Spiritual support during difficult times

They may serve different “audiences,” the healing Masses and services held throughout the Diocese of Camden on a regular basis, but their goal is the same: to touch people and provide them with the spiritual support they need during difficult times.
According to Msgr. Michael Mannion, director of Community Relations for the Diocese of Camden, there are three categories of healing Masses and services that the diocese sponsors.
The Monday after Mother’s Day each year, a team led for the past 14 to 15 years by Betty Pearce, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s Church in Sea Isle City, coordinates a healing Mass for the parents and loved ones of children who have passed away. About 150 people usually attend that Mass.
Pearce helped start the Mass in 1999, originally designing it for women who had lost a child to abortion. The church’s associate pastor at the time suggested it be open to all people who had lost a child, eliminating the stigma for the women who had had abortions. What started with just 20 people has “grown and grown and grown,” said Pearce, who noted Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Stratford holds a similar Mass each year that attracts 300.
“I think the people who come to this (Mass) are carrying a loss that is unimaginable and nobody can share it except other people who are going through the same thing. They come for comfort, healing and companionship. I have seen such a transformation,” Pearce said.
She praised Msgr. Mannion’s handling of what can be a very difficult time. “He validates their loss and then he gives them a reason to go on – to live their lives in memory of their children. Those parents help the new ones each year,” Pearce said.
Additionally, the diocese holds a Mass of Anointing (this year it was on Oct. 12 at Transfiguration Church in West Collingswood), sponsored by the Order of Malta – American Association; Most Precious Blood Parish, which includes Transfiguration Church; and St. Luke’s Catholic Medical Service. The diocese-wide Mass of Anointing, for anyone who wants to receive the Sacrament of the Sick, usually draws 120 to 130 individuals. “That’s meant for anybody who would like to receive the Sacrament of the Sick or be prayed over or to pray for someone else,” Msgr. Mannion said.
Dr. Lesly D’Ambola, medical director of St. Luke’s Catholic Medical Service, North Camden, and assistant professor of medicine at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, said, “The Healing Mass is definitely an extension of the healing ministry of St. Luke’s. I think it’s a very important part of the health care ministry of St. Luke’s. It’s important that people feel God loves and cares for them.”
She added, “As a physician, I’m involved in healing and helping people in many different settings.” St. Luke’s, she said, is concerned about patients’ medical, psychological and spiritual well-being, and the Healing Masses address the latter.
Additionally, the diocese works with individual parishes to hold healing services/Scripture services, during which the homily contains a healing message and priests pray over people.
Diane Scafidi, a member of and youth minister at Our Lady of Hope Parish, Blackwood, is one of four coordinators who works with Msgr. Mannion on the healing services via the diocese’s Spiritual Ministry of Hope and Healing.
The diocese has sponsored these services for about three years, and last year it held close to a dozen, during which a priest prays over each participant and gives him or her a spiritual memento to take home.
Anywhere from 70 to 250 people attend these services. “Very often there may be people who have strayed from the church for whatever reason, who don’t feel the connection anymore,” Scafidi said. “This is a way for them to find some peace and healing in whatever their situation is. And it’s not always a physical healing they are looking for, but a spiritual as well as emotional healing.”
Msgr. Mannion said these services are especially helpful for people who might not be able to receive the sacrament because of invalid marriage issues and for other people who might not be active in the church. He noted, “It’s a very comfortable, connecting point. These services give people an entrée to a faith-healing experience.”
While the Masses and services may indeed differ in intent and attendance, they do address similar issues. “Many people are hurting for many different reasons – loss, grief, illness and disease, brokenness through the church – and some people like to come to pray for others,” Msgr. Mannion said.
“Whenever we do the healing Mass or service, there are eight to 10 priests we invite to be a part of it,” Msgr. Mannion said. “It’s a powerful and very beautiful channel to invite people to deepen their faith, to return to the faith and to share the faith in a community of caring people. The Lord uses them to share their experiences to help one another – all through the grace of Christ. They meet each other. They connect with each other. They bond with each other.”
(Note: Individual parishes in the Camden Diocese also offer healing Masses.)

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