Family Life ministry serves with a heart of mercy

October 13, 2015

HOUSTON — The purpose for Pope Francis calling for a Year of Mercy this December is to allow the grace of God’s unconditional love and genuine mercy to come alive around the world. In several papal addresses and at the World Meeting of Families Congress in Philadelphia, the Holy Father emphasized the importance of bringing God’s healing grace to families, the “sanctuary of life and love,” who sometimes are broken and hurting. 

“There is no aspect of family life — childhood and youth; friendship, engagement and marriage; spousal intimacy, fidelity and love; interpersonal relations and support — which is excluded from the healing and strengthening touch of God’s love, communicated through the Gospels and taught by the Church.” (Pope Francis, Nov. 6, 2014, at the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi)

The Family Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, one of 60 ministries supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF), is taking this mission to heart. 

Deacon Arturo Monterrubio, director of Family Life Ministry, said that two years ago the office realized the need to support families who are experiencing situations in which they need help to keep the family together and in God’s presence.

“We modified and enriched one of our services, calling it Family Life Transitions, to provide resources on situations like death in the family, domestic violence, suicide, separation, grief and healing,” he said. “We found that some parishes were able to help each other with already existent ministries. Many times just being a ‘bridge’ a lot of families can be benefited just knowing where to go.”

Deacon Monterrubio said that once the needs and existent resources were identified, they were able to know where to address human resources to provide those services.

“Our counseling service providers database was updated, including providers who follow Catholic teachings in their services to receive what is best according to the need and within our Catholic beliefs,” he said.

According to Elsa Aguilera, associate director of Family Life Ministry, the new ministry focuses on family issues resulting from death, divorce, separation, infidelity, domestic violence, mental health, drug addiction, financial hardship, suicide, same-sex attraction, pornography and parenting conflicts or challenges. New programs in development focus on a variety of issues experienced by childless couples, single parents, blended families or those with adopted children.

“Our mission is to bring educational workshops and support groups that are needed within our Archdiocese based on the beliefs and traditions of our rich Catholic faith to empower families to successfully live out God’s plan,” Aguilera said. “Many families are broken and don’t know where to go for support. So we offer that setting of healing and hope for our community. We have the capacity to offer a Catholic perspective needed to deal with these family issues, which is critical and demonstrates the Church does care.” 

Aguilera said the programs that provide educational, emotional and spiritual support include training workshops as well as brown bags for parish staff and volunteers so they are equipped to successfully minister to those who seek their assistance. 

Other programs are offered for individuals or the family unit directly, such as days of prayer, retreats and memorial services. 

Recently, Family Life Transitions offered the first “Healing Waters Day of Prayer & Reflection” that explored themes and techniques on healing through art journaling and inspiration music.

“We used the arts as a joyful way to heal, allowing participants an opportunity to create and discover new gifts and talents, many surprised at the results of their creativity,” Aguilera said. “We also celebrated Mass together to ensure the faith-based foundation critical for healing was included. The Church doesn’t offer many active, hands-on retreats like this, and celebrating the Eucharist together helped make the transformation of healing come alive.”

One participant that was inspired and would like to participate again in Healing Waters is Juanita Keller. She said in the past she did not use journal writing as a form of spiritual expression because she thought she had to write every day and include a long recap of the day’s events. 
“By healing through expressive arts like journaling I now realize one can hear Jesus’ voice through viewing pictures or by reading or even hearing the Scriptures,” Keller said. “When a word lingers, you write it down, which are like love notes from God and may reveal many things, including answers to questions we might be struggling with. Yes, this experience was a very refreshing and uplifting reflective day through art and music, one that I call giving oneself a ‘me day.’”