RED HOOK — There was no dismissal at a recent Friday evening Mass here; instead, the congregation streamed to the altar — wracked with pain of either body, mind, or both — but seeking prayer and hoping for miracles.
This “healing Mass” is routinely celebrated the last Friday of each month at Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Red Hook.
The clergy placed hands upon the heads of seekers and fervently prayed for healing. Joining them was Frances DeLuca.
During the week, she is a Catholic academy principal in the Diocese of Brooklyn. But at this parish, she is a committed administrator of prayer, calling upon God’s healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Our Lord says, ‘Impose hands on the sick, and in my name, they will be healed,’ ” she said later. “That’s straight from our Lord, in the Gospel (Mark 16:18).”
This Mass was initially planned for the side chapel because the staff anticipated a smaller end-of-summer attendance. But later, it got moved back to the main church, as the more than 40 people attending would have filled the chapel beyond capacity.
Congregants received the prayers and accompanying hugs. Women and men wept profusely, then shuffled home, renewed. DeLuca believes God healed her in this manner 13 years ago from debilitating and painful lupus.
“He brings a healing that’s amazing,” she said.
A Peace Like No Other
DeLuca began teaching in 1976. For 25 years, she has been the principal at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park.
But her struggle with lupus began in the early 1980s, and by 2010, it was getting much worse.
This autoimmune disease blocks the body’s ability to fight infections. It also attacks internal organs — including the kidneys and heart — and fuels inflammation throughout the body, especially in the joints.
DeLuca recalls sleepless nights, unable to rest from joint pain. To get up, she had to fall out of bed and lay on the floor until she summoned enough strength to rise.
Her older sister urged her to attend a healing Mass celebrated by a visiting priest, Father Claudio Antecini, at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Ozone Park. That church is about a mile from her school’s parish, but it was a tough sell.
“I was resistant,” DeLuca recalled. “I told her, ‘I’m a Catholic school principal. I go to Mass every morning. When our Lord and Savior wants to heal me of this disease, he can at any of those Masses.’ ”
She finally agreed, although she spent much of the Mass contemplating a quick exit at the conclusion.
But then the priest approached, placed hands on her head, and prayed.
“I experienced a peace that I had never experienced before,” DeLuca exclaimed. “But, you know, on March 7, 2010, I got medically healed of lupus. It’s as if I had never had this disease!”
DeLuca lives in Bellmore, Long Island, about 18 miles from her job in South Ozone Park. The drive to Red Hook takes at least an hour and 15 minutes from home.
Still, she endures it to participate in the community of Father Antecini’s parish, Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As trustee, she is active in leadership at the parish. Helping people heal is a unique calling for her.
“I want them to feel that amazing love that I felt from the Lord,” DeLuca said. “Now I know why Jesus Christ would have died for just one person — to save them.”
Another parish member, Silvana Mannino, is a bookkeeper on Staten Island. She called DeLuca her “spiritual mom.
“She’s a gift of God to the world,” Mannino said.
Mannino, upon learning she had ovarian cancer in the summer of 2019, immediately called DeLuca. She was traveling but rushed back to be with Mannino, her parents, siblings, and her teenage daughter and son. They all prayed with Mannino before, during, and after the surgery to remove the cancer.
She awoke in post-op and recalled asking if the surgery was successful. Assured that it was, she slipped back into unconsciousness. But she awoke later with excruciating pain.
Mannino then learned that the surgical team had taken a massive tumor from an ovary. However, the cancer had metastasized to multiple other organs. Included were her uterus, fallopian tubes, appendix, gallbladder, and portions of her colon, liver, diaphragm, and stomach — all requiring more surgery and some wholly removed.
She called the pain horrendous. “I was literally begging God to take me home,” she said. “I just said, ‘Lord, I cannot endure this. I don’t understand why you just didn’t let me die peacefully.’
“And then, all of a sudden, I saw Jesus Christ.”
Mannino said the Lord appeared as a human in a white robe with His cross reaching from the floor to the ceiling. She said he lovingly reminded her that He already suffered and died for her and wanted her to unite her pain with His.
“It’s something amazing that happened,” she said. “It’s like I could feel the pain that I was in, but I did not feel that agonizing, excruciating pain.”
Mannino said she refused pain medication, which shocked the hospital staff. She added that she regained mobility within three months.
“By October, I was already walking the boardwalk completely straight, and I have pictures to prove it,” she said.
She also endured chemotherapy, but her oncologist warned her the cancer would surely return. She has now lived two years longer than expected.
‘Help My Unbelief’
DeLuca and Mannino both said that while their experiences seem spectacular, other miracles happen to people every day.
Pope Francis agreed but noted that belief is essential, no matter the size of the miracle.
On May 20, 2013, he gathered with Vatican employees. He reflected on the Gospel story about a father asking Jesus to remove a demon from his son (Mark 9:14-29). “Lord, I believe,” said the man, but added, “help my unbelief.”
Pope Francis called the man’s plea “a strong prayer; and that prayer, humble and strong, moves Jesus to work the miracle. A prayer that calls for an extraordinary action.
“Miracles happen,” he told the gathering. “But they need prayer! A courageous prayer that struggles for that miracle.”
But while miracles can ease pain, there is no guarantee a person will never suffer hardships or sicknesses, Mannino said.
People often ask her why God didn’t stop the cancer from growing.
“Nowhere does it say we’re not going to suffer,” she said. “We all are going to meet our maker one day, but no matter what happens here, He’s always with us.
“And I say this with such conviction, because I know it, I live it. And I believe it.”