Priests who do not take care of their own health will be of little help to their parishioners. That was the message that resounded throughout the Day of Health and Wellness for the priests of Brooklyn and Queens.
A little more than 100 priests took advantage of the day at Immaculate Conception Pastoral Center, Douglaston, that offered seminars and screenings dealing with personal health.
Bishop Raymond Chappetto, vicar for Clergy and Consecrated Life, whose office organized the day, said it grew “out of a real concern on the part of Bishop DiMarzio for the health and well-being of his priests. He wanted to make sure that they take care of themselves.”
Bishop Chappetto said that some of the recurrent themes of the day were good nutrition, eating habits and the need for exercise.
Among the workshops offered were ones that dealt with stroke prevention, successful aging through healthy lifestyle, hypertension as a silent killer, managing diabetes and eating with balance and moderation.
Screenings with members of the medical staff from Flushing Hospital Medical Center covered blood pressure, medication counseling, skin and foot wounds and dental. Two that were immediately overbooked were sight and hearing tests.
Representatives of the medical plans offered by the diocese were also on hand to answer any questions about benefits.
After time for prayer and lunch, an afternoon panel discussion was held on the topic of “Health and Wellness Among Faith Leaders.”
The Rev. Donald Stiger, senior vice president for mission and spiritual care at NYU Lutheran Medical Center, Sunset Park, spoke about the dangers of clergy burnout, reciting some startling statistics. He said that members of the clergy suffer from obesity, depression and hypertension at rates higher than the general public. He claimed that one-third of all clergy feel burned out within the first five years of their ministry.
He attributed clergy burnout to financial stress, understaffing of religious institutions and undue expectations. He also said many clergy lack close friends, work more than 50 hours a week and sometimes turn to alcohol and drugs to relieve the pressures.
Calling the statistics “catastrophic and alarming,” he recommended that priests find support groups among their peers, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy diet and take time off for one’s own needs and interests.
Father Michael Perry, pastor of Our Lady of Refuge, Flatbush, encouraged his fellow priests to have someone to talk to, whether it be a friend, a therapist or doctor, so that they do not become isolated.
“Don’t isolate yourself because you will disintegrate,” he said, adding that a healthy lifestyle is a matter of being able to integrate and balance the outside forces on one’s life.
Dr. Alexander Kintzoglou, chairman of medicine at Flushing Hospital, warned the men about the dangers of cardiovascular disease, which he said could be brought on by smoking, lack of physical activity, hypertension, obesity and family history.
He suggested that their diets contain more fruit, vegetables and nuts, and that they take care of their mental health by relieving psychological stressors. He urged them to find time to give themselves a break, like going to a party or taking a walk.
Bishop Chappetto said that reaction to the day has been overwhelmingly positive and that the diocese hopes to do it again.
He gave special credit for organizing the day to Deacon Julio Barreneche of the Priests Personnel Office and Lisa Amore of the diocesan Vocations Office.