Raising awareness of our Catholic faithful in long term care facilities

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For many of us, when independent living in our own home is no longer feasible, practical or safe, our living circumstances may evolve into the need for a long term care facility. That may be a skilled nursing facility for more complete total care, or an assisted living facility, that can still foster a degree of independence, but within the protective environment of nurses and aides to assist with meals and other activities of daily living.

But given the physical assistance of nurses and aides, there often lacks the social connection with family and friends that so defined life prior to being there. And for many Catholics, that includes their close bonds and relationships within their parish community. Now in a new living facility, in a new and strange location, the opportunity for socialization is stripped away and left only to the confines of other residents and caring staff at that place.

The outside world can seem so distant as one ages and struggles with the infirmities of illness and disability. The new home seems so apart from the realities of their home life, when once surrounded by family and friends. So even though their physical needs for life and safety are being tended to daily, there remains a huge gap in their life where there is no one to share their stories of life with or even recall the events of the day in friendly conversation.

As Christians, we are called to help those who need us in their lives. Especially those on the margins of our society. Those most forgotten in the daily flow of human existence. And most residents in long term facilities would certainly include themselves as those who have become excluded in so many ways.

Our call to discipleship must include our response to them. That is why VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services has designated the weekend of Feb. 9-10 to be a time to raise awareness of our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, all our beloved neighbors who are residents in such facilities. And what a better time for this awareness as we approach the World Day of the Sick on Monday, Feb. 11, which is also the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, so often prayed to and invoked by those so desperately seeking healing of mind, body and spirit.

This weekend we have called upon our parishes to pray for those in nursing homes and to raise the call for volunteers to visit the sick and aged living there. We have evaluated the Catholic presence in each and every nursing home in our diocese and know that each has a Catholic ministerial presence for the Catholic residents. But we need to do even more to bring about their more complete and sought after connection to their parish. More volunteers are always needed to bring the life of Christ through the parish alive in their hearts. To break the cycle of isolation from the spiritual and social bonds of the Church.

There are many things that we can do to uplift the spirits of these, our most fragile parishioners. In addition to monthly Mass and Communion services and prayer services, we can connect in so many more ways —Birthday celebrations, book clubs, youth groups to assist in social activities like Bingo or crafts, children in religious education programs to make and deliver Christmas and Easter cards, the parish choir visiting and providing an afternoon concert … So many unique ways to bring Christ and His Church alive to them through our presence.

Speak with your local pastor or representatives of your parish outreach ministry for the list of facilities served within your parish. Answer the call to volunteer and bring that joy and peace of Christ into the lives of those so desperate for his comfort. Your work can be the work of his hands and your words can be his voice that brings them the joy of his Kingdom as they live their lives under the care and protection of others dedicated to their well-being.

Deacon Jerry Jablonowski is executive director, VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, Diocese of Camden.