By Msgr. Alfred LoPinto
September 24 is the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. This beautiful title of our Blessed Mother, echoed in the words of the Salve Regina: Hail, Mother of Mercy, our Life, our Sweetness and our Hope; reminds us that our mother Mary, like all good mothers, ceaselessly watches over us, her children, with deep love and tender affection.
Several lines later, the words of the Salve beg a mother’s help as we pray: to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. How often do we pray for Mary to be at our side at those times in life when we experience anxiety, worry, and pain.
Today, human beings are living longer than ever, which can be a blessing for many older women and men, the pillars of our parish communities, as they enjoy the fruits of a life of faithfulness and hard work.
Nevertheless, this reality is also one which can be the cause of deep anxiety and worry for the families of the aged who struggle to ensure that their fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, are safe and cared for.
The Wall Street Journal has been publishing a powerful series of articles addressing the increasing needs of seniors in our communities, particularly as their families, for a myriad of reasons, are no longer able to be the providers of care. Too often, the traditional sources of help, family members, are no longer geographically present to provide the day-to-day support needed to enable them to stay in their homes.
In other circumstances, family members are nearby, but due to pressing economic needs, are forced to work, and, therefore, cannot provide care to the extent to which it is needed.
As adult children try to care for their parents – managing bills, contacting handymen, delivering groceries and coordinating medical appointments, they often experience feelings of guilt – wanting to be of greater help to those they love, yet being unable to do so.
Twenty-nine percent of the population in Brooklyn and Queens is over 65 years of age, higher than any other borough of New York City. The needs of our seniors are widespread and complex, ranging from loneliness and depression to the physical and financial challenges to living independently.
The dream of leaving an inheritance to their children has given way to mere survival, with the increasing costs of health-care, housing and the simple cost of daily living. Many must choose between buying groceries or paying for medicine.
Smaller, far-flung families mean fewer unpaid helpers which leads to more financial burdens. A full-time home health aide costs, on average, $49,000 a year, largely out of reach for many seniors on fixed incomes.
Spiritually, as well, we know the challenges of older adults in regard to staying connected with their parish communities as physical issues increase and restrict mobility outside the home. Long the sources of support for seniors, our parishes reflect current trends, and are also steadily growing older. The need for our Catholic community in Brooklyn and Queens to respond to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our oldest brothers and sisters has never been stronger.
More than a year ago, I asked Catholic Charities to begin a parish program to address the increasing numbers of homebound parishioners who needed to be visited and lovingly cared for by the faithful.
It is called the “Witness of Mercy” program, named after Pope Francis’ call for the Church to respond to mercy as a concrete act of love, directed especially to the poor and marginalized.
In the promulgation of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said: “The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles for our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”
As we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, we remember Mary, the first Witness of Mercy, who proclaimed the mercy of God in her beautiful Magnificat and in the loving act of visiting her older cousin Elizabeth. May we be inspired by our Mother of Mercy to give life, sweetness and hope in concrete ways to the homebound in our communities.
This week, I strongly encourage you become a Witness of Mercy. To learn more about this wonderful program, please contact Deacon Andrew Mastrangelo at Catholic Charities at 718-722-6000 ext. 6458.
May the God of mercy richly bless you and may our mother Mary assist you by her prayers.
Msgr. LoPinto is the CEO of Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, and Vicar for Human Services for the Diocese of Brooklyn.