By David Kilby | Correspondent
Those volunteers who completed the diocesan pastoral care training program in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, April 8, all agreed that their lives will never be the same.
Deanna Sass, director of the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, opened the celebration ceremony in Trinity Hall with a prayer service, asking God to bless the dedicated ministers who reveal God’s love and compassion to those who are suffering in this life.
“We are inspired by your enthusiasm, dedication and goodness,” she said. “We are all better people for having crossed your paths.”
Reflecting on a passage from Sister Juliana Casey’s book “Food for the Journey,” Sass continued addressing the volunteers, “You transform the places where you minister into holy ground. You recognize the dignity of each person you meet … You give them love, care, time, prayer, and you do it because of the Christ in you recognizing the Christ in them.”
The training consisted of six Saturdays and 36 hours of courses over a span of six months. Each training included two sessions covering a different aspect of pastoral care ministry. Examples included “Pastoral Theology: Suffering & the Healing Mission of Jesus;” “Pastoral Spirituality: Love of God, Neighbor and Self;” rituals for laypersons such as rites for Holy Communion and rituals for the sick and dying; pastoral presence and “The Art of Holy Listening.”
Sass shared the important role pastoral care ministries play in the overall mission of the Diocese. “So many people throughout our Diocese are in need of pastoral care, in need of someone who can bring them the hope of Christ, comfort and presence so they know they’re not alone in their suffering,” she said. “We train folks here who can do that, so these trainings are creating a wonderful large army of people to go forth and bring hope and light to very dark places.”
Dorian Thomas, administrative assistant in the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, added, “This is a huge sacrifice for these people to come for six Saturdays to equip themselves with the knowledge and tools they need to do their ministry and to help the world at large.”
The volunteers didn’t hesitate to share how much these trainings and pastoral care mean to them.
‘If we’re made in the likeness of God, we have to do God’s work because we represent God,” said Deacon Nicola Stranieri of Visitation Parish, Brick. “We’re doing the work of Jesus. You do all that you can do because you’re representing the face of Jesus.”
MaryLou Parsons, who serves as a reader, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and member of the Altar Rosary Society and adult faith formation committee for her parish, St. Peter, Point Pleasant Beach, said, “When I received information about the pastoral care program, I felt it would be an excellent program to enhance my ministry and allow me to serve the St. Peter community to my fullest.
“I found my calling to the ministry of bereavement,” she said. “I feel that I can effectively participate in my ministry with confidence and knowledge.”
Janice Willett of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral concurred. “This has been the best experience of my life,” she said, adding that she absolutely loves the hospital chaplaincy and plans to get more involved in it. “That to me is my true calling. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in someone else’s life. I’m on fire for God.”