Parishioners accompany others through grief

Candles marked with the names of deceased loved ones burn before the altar during the Service of the Longest Night held at St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Ind., Dec. 14, 2019. The annual service is scheduled near the winter solstice and is intended to bring comfort to those grieving the loss of loved ones. (CNS photo by Katie Rutter)

Francia Bennett’s belief in the resurrection has helped her through hard times and she hopes to impart that unwavering faith to others experiencing loss and hardship.

Bennett, a parishioner of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., is part of a pilot program meant to help Hispanic parishioners dealing with grief and loss.

“I’ve seen so many families who are grieving the loss of a loved one,” said Bennett in an interview last week. “Previously, there was not a group or something where people can gather and receive support.”

She and a handful of other parishioners in the Archdiocese of Louisville took part in a grief training program aimed to assist those who have lost loved ones. The program — called “Accompaniment in the Grief Healing Process” — is an initiative of the Southeast Pastoral Institute, a ministry of the Southeast Regional Office of Hispanic Ministry of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Eva Gonzalez, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Hispanic Ministry, said this type of ministry is needed now more than ever, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To be able to walk with someone when they are hurting is so important to the grieving process,” said Gonzalez in an interview last week.

Many immigrants who speak Spanish are in need of this type of ministry, Gonzalez said, because of language barriers and work schedules.

The participants in the grief training took part in an extensive two-part course. The first six weeks focused on theoretical training, while the next 12 weeks moved to practical instruction where participants worked under a trained psychologist.

Patricia Robles, a parishioner of Epiphany Church who took part in the training alongside Bennett, said those who are suffering need someone to listen and be by their side in their loneliness.

“When someone dies, it’s a process. Many people have such strong feelings and don’t know where to start,” Robles said.

Patricia Robles sat in the sanctuary of Epiphany Church April 17. Robles leads a grief support group for Hispanic parishioners who have experienced the loss of a loved one. The program — Accompaniment in the Grief Healing Process — is in need of more parish leaders to take part in the training. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Both Bennett and Robles said many of the individuals they’ve spoken with have families in their home country. Oftentimes when a mother, father or other family member dies, they are unable to travel home to be with loved ones and truly grieve, Robles noted.

“I think the Latino population here needs this because this year of the pandemic has been very difficult,” she said. “I think of a woman I helped who had lost her mom in Mexico and was unable to see her when she died. She said this program has helped her.”

And it’s not just grief caused by death, the two women said. Many are struggling with job loss and isolation due to the pandemic as well.

Bennett, who has been a parishioner of St. James for 20 years, said many in the Hispanic community don’t know who to turn to for help, either because they don’t like to ask for help or because of a language barrier. Oftentimes, work schedules may prevent individuals from seeking help as well, she said. Bennett suggested those who are grieving to reach out to their parishes and to seek help.

“There are people willing to help,” she added.

Gonzalez said additional volunteers “who feel called to this ministry” are needed to assist grieving parishioners.

“This type of ministry is not for everyone. It’s for people who have a vocation to serve others who are in the process of grieving,” she said.

Parishioners who are interested in serving in this way should contact their parish or the Office of Hispanic Ministry. Additional training courses will be offered later this year.

Spanish-speaking individuals who have lost a loved one or are grieving another loss are encouraged to contact the Office of Hispanic Ministry. To reach the Office of Hispanic Ministry contact 502-290-4247, hispmin@archlou.org or visit https://www.archlou.org/hispanic-ministry.

English-speaking parishioners who are interested in grief support may contact their parish or the Office of Family Ministries at 636-1044.

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