With personal testimonies, blessings and prayers, the community at St. Andrew Church in Pasadena recently celebrated its first-ever Healing Mass for Victims of Crime on Oct. 24.The bilingual celebration on a cool weekday evening drew not only St. Andrew parishioners but other area local churches and the community at large. Pasadena Chief of Police Philip Sanchez was among those attending.The Mass took on a reflective and often emotional tone from the start, as slips of paper were passed out and everyone was encouraged to write down the names of friends and family members as intentions for the community’s prayer.“Lord, not only forgive us of our sins, but allow us to forgive others who have offended us,” prayed Father Paul Sustayta, pastor, who presided. “We pray for all the names in this basket to experience Christ’s healing in his love tonight.”In his homily, Father Sustayta explained that the theme for the evening’s celebration, “Enter: The Door is Open for Healing,” is a reminder that the church’s mission is to “reach out to those who are hurt and seek healing.” “The path to healing is in forgiveness not revenge,” he said after relating a story of how a couple struggled and ultimately forgave the man who brutally raped and killed their daughter.“What does the Gospel mean for us? Isn’t it all about forgiveness, compassion and love?” challenged Father Sustayta.After the homily, Mimi and Vance shared their own stories of personal violence and how they grappled with their anger and finally forgave those who abused them. “I wanted my assaulter to pay and suffer as much as he caused me and my children to suffer,” explained Mimi about the man who choked her and crushed her larynx and thyroid. “I relieved that nightmare over and over again.”Likewise, Vance, now a member of Homeboys Industries, told his own story growing up with gangs in South Los Angeles, and witnessing at an early age his mother being regularly beaten and abused. “At age 12, I ran away and found more of a family on the street than I did at home,” he said. He was sentenced at age 15 to 25 years in prison for refusing to indict a fellow gang member who had murdered.Through their stories, both Mimi and Vance related how the path to forgiveness was difficult, it was the necessary and right thing to do. “Forgiveness is the strength word in our Bible,” said Vance. “The moment I forgave [my assailant] I had so much peace in my heart,” concurred Mimi.Toward the end of the celebration, Father Sustaya called forth all victims of a violent crime to receive a special blessing. The altar was crowded with individuals who received the hands-on blessing.Members of the Justice and Peace Ministry sponsored the Mass; the idea for the Healing Mass came after discussions on Proposition 34 and the Church’s stand against the death penalty.“We had heard about other parishes doing this and the idea resonated with our group,” said Noel Toro, a ministry team member. “We wanted to do it during October because it’s Respect Life month, and raise awareness of the death penalty and the consistent life ethic of the church.”Before the Mass, Father Sustayta voiced his hope that this sense of reaching out to victims and those suffering would become “a bigger part of our mission here at St. Andrew’s. Everyone needs healing, whether it’s from an abortion, a loved one who was killed, or the prisoner in the electric chair. There is forgiveness for all.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1102/healing/{/gallery}