Helping children in need

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Hidden away in the Virginia countryside 15 miles from Culpeper is an oasis of healing for Virginia's youngest abuse victims. It is here that Childhelp, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding youngsters who have been victimized by child abuse, operates a small "village" where children ages 5 to 14 can come for therapy and counseling.

During their 11-month stay, the children are cared for by a team of dedicated staff who tend to their emotional, physical, educational and spiritual well-being.

Four years ago, Precious Blood Church in Culpeper began teaming up with Childhelp to help meet the spiritual needs of victimized children. When a young girl approached Childhelp Chaplain Dave Lyons about wanting to be baptized, he contacted Father Leo Zonneveld, then pastor of Precious Blood Church. Father Zonneveld sent parishioner Sheila Bertrand to help prepare the child for baptism. She was baptized at Precious Blood in March 2012 with Childhelp staff in attendance.

Months later, Missionhurst Father Anselme Malonda-Nkuanga, the new pastor of Precious Blood, received a call from Lyons about a boy asking for a Catholic priest.

"The young man wanted to receive communion," said Father Anselme. "Although he had been experiencing some mental issues, he still wanted to keep his faith going."

Father Anselme asked Lyons if the parish could begin working with Childhelp on a regular basis, and the chaplain agreed.

Now every third Thursday of the month, Father Anselme prepares the small wooden chapel at Childhelp for Mass with a group of curious youngsters. He is joined by Bertrand as lector and Bobbie Terry, who plays guitar.

"We try to teach a little about our faith within the context of the Mass," said Bertrand. "We usually give the children a rosary with instructions on how to say it at the end of the Mass."

The children are encouraged to ask questions during the homily and share their intentions during the petitions. Many of the children pray to be adopted. One boy prayed that his sister would find a good foster family.

While Father Anselme and the staff of Childhelp might never know what happens to the children once they leave, they continue to provide a temporary place where they can heal.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015