By Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
Just as the Good Samaritan saw the face of Christ as he reached out to help another in need, so, too, do pastoral caregivers model the role of good neighbors as they minister to those who are sick, frail or at the end of their life, and their loved ones.
That model of encounter was the focus of the 11th annual Pastoral Care Retreat held May 5 in San Alfonso Retreat House, West End, where some 82 caregivers representing 34 parishes were reminded that the core of their ministry is to bring the love of Christ to others in their time of need as well as to have their own pastoral encounters with Christ.
Attendees included extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and parish visitors of the sick, hospital, hospice, jail and prison chaplains, religious, employees and volunteers in nursing homes, Knights of Columbus, spiritual directors, family caregivers and healthcare professionals hailing from all corners of the Diocese. Keynote speaker Dr. Widian Nicola led retreatants on a reflection of what it means to have a “theology of encounter” with Christ as a pastoral caregiver.
Rather than viewing an encounter as an abstract concept or a “mere temporary glance,” Dr. Nicola, a licensed clinical social worker and assistant professor in Seton Hall University, South Orange, defined an encounter as being “an engaging, dynamic practice composed of three movements – contact, connection and care.”
To contact, Dr. Nicola said, is to move across an invisible threshold, from one space to the next. “To make contact requires that we move toward suffering, toward that which resonates with our own suffering,” she said.
Connection, Dr. Nicola defined, is the extension of oneself into another’s experience. “[It]is the vulnerability that opens us up to the beauty, potential, dignity and divinity in those around us.”
“Healing then can only come from the embodied connections we have with one another,” she said.
As agents of care and compassion, Dr. Nicola reminded the audience that they are invited to be “the Good Samaritans to those in our communities, to be instruments of welcome in the movement toward healing that is transformational.”
The retreat also included Mass celebrated by Vincentian Father Martin McGeough, coordinator of Jail and Prison Ministry in the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, which sponsored the retreat, as well as lunch, fellowship, small and large group sharing and quiet time for prayer and reflection.
Tony Cinardo, chaplain for more than 14 years at Monmouth Medical Center, West Long Branch, has attended a decade of diocesan pastoral care retreats. Now director of the hospital’s pastoral care department for almost three years, Cinardo said he has found each retreat to be “reinvigorating to my work at the hospital.” The 2017 event was made extra special, he added, by having those who serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Monmouth Medical Center attend.
“The feedback I received from them was overwhelmingly positive and undoubtedly one of the best investments we have made in their pastoral care experience,” Cinardo said.
“To hear testimony of healings that took place throughout the day brought overwhelming joy to my heart. Our Lord is intimately at work here and now through the contact, connection and care of his selfless servants, as Dr. Nicola insightfully pointed out.”
John Patrick Gatton of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, author of “God’s Strengthening Love For Caregivers,” has previously served as the keynote speaker for the retreat. As a participant this year, he found it “offered me the opportunity to chat with other people who are giving care [and] learning as they mature in the process of caregiving and who have the life-goal of helping others in their time of need.”