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Catholic Charities, parishes launch addiction ministries

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Susan Infeld’s son struggled with alcoholism for years. Infeld and her husband struggled getting him the help he needed. Today, he has been sober for more than three years and two months, and works helping other addicts find jobs. Through her own experience and as a parish nurse at St. John Neumann Church in Reston, Infeld knows how addiction can affect addicts and families. 

On Divine Mercy Sunday, St. John Neumann is launching a Recovery and Addiction Ministry. “This ministry is my paying it forward for all the grace we have been given,” said Infeld.

“I do now as parish nurse privately what our ministry will do publicly — listen, empathize, direct to appropriate resources such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous, therapists, parent support groups, literature, and pray unceasingly for the addict and for the family,” said Infeld. 

St. John Neumann is one of four parishes with similar ministries in the works: St. John the Evangelist Church in Warrenton, Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria and St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. Diocesan Catholic Charities supports these local initiatives. 

“I had made the decision to set up a recovering and addition ministry and it happened to coincide with (Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s) interest in doing this as well,” said Infeld. “It was a fabulous opportunity to get further engaged with the diocese in their efforts.”

After a monthslong process initiated by Bishop Burbidge, diocesan Catholic Charities has released a working plan for combating the opioid crisis in the diocese, which includes encouraging parishes to form an addiction ministry. A diocesanwide conference was held on the topic last fall at Good Shepherd. In March, Art Bennett, Catholic Charities president and CEO, sent an email to the priests explaining the organization’s newly devised strategy. 

“Through many conversations with parents of addicts, people in recovery, people who went to prison and have re-entered society, as well as interested pastors, parishioners and professionals in the clinical, law enforcement and policy communities, we discovered that there are three areas that make this scourge so severe,” wrote Bennett. “Opioid addiction has a radically strong grip on the client. The treatment process is arduous on many levels. Addicts and their families become stigmatized, ashamed and isolated as they navigate through the phases of recovery.”

On its website, Catholic Charities has created a list of resources, including local hotlines for providing crisis intervention, emergency evaluation and assessment for treatment services, case management services or referrals. The organization also held additional training for its mental health clinicians to better prepare to serve recovering addicts and their families.

Going forward, Catholic Charities will have meetings for the parish resource committees and other interested parties to receive training and share best practices and information. The first will be held April 29 at St. John Neumann. 

“The biggest thing is trying to meet the individual needs of each community,” said Michael Horne, director of clinical services. “We recognize the problem is going to look different in different areas, (so it’s about) being able to have (each) parish tailor its response.”

Infeld is grateful more is being done to serve addicts, their families and the community. “Families are being destroyed by this disease. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren in retirement because the parents are addicts. Parents are going into debt trying to pay for rehab not just once, but sometimes multiple times. Families most often suffer in silence, not getting the tremendous support and tools that a (ministry or support group) can offer,” she said.

That’s where the church can step in. “I think our faith community has a unique opportunity to continue the healing work of our great Catholic healthcare institutions,” said Infeld. “In the words of one recovering community member, no one comes in here on a winning streak. We can share the message of divine mercy with this outreach.”

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019