At the request of Bishop Michael Burbidge, the Diocese of Arlington has launched a multifaceted program to get parishes involved with the healing of addicts and their families.
Organized by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, the project is composed of five parts – clinician training, workshops, addiction resources, family support, and prayer.
Art Bennett, president of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Arlington, told CNA that the apostolate comes as the damages of opioid abuse have extended into the suburbs. Fairfax County, a generally well-off area, has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in Virginia, he said.
“Bishop Burbidge has long been concerned about the opioid problem in our diocese; we cover 21 counties in the northern part of Virginia,” he said, noting that parishes have seen an increase in funerals for people who have overdosed.
After the bishop challenged the diocese to respond to the opioid crisis, a conference was held in September to gather interested parties and to brainstorm. A psychologist was brought in to speak on the challenges faced in addiction recovery.
There are four parishes involved: St. John the Evangelist in Warrenton, Good Shepherd in Alexandria, St. Bernadette in Springfield, and St. John Neumann in Reston.
As part of the program, 17 mental health clinicians have already been trained on the opioid crisis, its growing impact in the United States, and the best means to respond to it. These clinicians are now able to travel and run workshops for other parishes and Church staff.
Arlington's Catholic Charities has also piled together a virtual collection of resources for immediate intervention, including crisis intervention hotlines, case management services, and evaluations for treatment.
The new ministry will seek to add resources for families of addicts, including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous, and parent support groups. It will also offer literature and the contact info of therapists.
“Catholic Charities has been asked to focus on providing clinical support to those secondarily impacted by the opioid crisis – providing counseling to the children, families, and loved ones of those struggling with addiction. This is a broadly under-served population in the current response to addiction,” Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Arlington's Catholic Charities, told CNA.
Bennett said two of the major components of this apostolate are the prayer teams who intercede on behalf of addicts, and parish resource committees to support families. Both will be discussed in upcoming workshops, he said.
The next seminar will take place April 29 at St. John Neumann and will continue at a different parish every quarter. Here, Bennett will give an overview of the project, and former nurse Sandi Sale will discuss the boundaries volunteers should put in place.
Susan Infeld, a parent of an addict and a parish nurse in charge of the project at St. John Neumann, will also discuss both successful measures and those that have failed in the past.
Bennett said prayer, while a simple way to support the addicted and their families, is “also the most powerful thing that can be done.”
The apostolate may bring about new opportunities for prayer, but it could also be tacking on the intentions to already-established prayer groups.
“Any parish can have that; they might already have Eucharistic adoration or rosary groups and they just add on the intentions of the families suffering from the opioid crisis so that healing power in prayer and Christ can be involved with them,” he said.
The parish committee programs will provide opportunities for the laity to be supportive of the families of addicts. “That support could be encouragement, referrals, or someone to talk to if there kid is in jail or very sick,” he said.
Addiction is especially rough on the family, as young people are sometimes forced out of the house when they start supporting their addiction with thieving. The family of addicts is an untapped area for ministry, he said, noting that many parents feel ashamed and ostracized from the Church when a child is going through addiction.
“The families pretty much felt like they are hung out to dry,” he said. “They feel very harshly judged, they feel weak,” and he emphasized the importance of compassion in the situation.
At the Arlington Catholic Herald, Infeld gave insight into her own struggles as a parent of alcoholic. She said addiction ministry is an opportunity to share the message of God’s mercy and to promote healing.
“Families are being destroyed by this disease. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren in retirement because the parents are addicts. Parents are going into debt trying to pay for rehab not just once, but sometimes multiple times. Families most often suffer in silence, not getting the tremendous support and tools that a (ministry or support group) can offer,” she said.