ORLANDO | Many families in the United States have been touched by suicide, whether it’s a loved one, friend, or coworker. In Your Hands: A Conference on Healing and Awareness of Suicide, aims to teach how to accompany those with mental illness, how to help those struggling in the aftermath of suicide, dispel myths, and equip people with tools for parish ministries to care for those in crisis.
Tomás Evans, adult ministry director at the Diocese of Orlando, and Deacon Dan Powers of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Melbourne are coordinators. The two shared details on “Treasures of Faith,” a program of Divine Mercy Radio with host Bill Gent.
Evans described the event as a “very spiritual conference” that will benefit those battling suicidal thoughts and everyone who loves them. The opening Mass will be celebrated by Father Anthony Aarons, Missionary of Mercy and rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. There will also be opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“We want to make a connection with those people and let them know, ‘You are not alone,’” Evans said. “You have a community. We are your community. We can help you.”
It is for the families of someone who has taken their own life to be given the opportunity to be re-energized by enkindling their faith in the Catholic Church and to dispel past teachings, noting Catholics who committed suicide should receive a funeral Mass and be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
It also seeks to help the first responders – “those who tend to people as counselors, for those wishing to take their own life. They need some kind of spiritual renewal,” Evans said, adding he hopes people leave with the understanding that the value of community is essential to this ministry. “We need to know each other within our communities. We are walking with other people. That is discipleship. … I am not walking alone in any part of my spiritual journey or in my physical journey here. We always walk with somebody else.”
He said the primary goal is to help train others to be Christ for others, in this area especially. To accomplish those objectives, the Office for Laity, Family, and Life at the Diocese of Orlando secured two speakers with personal experience in dealing with suicide and its aftermath.
Keynote speaker Marian Father Chris Alar, is provincial superior of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception in the United States and Argentina. He is author of bestselling books “After Suicide: There’s Hope for Them and for You” and “Understanding Divine Mercy.” He is also host of the EWTN show “Living Divine Mercy.”
Father Alar’s ministry revolves around living Divine Mercy. He said that comes out of his grandmother’s suicide. Co-coordinator Deacon Powers shared, “As a young boy, Father Alar couldn’t even pray for her at Mass. In seminary he explored this and was led to St. Faustina. He will teach about the mercy of the Lord and how we must be merciful in our own lives.”
Speaker Deacon Ed Shoener can also relate to loss by suicide. His family and friends founded “The Katie Foundation” after his daughter, Kathleen, died by suicide in 2016 after battling bipolar disorder for years. Katie’s obituary went viral because it spoke to the needs and concerns of people who live with mental illness. Shoener is also a founding member of the Association
of Catholic Mental Health Ministers.
“Death by suicide causes a lot of different emotions in the survivors – guilt, anger, hurt, and a general chaos in your lives,” Deacon Powers explained during the podcast. “It happens so quickly. Rather than try to cure it or fix it, the Church needs to walk alongside folks through this. If we really believe Jesus is where pain is, then this is where Jesus abounds. And we can walk with Jesus as a Church and individually.”
In Your Hands: A Conference on Healing and Awareness of Suicide is on March 18 at Holy Family Parish,
5125 S. Apopka-Vineland Rd., Orlando, from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. To register go to https://www.orlandodiocese.org/in-your-handsconference.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, March 09, 2023