By Alison Zeller
*This article was written before COVID-19. However, many of these ideas can still be implemented digitally to help those in your church who are grieving this year.*
Christmas, nicknamed “the most wonderful time of the year” in a popular holiday song, is all about candy canes and sugar cookies for some. But, for families who have lost loved ones in death, Christmas can be a time of grieving. For those who have lost a child, this time of year can be especially difficult. Many shun the holidays in an attempt to shut out the pain and sorrow they feel.
Father Jim Torpey of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, has joined with others in his local diocese to help families mourn and heal after a child has died. Their program began over 25 years ago when two children from the church were tragically killed. Father Torpey and others encouraged the children’s parents to attend Compassionate Friends, a support group that assists families in grieving and rebuilding hope.
The support group proved helpful, but Father Torpey felt a need to minister to the grieving families in a more powerful way, in a way that was Christ-centered. One day, he came across an article detailing a ministry in Pittsburgh called We Are Remembered. The group’s mission was just what he was seeking: a program using the Gospel to comfort parents that were mourning the loss of a child. Father Torpey and others from his church went to meet with the leaders. The program proved to be even more powerful than the article described, and Father Torpey knew he had to create a similar ministry in his area of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Right then, he began the process of reaching out to grieving parents and families in order to bring them the hope from our resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Allentown-area We Are Remembered program now serves over 600 parents, families, and individuals who have suffered the loss of a child. The ministry holds services twice each year, once before Christmas and once the week after Easter. After the Christmastime service, called the Advent Prayer of Hope, the mourning families are given a card and an ornament.
“We found that many of the families do not want to put up a tree after the death of a child,” said Father Torpey. “So, many hang the ornament on their mantles. The ornaments sometimes inspire a family to put up a tree again.”
Father Torpey has ordered CTA’s Ornaments of Faith® to give to these grieving families because of the practicality and affordability. “Since our program relies on the generosity of other’s donations, we limit the amount we spend,” said Father Torpey.
More compelling than the ornament’s price or practicality is its message: let your heart celebrate God’s gift of Jesus at Christmastime.
“The gifts, small and simple as they are, are seen as a way for the families to be reminded that for those who died before their time, there is hope found in Christ Jesus and the ministry of his people,” said Father Torpey.
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