Deacon calls on Catholics ‘to be Church’ to those with mental illnesses,

by Michael Wojcik, The Beacon, Diocese of Paterson  |  10/10/2020  |  ACMHM News

Ministers in the Church have a special role when called to reach out to people trapped in the “dark tunnel” of pain and despair caused by mental illness: help them heal spiritually. They can do this by bringing these suffering persons the “light of Christ” and helping to fill them with hope in the truth that God and his Church love them and are ready to accompany them on their difficult journey.

That’s what Deacon Ed Shoener, founder of the Katie Foundation: Shining Light on Mental Illness, told a group of 30 priests, deacons and lay ministers in the Diocese during a “Mind and Spirit” workshop, sponsored by St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Diocesan Center for Evangelization here Sept. 28. Tragically, Deacon Shoener speaks from experience: he and his wife, Ruth, lost their only daughter, Katie, 29, who suffered for more than a decade with bipolar disorder, to suicide on Aug. 3, 2015. He wrote an obituary about the life of Katie, the foundation’s namesake, and the fact that “mental illness is a sickness, not a moral failing” — a sentiment that touched people around the world via the Internet.

During a two-hour Zoom video conference, Deacon Shoener of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., equipped ministers with an understanding of the challenges that mentally ill people face, how to care for them lovingly, help them deepen their spiritual lives and the need to develop mental health ministries.

“We ministers of the Church are not clinicians. Instead, Christ calls us to do something that the clinicians cannot do: be Church to them. We are to minister to them with love, compassion, patience and persistence. We need to give them a place to belong. We need to ask, ‘Where is God in their suffering.’ We must meet them where they are,” said Deacon Shoener, who also noted that many people live productive lives with successful treatment. “We also need to integrate mental health into the Church. We must speak up and lead the way,” he said.