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Local pastoral visitors gather to pray, reflect on ministry to the sick

By Mark Labbe
Posted: 2/5/2016

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Participants in "A Time of Prayer for Pastoral Visitors and Ministers of Communion to the Sick" are pictured at St. Joseph Parish in Wakefield, Jan. 31. Pilot photo/Mark Labbe

WAKEFIELD -- Pastoral Visitors and ministers of Communion who offer support to the sick or infirm came together to listen to a lecture by Sister Anne D'Arcy, CSJ and share their work-related experiences during a conference at St. Joseph Parish in Wakefield, Jan. 31.

The two hour conference, entitled ''A Time of Prayer for Pastoral Visitors and Ministers of Communion to the Sick,'' was co-sponsored by the Office of Spiritual Life and the Office of Chaplaincy at the Archdiocese of Boston. It is the first of five conferences that will be held over the next few months.

The event at the parish began with a prayer, a song, and a reading from the Gospel.

The reading was from the Gospel of Mark, and told the story of the paralyzed man who was lowered down on a mat into a crowded house by his friends to see Jesus.

Jesus, upon seeing the man's faith, forgave his sins. Some people in the crowd questioned Jesus, saying only God has the power forgive sins. In response, Jesus restored the paralyzed man's movement, thus proving that he had the authority to forgive man's sins.

Sister Anne, the associate director of the Office of Spiritual Life, focused on the reading in her talk, as well as the Year of Mercy.

She said the story illustrates the "importance of the mercy of forgiveness," and likened the man's friends to the caregivers at the gathering.

"By your ministry, you bring people to Jesus," Sister Anne said.

She said that a caregiver is "the face of mercy," and they "may be the only face of mercy (their patients) ever see."

"This is one of the great corporal works of mercy, to visit the sick," Sister Anne said.

Following the talk, those in attendance participated in prayer before sharing their experiences working as caregivers in a group session.

During the session, Rose Dittmer, coordinator for Adult Faith Formation at St. Joseph Parish and a spiritual caregiver in hospitals and nursing homes, said she moved at the fact that patients with Alzheimer's disease or dementia often retain the basics of their faith, even as their other memories slip away.

"They may not know you or anybody around them, but they always know their prayers... that always touches me tremendously," she said, as those around her nodded their heads in agreement.

Barbara Redmond, who volunteers her time at nursing homes and is an adjunct faculty member at Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans, spoke about the importance of offering spiritual care to those of different faiths, and not just to those who are Catholic.

She said that when she was younger, she was hospitalized after injuring her back. During that time, a protestant minister would come in everyday for the other person in the room, and he would offer a prayer for both her and Redmond, who is Catholic.

"I was just so moved that he included me and felt I was just as much a part as (the other person) in his prayers," she said.

Redmond said she now offers spiritual care for patients as well as their nurses and others in their rooms, if they want.

During the discussion, the caregivers also spoke on the importance of offering hugs to patients, as well as seeing patients as human beings, rather than as their illnesses.

The next conference will take place on Feb. 27 at St. Francis Parish in Weymouth.