Living Hope Newsletter – August 2013

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Claretian Parish Grief Ministry

When a family member dies, the rest of the family faces many decisions that need to be made quickly at a time when they already feel incredibly vulnerable and overwhelmed. There is often tremendous comfort to be taken from the companionship and care of those in parish bereavement ministry.

At Corpus Christi Parish in Stone Mountain, Georgia, Claretians and lay ministers devote significant time and thoughtful energy to providing meaningful support for grieving families. The 25 volunteers involved in Corpus Christi’s funeral ministry help the families cope with their loss and assist the Claretians with the funeral liturgies.

Gini Eagen, the Pastoral Care Minister at Corpus Christi, has become especially close to the healing process, having worked in lay ministry for the parish for almost 30 years. Looking at the whole process of bereavement as an opportunity, Eagen and her team help families plan the funeral service and celebrate the life of their loved one.

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Eagen said she asks the family a host of questions before organizing their funeral service. If the deceased or the family has young children or grandchildren, she works with the family to create a service with the right impact for the little ones, especially if this is their first experience with death.

“We don’t want people to just have to ‘get through’ a funeral,” Eagen said. “We want them to have the beginnings of the healing process here. “And that’s where our work becomes ministry rather than just a favor we are doing for the family or the church.”

Bereavement ministers have ample opportunity to be present with parishioners. Many months, there are more funerals than weddings at the church. Through volunteer efforts, a welcoming meal is ready for the family and guests after the funeral and the burial. Offering meals and planning the funeral service helps ease the burdens of the grieving family. Each funeral liturgy may use between two and four volunteers acting as greeters, ushers, sacristans, altar servers, and Eucharistic ministers, depending on the size of the funeral.

The women of the parish prepare salads and desserts to add homemade dishes to the main courses that are often ordered out. The parishioners take care of all set up, serving, and the clean-up after the family has left.

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“We give grieving families an opportunity to relax and try to provide an atmosphere of comfort,” Eagen said. “People appreciate that so much.” It allows them the freedom to focus on the caring and support from everyone who’s there to honor the person who has died, without the burden of providing a meal for everyone at the end of a long day.

The Corpus Christi parish community has a rich blend of ethnic and cultural diversity with large populations of Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, Caribbeans, Africans, African Americans, and Europeans. Living in a place with so many different cultures and religious traditions gives Eagen’s ministry the unique challenge of celebrating funerals that are culturally meaningful to the families.

“We are blessed to have the Claretian priests here,” Eagen said. “They are men who are experienced in dealing with people from other cultures.”

The prayerful support and logistical help the bereavement ministry offers grieving families at Corpus Christi always come with compassion.

“A large part of the bereavement ministry is hospitality and warmth,” Eagen explained. “There’s nothing that you have to be trained for; the volunteers simply have it in their hearts.”

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A March for Peace

Last October, in a steady rain, Fr. Carl Quebedeaux, C.M.F., marched a group of more than 200 people down the streets of Chicago’s Southeast Side. The gathering came together as a proactive response from the community to the growing acts of violent crime afflicting resident families.

With a record murder rate blamed primarily on gang violence, Chicago’s streets have become a place of fear and distrust for many people living in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

Chicago’s streak of violence affects all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, and faiths, affecting all facets of community and family life. And many local faith leaders are taking a leading role in combating urban violence.

While the situation is at times overwhelming, the Claretians are among those leaders who refuse to allow the city’s violence to extinguish the hope and spirit of their communities. For Fr. Carl, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, organizing the peace march was a manifestation of his community’s desire to end the violence in their neighborhood.

Predominantly filled with parishioners from four South Side parishes, the march made its way through neighborhood streets, pausing at a particularly notorious intersection known as “Death Corner.” There, Fr. Carl blessed the four corners of the intersection, borrowing the idea from a Native American tradition.

The march continued on and culminated with a Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe. After the Mass, participants prayed for peace and lit candles to commemorate family, friends, and neighbors who had died as a result of neighborhood violence.

While honoring the lives of the victims of violence, the march also reflected a strong commitment on the part of Fr. Carl, of the OLG parish, and of the community members to take a personal role in building a more peaceful place to live. That role included a public pledge to protect the gift of life by working for peace in the community.

“It was an effort to join in prayer, to build community, and to awaken the courage to resist violence in our communities and our homes,” Fr. Carl said. “There’s a tendency to grow numb and say, ‘Violence isn’t my problem,’ but this is something we’re all involved in.”