By Martha Hanley
Special to The Witness
CEDAR RAPIDS — Deacon Tom Lambert of the Archdiocese of Chicago, longtime advocate for welcoming and valuing persons with mental illness in the Catholic Church, gave the homily at the 12th annual Mass for Mental Illness Awareness Oct. 13 at St. Patrick Church in Cedar Rapids and spoke at a reception following.
Deacon Lambert and his wife, Rita, have a daughter with mental illness and have advocated for better pastoral awareness of the needs of persons with mental illness and their families for 25 years. Deacon
Lambert has led workshops across the country to educate dioceses, priests, deacons, parish staff, religious and laity about mental illness. Over the course of his advocacy, he founded the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Commission on Mental Illness, co-founded the National Catholic Partnership on Disability’s Council on Mental Illness and served as president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Illinois.
The Cedar Rapids Mass is modeled after a similar Mass in Chicago that the Lamberts have hosted for several years. The Mass has been held at St. Pius X Parish in Cedar Rapids and is currently coordinated by St. Patrick Parish staff and community volunteers.
Deacon Lambert said the American Psychiatric Association released a guide a few years ago for faith leaders, detailing how important it is to have spiritual support in the recovery process. Many times, when a family member is diagnosed with a mental illness, families look to their church for resources. He said it is important that a parish have knowledge of mental illnesses and connections to community resources to be able to respond appropriately.
Deacon Lambert suggests several ways parishes can accompany individuals with mental illness and their families:
• Accompaniment. Deacon Lambert referred to the importance of “holy listening” to the “sacred stories” of those touched by mental illness.
• Prayer. Incorporate specific prayers for individuals for schizophrenia, depression, anxiety during Prayers for the Faithful at Mass and at other worship services.
This helps persons with mental illness and their families know they are not forgotten and feel included in the parish.
• Preaching. Preach on the topic of mental illness and the dignity of people with mental illness.
• Visitation. Let the faith community know that ministers wish to visit persons with mental illness when they are hospitalized and come home.
• Advocacy. Encourage the parish’s social concerns committee to look at the systemic barriers to care that exist for persons with mental illness.
• Education. Have short articles about mental illness in parish bulletins and newsletters.
• Change the culture. Promote the dignity of the individual by using “person-first language,” that is, by saying “a person with mental illness” instead of “the mentally ill.” Doing so recognizes that people are more than their illnesses.
• Discussion. Use the DVD prepared by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability called “Welcomed and Valued” with parish groups to discuss how to meet the needs of persons with mental illness and their families. The DVD is available at www.ncpd.org.
For more information, see “16 Specific Actions” on the website Deacon Lambert coordinates, www.miministry.org.
Photo of Deacon Tom Lambert is courtesy of Catholic News Service.