WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Teresa Kellendonk, associate director of pastoral care for the Edmonton Archdiocese, says volunteers can offer a pastoral presence.
Throughout this archdiocese, we have incredible people in pastoral care ministry who have a compassionate heart," said Teresa Kellendonk, associate director of pastoral care for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
"What makes it strong and beautiful is that people are so committed. When you have someone in this ministry for 30 years, it's because they care about their fellow parishioner, their fellow human being."
Pastoral care communicates Christ's healing love and compassion to all, especially those who suffer in body, mind or spirit. Kellendonk's office works to coordinate and promote programs and initiatives that offer spiritual and sacramental support.
The volunteer ministry of care certificate program, led by Kellendonk, was offered Feb. 21-22 at St. John the Evangelist Church. Thirteen people participated, including teachers, a vice principal and a retired dentist.
The program offered participants a better understanding of pastoral care given to hospital patients, continuing care and assisted living residents, and community shut-ins.
"Oftentimes, people feel disenfranchised or separated from their parish community when they're in a hospital or nursing home, or even the homebound feel that way," said Kellendonk.
If a parish is too large, the priests might not be able to visit all of them. As an extension of their parishes, extraordinary ministers bring Holy Communion to them.
Most parishes have a pastoral care team to provide visitations. They might encourage people to talk, pray with them, and comfort the bereaved or dying. The volunteers provide pastoral presence.
"Pastoral presence means that I am going to be the hands, feet and face of Christ. I'm not going to say you must receive Jesus because you're sick and I know that you're Roman Catholic because your name is on this list I have. Every patient has the right to say 'no,' so we go in first as an invitation," said Kellendonk.
As with other ministries, pastoral care is a calling, and is not a ministry for everyone. Pastoral care is all about hospitality – a ministry of being, not a ministry of doing.
Sometimes all that's required is just sitting in silence at someone's bedside.
She wants volunteers who understand that when people are sick, they are vulnerable, so it's important to go in gently, to go in with a compassionate, listening heart. They're not expected to be all things to all people or take on the role of a chaplain.
The volunteers learned about effective communication, grief, healthy boundaries, prayer, good listening skills, infection control protocols, abuse prevention and sacramental ministry.
"They also have to be open to respecting cultural diversity. If you're in a two-bed unit or a four-bed unit, you've got a diverse population group in there potentially," she said.
"How are you going to present yourself where you're pastorally present to those other three in the room, not just the one Catholic on your designated patient list?"
The experienced volunteers, some of them active in pastoral care for three decades, said they receive more blessings than they give.
Kellendonk asked the volunteers who symbolizes compassion for them. One woman said it was her mother who started the ministry at St. John the Evangelist Parish because of her authentic witnessing.
Pastoral Care Awareness Week is in October. Pastoral care volunteers will be honoured at St. Joseph's Basilica. In the Edmonton Archdiocese, the pastoral care teams also raise awareness and involvement in such initiatives as World Day of the Sick and prison ministry.