What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: June 7, 2012
When my father died a year and a half ago, I was able to have firsthand personal experience of the magnificent work that Hospice provides for families during the closing moments of the life of a loved one. A couple of months after my dad’s death, I received a telephone call from the Hospice group that had cared for him to ask me how I was coping with his passing. I was grateful for the call and responded that the caller might want to know that I was the Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta. The gentleman said, “Well, then you must have a good support group to assist you in your grieving and recovery.” When I hung up the phone, I thought to myself that was a very foolish response on my part. Hospice was calling me not because I was the Archbishop of Atlanta, but because they care for people who have lost a loved one irrespective of their title, position or circumstance.
Grieving happens to every human heart that has suffered the loss of a loved one, and one group of people who have carried the burden of a heavy grief has been parents of a child who was lost during pregnancy or as an infant. Our new Embrace ministry is intended to offer comfort and support to that group of people, and some of them gathered for an initial Mass last week at our Cathedral. The church welcomed scores of people who arrived quietly; some took inconspicuous seats throughout the cathedral, perhaps not wishing to stand out. But from the Archbishop’s cathedra I could see them clinging to one another in faith and hope. They held hands and wiped away tears during the entire Mass.
While most were younger couples, there were single folks and some people well up in years. One lady mentioned to me that she had lost a child in pregnancy more than 50 years ago and was so pleased to have a chance to pray for that baby at this Mass. Time alone simply does not offer the kind of solace that prayer and support and a spirit of unity provide for people who grieve. There were couples who attended this Mass who brought little ones with them. They had been blessed with children who delighted their homes, but they still grieved the infants who had never known the warmth of being welcomed into those homes and families as they would have desired.
As the names of many of the babies whose memory continues to linger in the hearts of parents were read, I realized how precious these little ones are to their parents and to the Church. Some of my brother priests and deacons were present, and I could see in their faces the sympathetic compassion that the Church needs to express more effectively when we learn of the sorrow of parents at the loss of a child during pregnancy or infancy.
Embrace is a fitting title for this ministry since it reflects the yearning that parents who have suffered the loss of a baby would love to extend to that child no matter how long ago the loss occurred. But Embrace also refers to the merciful love that God has for those children whose lives were ever so brief and the love that that same God has for those who grieve their loss. The Church herself must be more directly and effectively engaged in embracing our sisters and brothers who bear such a loss and who turn to the Church for consolation. It was a wonderful beginning, and I hope and pray that it will develop into a lasting source of compassion for all those who need it.