By Dubravka Kolumbic-Cortese | Correspondent
Elaine Grillo knows the faces of addiction intimately. Her mother, husband, son, daughter-in-law and nephew are all recovering addicts. She also lost a sister and brother to addiction.
So when her parish, St. Joan of Arc, Marlton, began a ministry for those who have been affected by addiction, it seemed natural that she would take part. But it didn’t feel that way to Grillo, at first.
“For many years, I was angry with God,” Grillo admitted. “I didn’t really want to get into all this again.” Nonetheless, she felt God was guiding her to the ministry for a reason and now feels blessed to be a part of it, she said.
“You walk away with hope for yourself, but also praying for that other person, just realizing how devastating this disease really is,” Grillo said.
Providing a safe, confidential forum, where those struggling with addiction can come together with their friends and families to share their experiences and support each other, is the goal of the Accompanying One Another ministry, which has been meeting faithfully every Sunday for the past nine months.
To that end, the AOA will host its first Mass of “Mercy, Healing and Hope” at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 in St. Joan of Arc Church.
Noting that Msgr. Richard D. LaVerghetta, pastor, desired for the parish to implement an outreach for families impacted by addiction, Deacon Tom Murphy spoke of how the new ministry offers peer-to-peer support.
“We all either have an addiction or have a loved one with an addiction. It’s an even playing field. We all share honestly, but we all know that we can feel safe.”
Ministry co-chairs Grillo, Murphy and Dotty Garro, who have all been touched by addiction, weren’t really sure at first whom the ministry would serve.
“Father Rich said, ‘Let’s try to serve everyone and just see who comes. And whoever comes, that’s the answer to who needs to be served.’ And that worked out beautiful,” Deacon Murphy said.
The first meeting was held Dec. 18, 2016, and there has been steady attendance ever since, with an average of 15 people each week. Murphy estimated the ministry has touched more than 30 people so far, and new faces continue to show up. The attendees vary in age and are dealing with a variety of addictions.
“We wanted to do something that had a Christian base,” Garro said. “And we knew there was a need, because there was so many people affected in our parish in one way or another.”
While planning the ministry, the trio visited City of Angels, an independent organization in Hamilton Township that offers support and treatment referrals to those suffering from addiction. There they saw the benefits of addicts and family members meeting together and sharing their stories.
“It was helpful to know both sides,” Garro said, “for each side to hear the other’s perspective. It helped open communication.”
“They get to hear real, honest, confidential conversations that can really help each other heal and grow,” Murphy said. “That’s been, I think, the chemistry of the group.”
AOA uses The Life Recovery Bible, which is based on the 12-step recovery model, and the meetings are run similar to an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering. Each meeting begins with an opening prayer, followed by a member volunteer who reads the Scripture and then shares something from his or her experience. Attendees have a chance to share, or pass if they do not feel like sharing that night. A final prayer and blessing closes the meeting.
“We are here to accompany you, not to judge you,” Murphy said. “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We want you to be part of the family with no restrictions.”
AOA celebrates every three-month anniversary with a guest speaker who shares his or her life story, in place of the regular member sharing.
“Until you find God and until you surrender completely and 100 percent to God, I really don’t think there is a chance to beat addiction,” Grillo said. “It’s also important for people to understand that relapse is part of recovery.”
Murphy said the name of the ministry refers to accompanying one another on the road to recovery and coincides with Pope Francis’ call to walk and work together.
“To me, it’s just spreading the faith and the mission of being a disciple,” Murphy said. “It’s not just about serving the people in the pews. It’s also about serving the people that are not in the pews, and we want them to feel welcome.”
For more information on the Addiction Mass or the AOA ministry, contact Dotty Garro at 856-912-1440 or email@example.com.