On Feb. 24, Stephen Ministers from throughout the Diocese of Camden gathered to celebrate Mass with Our Lady of Hope Parish at Saint Agnes Church in Blackwood for a celebration of their ministry sponsored by VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services.
Our Lady of Hope Parish pastor, Father Joseph Szolack, along with Father Sanjai Devis, diocesan director of Hospital Chaplaincy and Stephen Ministry, celebrated the Mass assisted by parish Deacon Jack Werner and myself, executive director of VITALity, Diocese of Camden.
In his homily, Father Szolack referenced the work of Stephen Ministers as a transforming force in the lives of so many in need of Christ’s presence. This transformation is so much like the life changing experience of the Apostles as they witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus atop the mountain. In remarks at the end of Mass, I thanked the Stephen Ministers for their dedication, commitment and compassion that they demonstrate through their ministry, and asked the parish to affirm and support them through their prayers and gestures of gratitude as the over 100 Stephen Ministers in attendance stood to be recognized.
The Stephen Ministers were invited to a dinner reception and short program at the parish center. There they heard from Father John Picinic, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Sewell, as he spoke from a pastor’s perspective as to the value and contribution of Stephen Ministers to the life of the parish, and how they so well fill the void of the lack of available time of the parish clerics in spending the necessary time with the great numbers of parishioners in need of compassionate companionship through their loss.
Stephen Ministers are highly trained lay people who enter into a one-on-one caregiver-care receiver relationship with a fellow parishioner who has undergone a significant loss or trauma in their lives. Be it a serious medical diagnosis, divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or any other great hardship, Stephen Ministers are trained to be effective and confidential listeners and companions on that journey with them as they struggle through these dark times in their lives. Currently there are 12 parishes in the Diocese of Camden that have active Stephen Ministries and there are over 200 trained Stephen Ministers throughout the diocese.
VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services supports the work of Stephen Ministry through scholarships for training Stephen Ministry leaders, along with the recruitment and ongoing education and enrichment of Stephen Ministers throughout the diocese. We are grateful for those pastors who have made the commitment to develop and support Stephen Ministry at their parishes.
For more information about Stephen Ministry, contact VITALity at 856-583-6123 or visit our website at Vitality.camdendiocese.org
Deacon Jerry Jablonowski is executive director of VITALity.