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Diocesan Healing Ministry Offers Hope

An image of Jesus resurrected, arms outstretched, welcomed people coming to seek solace last Thursday evening at St. Timothy Church in Chantilly. Facing the main parking lot, the breathtaking, softly lit stained glass window seemed a beacon of hope to those attending the monthly diocesan Mass and healing service. Inside the church, an estimated 300 people were gathering. As Father Tuck Grinnell prepared to celebrate the traditional Mass, a delicate piano piece was being played, part of the music ministry directed by Mark Forrest. Catholic Healing Ministries moderator since its founding in 1990, Father Grinnell is pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Falls Church. Individuals attend the Mass and healing service for many reasons, said Catherine Griffin, the ministry’s administrator and member of St. Anthony Parish. She began the ministry after her husband died more than 10 years ago. Addressing the burdens the congregants had brought with them, Father Grinnell spoke of when one "feels filled with fear that you’re not able to dispel … How can we act when we feel that God is far from us?" Referring to the reading which explains that "perfect love drives out fear" (1 Jn 4:18), he said "we can choose to act out of love." When we do so, "we can be sure that God is dwelling in us." Father Grinnell asked the congregation to pray for those around them and encouraged everyone to partake of the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation, he. It was clearly an emotional evening for some, as people presented their petitions during the healing service after Mass. Some were asking for healing for themselves, and others had come to stand in for another. Two-person lay teams prayed with individuals requesting healing, who also received a laying on of hands and anointing with blessed oil. Father Grinnell pointed out that this was not the sacrament of anointing of the sick, which may be administered only by a priest for physical healing, but a Catholic community praying together. Griffin said that the healing Mass does not carry the "charismatic" label. As beautiful, meditative music resounded through the church, long lines formed in front of the many prayer teams and near the confessionals. The diocesan ministry’s goal is "helping people be healed, reconciled and nourished spiritually in union with Christ … (where) … "we celebrate the healing power of Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist. "Our ministry is made up of the clergy and laity, united to take seriously the call of Jesus to heal the whole person spiritually, emotionally and physically. We ourselves are not ‘healers’ but rather hope to be the instruments of the healing power of Christ." Attendance at the services ranges from 200-600 individuals, some attending each month. The dedicated 15-20 lay volunteer prayer ministers from various parishes are specially trained for their work. The Arlington Catholic Healing Ministries is modeled on the one in Baltimore, founded by Father Larry Gesy. He has written a book on the ministry, The Hem of His Garment: True Stories of Healing, published in 1996. The first time Griffin spoke to the priest in June 1989, she said that his "kindness and compassion … I would discover, was a large part of the healing ministry." Griffin’s husband, Alfred, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness five months earlier and had many people praying for his healing. Just two days before his death, the couple’s son, Chris, and wife, Lori, attended one of the Baltimore services to pray by proxy for their father’s healing, and were "overwhelmed by its beauty." After Alfred’s death, Catherine said, "We often hear it said that God always answers our prayers, but sometimes not in the way that we expect. It is now clear to me that the healing that I had requested for my husband was ultimately given to me, and that God was really listening to my prayers." She wanted to begin a similar healing ministry in the Arlington Diocese, and through her efforts and the "gracious consent" of Msgr. Thomas Cassidy, then pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Father Gesy and the Catholic Healing Ministry of Baltimore came to the parish for a Mass and healing service attended by 1,100 people in the fall of 1989. In October 1990, after approval by Bishop John R. Keating, the Catholic Healing Ministries of Arlington held their first Mass and healing service at St. Anthony Parish. The Mass and healing service is now held monthly at parishes throughout the diocese. Forrest, an international Irish tenor and member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Lake Ridge, has served as the music director of the ministry since the beginning. At the Jan. 6 Mass and healing service, he performed with Bob Downey, organist and pianist, who has been devoted to the ministry for three-and-a-half years; Downey’s wife, Therese, vocalist; and Tina Pivarnik, guest vocalist. "I get more out of it than I give," said Forrest of his 10-year involvement in the ministry. He committed to it because "I very much see the need for it," he said. "It is amazing to see and hear the pains that people bring to the healing service." Forrest said "good music allows people to meditate a lot more. It opens up the spirit." Describing the service "centered around the Eucharist" as a "gentle, welcoming" atmosphere," Forrest said it is an occasion "where people can open up their heart and get Christ back in their life." He said it also is "wonderful to see the amount of young people" that are attending. "Sometimes," he said, "I don’t feel like going because I’m busy, or feel it’s too far, or whatever, but when I do those are the times when God shows me I needed to be there." Father Grinnell said that even before his ordination more than 25 years ago, he participated in prayers for healing through the Charismatic Renewal. In the diocesan healing ministry, he said "major healings come through the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance." He has seen "healings on a number of levels," he said. "Some are physical," some may be "a spiritual healing. People speak of a feeling of being cared for by God, having a deeper faith, consolation and a sense of peace even in the midst of their difficulty." Father Grinnell said some of the many circumstances he has known people to being people to the services are an alleviation of "anger, anxiety, depression or job loss." The healing he has witnessed is not always instantaneous, Father Grinnell said. "God works in His own time," he said. "One relies totally on God." The next Mass and healing service will be held on Feb. 10 at Blessed Sacrament Church, 1427 W. Braddock Rd., Alexandria, at 7:30 p.m. For information on the diocesan Catholic Healing Ministries, call Catherine Griffin, administrator, at 703/379-1450.
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