Eliza spoke of those frightening days, and how she ultimately succumbed to peer pressure and had the abortion. She also told him of her panicked revelation about the gravity of abortion.
“I never really knew what I had done until I picked up my daughter at high school one day,” Eliza says, explaining that she told her husband how people gathered there to protest abortion. “I wanted to see their signs and pictures, so I drove closer,” she narrates, realizing she never had considered what actually happens in an abortion.
Seeing the signs and posters “was like a bandage had been taken off,” she told her husband. “I could finally see what I had done,” she admits mournfully, replaying the graphic images in her head once again.
Eliza also told her husband of her pain and regret, and how she felt “like a hypocrite as they attended 40 Days for Life prayer vigils…praying for the end of abortion…but no one knew the reason I was there.”
“He just hugged me and said I love you and I will support you,” Eliza says, breathing deeply, grateful for his lens of understanding and hope for healing. He supported her attendance at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat too. Eliza sensed God’s work in their lives in all the preceding years when the family returned to church. She knew they all grew closer to God as he prepared and strengthened them for their future.
A vineyard of acceptance, forgiveness and love
When Eliza arrived for the retreat, she acknowledges she had second thoughts and worried how others would perceive her. Paula met her outside, reassuring her that God needed her there to heal. She stayed.
“I noticed that no one was judging me,” Eliza says with relief. She decided “to give it all to God.” She appreciated how other attendees were supportive and comforting throughout difficult moments of sharing.
Eliza describes the retreat experience as “amazing” but credits two retreat elements for helping her heal: a meaningful exercise and a powerful ceremony.
“We go through a dark, cold forest with no light and no ending,” Eliza says, illustrating vividly a visualization technique used to comprehend God’s mercy.
“Finally, I see a light and a man dressed in white and there were two babies holding his hand. I walked up and Jesus tells me, ‘these are your children.’ They’re beautiful and dressed in white like Jesus. He sends them to pick flowers for me.”
Eliza pauses as she did during the exercise. She had realized both babies were hers. She relates that she miscarried a baby between her daughters’ births. Content with a profound peace that her unborn children are with God, Eliza knows “they will be waiting for me.”
“He forgave me,” she says emphatically yet also grieving over how “it was just so hard for me to forgive myself.”
Eliza further portrays a memorial ceremony which occurs near the end of the retreat weekend. Retreatants name their children, spiritually baptize them and finally “let them go,” consoled in faith, hope and love.
“It was so beautiful,” Eliza reminisces, pondering the subtle and subliminal sounds of children laughing and playing, pleased to be acknowledged at last.
Eliza’s passage to healing inspired her entire family’s faith.
“I thank God that he allowed me, my husband and my children to take the journey together,” Eliza declares, ever grateful that they go to Mass and pray the rosary as a family.
She is humbled at how her oldest daughter, now 26, participated in Crossroads Pro-Life Walks Across America. “She wanted to be a part of the pro-life movement,” Eliza explains, detailing how she walked from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. over 12 weeks.
“She walked for the life of her unborn brother, the forgiveness of her mother, and for the end of abortion,” Eliza says, feeling richly blessed and claiming it as “one of the greatest gifts for me.”
Eliza maintains her commitment to 40 Days for Life and now serves as one of the leaders in Fairfield. “We organize getting people to West Coast Walk for Life in San Francisco,” she says, while also planning the twice yearly 40 Days for Life prayer vigil. She also enjoys working on a project for the parish which will see a six-foot mural displayed in a planned “Garden for the Unborn.” The monument will depict an angel holding a baby.
Eliza’s pro-life efforts represent an ongoing ministry and her personal commitment to give back and give thanks. She also assists with the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats offered in Spanish to help others who seek healing after abortion. She feels strongly that people do not have to carry the burden of abortion alone and offers perspective to anyone grappling with the pain.
“Give yourself a chance,” she says, insisting “there are so many loving people willing to help and Rachel’s Vineyard retreats are a perfect place” to begin healing.
It is a new day and Eliza is created anew to nurture her relationship with God and to share the gospel of Life.
(In header photo: Eliza Cobos at her home in Fairfield, surrounded by family photos.)
What is Project Rachel?
Project Rachel is the Catholic Church's ministry for post-abortion healing and response. The ministry name was inspired by the Scripture, “Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more” (Jer 31:15).
The ministry services are strictly confidential, nonjudgmental, and available to anyone who suffers from the painful aftermath of abortion. A care plan may recommend consultation with members of the response team, a range of printed or online resources, or participation in a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. Follow-up and care may continue for six months to a year to facilitate God’s healing love and forgiveness.
Rachel’s Vineyard retreat weekends are offered a few times a year in English and Spanish and are open to women and men. They are an opportunity for any person who has struggled with the emotional or spiritual pain of an abortion. The retreat is a specific process designed to help an individual experience the mercy and compassion of God. It is also an opportunity to surface and release repressed feelings of anger, shame, guilt and grief. There are many exercises to help someone grieve the loss of an unborn child and to receive and accept God’s forgiveness. The retreat concludes with a memorial resurrection service. The weekend will help individuals rediscover their soul and transform the pain of the past into love and hope.