“One of the goals for a parish bereavement ministry program is that no member of the faith community will grieve alone,” said Saulina Amaral, who helps parishes start or enhance a Ministry of Consolation and Hope through the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Formation for Discipleship. “The compassion of a loving God should be experienced by all who lose a loved one, through the care and concern of parish members.”
Through the Ministry of Consolation and Hope, bereavement ministers provide support by attending the vigil services and funeral and helping the family with the funeral reception. Post-funeral, the ministers — most often those who have also experienced the death of a loved one — send out cards, make phone calls, meet with individuals needing support, organize liturgies of remembrance and prayer services, offer bereavement support groups and even make referrals, when necessary.
The ministry is set up at the parish level, so programs will vary, said Amaral. The Office of Formation for Discipleship provides training to ministers based on the Order of Christian Funerals, which equips them with the tools and information to offer effective and compassionate support.
In addition to helping those grieving, these ministers also support pastors and priests.
“It can be difficult for priests to meet the needs of all the grieving, especially in the larger parishes,” said Amaral. “With a bereavement ministry, it is possible for the priests to continue in their role of meeting the spiritual needs of the grieving while assisted by trained bereavement ministers.”
Another source of support is New Beginnings, a ministry of Catholic Family Services (cfstoronto.com) that helps those dealing with loss because of death, separation or divorce. Its bereavement ministry encourages the formation of parish-based peer support groups by providing resources, training and ongoing support.
“We are presently working on new ways to support our parishes through groups for those individuals and families dealing with loss to encourage them to develop in faith and to be able to find hope and a sense of belonging in their church,” said Alex Lopechuk of Catholic Family Services, who is a registered social worker. “I sincerely hope we can increasingly reach out to the wider community so that those who have grown apart from the Catholic faith can again see it as a place of acceptance and welcome.”
New Beginnings also offers retreats and hosts a series of seminars and inspirational talks. “This is a time to receive new insights and coping strategies to help live life more effectively,” added Lopechuk.
He sees the impact that New Beginnings can have in people’s lives through the feedback he receives, like this one: “This has been one of the most liberating and uplifting experiences I have had in my life.”
(Santilli is a writer and communications professional in Toronto.)