Remembering Our Sick and Aging Catholics
by: Ray Holter – Parishioner
Every morning at the end of Mass, the priest calls several Eucharistic Ministers to the Altar, hands them their pyx that contain the Body of Christ, and having given them a special blessing, sends them on their way. Do you ever wonder, who are these parishioners, where do they go and who are the people they visit?
St. John XXIII parish has a very active Community Religious Services Ministry serving Catholics permanently residing in local medical facilities as well as those that are sick enough to require hospitalization or rehabilitation. This ministry, which began in the early 2000’s with 1 parishioner covering the few catholic patients in the small Gulf Coast Hospital, now includes 70-80 Eucharistic Ministers, almost all parishioners of St. John XXIII, offering their services at 4, and soon to be 5 facilities: Gulf Coast Medical Center, Manor Care Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Brookdale Memory Care, and Cypress Point Assisted Living & Memory Care. Later this spring the ministry will extend to include American House assisted Living & Memory Care; in 2019 we anticipate adding Lee Memorial’s Nursing Home to our growing list; and in 2020, GCMC will open two new floors and is expected to add approximately 200 rooms.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
The Eucharistic Ministers carry the Body of Christ to these Catholics, pray with the residents and patients, and provide rosaries made by St. John XXIII Rosary Ministry. The rosaries are free to the patients, as the materials are purchased by the Knights of Columbus, and assembled by the residents of the St. John XXIII Villas. The Eucharistic Ministers serve as the first point of contact between our parish and many Catholics; they identify situations where a priest visit may be required. This is normally passed on to the parish office. However, on weekends, emergency requests are texted to the priest on call. Other patients are identified to the parish nurses for follow-up as they leave the hospital or nursing home. At times, Eucharistic Ministers encounter situations that are referred to one of the resident priests for follow up. On special religious days, e.g. Ash Wednesday, special teams provide these same facilities with special Catholic services.
While other parishes cover other hospitals in the area, GCMC is the only hospital where Catholic ministers from St. John XXIII visit 365 days a year. Even on Holy Saturday morning, when there is no Mass, special permission is granted allowing these ministers to provide the Body of Christ to the sick at Gulf Coast Medical Center. Except for 2 days without service during Hurricane Irma, St. John XXIII parishioners have carried the Body of Christ to the hospitalized every day since GCMC opened in 2009. What began as 1 person visiting the sick in the early 2000’s has blossomed to 4-7 every day. On any given day this ministry visits more Catholics than those attending the 8 AM Mass, and on many days, provides the Body of Christ to more Catholics than those attending morning Mass.
Each parish volunteer is generally asked to serve once a week between the hours of 8:45 and 10:30 AM. Many do much more. If you visited someone in the hospital and later visited someone in assisted living, you might encounter the same parishioner ministering to Catholics at both locations. Many dedicated parishioners serve multiple days and at multiple facilities. Many parishioners have participated in this ministry throughout the years.
While the Diocese requires fingerprinting and a class on safe environment, this ministry requires only dependability, and the ability to walk! The ministry team leaders provide all other training and facility familiarization. Each fall, the number of parishioners serving literally doubles; we are blessed with an influx of winter residents at a time when our demand for service is at its greatest.
Ask the Eucharistic Ministers why they serve and they will frequently respond– THE PEOPLE, those they volunteer with, and those they serve. Many parishioners that joined the ministry turned their common interest in serving into lifelong friendships, friendships that carry over to other aspects of their personal life, as well as other aspects of their service to St. John XXIII parish. Mostly, however, when asked, they will point to those they serve and launch into stories of the many special Catholics this ministry has allowed them to meet.
Recently, a Eucharistic Minister encountered a hospital patient who had been away from the church for 30+ years; after a lengthy conversation, the patient, taken by the fact the church had reached out to him, agreed to a priest visit the following day. The next day, Fr. Bob anointed the patient and welcomed him back to the faithful.
These stories will remain with them throughout their lifetime. Parishioners who once joined this ministry to “help others”, have discovered they are really helping their own spiritual life. Over and over, each minister can recount experiences with the sick and aging Catholics they have encountered as the ministers attempt to lead lives based on Christ’s teachings. Often, as they move throughout the sick and aging, the minister’s experience Christ’s presence and they understand that serving in this capacity is really Christ’s gift to them!
As new facilities open in 2018, 2019, and 2020, we will need additional parishioners to help in service to the sick and aging Catholics. Simply, we will need you—what are you waiting for?