CARING for people with a mental illness begins with Mass, for chaplain Fr Jim Smith.
Fr Smith has devoted his past 30 years as a diocesan priest to providing spiritual care for people with a mental illness at the Catholic Psychiatric Pastoral Care centre in Brisbane.
Every week Fr Smith opens the door of the centre to dozens of people yearning to deepen their spiritual life.
They pray the Rosary once a week, spend up to 30 minutes in Eucharistic adoration, reflect on the Readings for every Sunday Mass and co-ordinate their own Mass each Friday at St Patrick’s Church, Fortitude Valley.
They are also friends with their patron saint, St Dympna, who is the official patron for people with a mental illness, and will celebrate her feast day on May 28 in their favourite way – with a Mass.
“They want to belong in the heart of the Church,” Fr Smith said.
“They want to be able to participate in the Mass and the sacraments, they want to join in the full prayer life of the Church, like any other member.”
Fr Smith’s dedication to people with a mental illness began when he met a registered mental health nurse at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, Janine De Maria, who has been the ministry’s co-ordinator for 30 years.
“I was meeting all these people (with a psychiatric illness) before I came to the Royal Brisbane Hospital, meeting them in intensive care wards, coronary care wards, not only in the psychiatric wards and in parishes,” he said.
“Good Catholic people, and here they were really struggling with the heavy burdens of psychiatric illness.
“And I thought, ‘What can we do for all these people?’
“I had many questions as I sought Janine’s guidance and knowledge.”
On February 11, 1987, Bishop John Gerry called a meeting to take up a challenge on Christian churches and the health department about caring for people with a mental illness.
Fr Smith knew he had to invite Mrs De Maria to the meeting.
After hearing a plea at the meeting from Augustinian Father John Whelan, who asked for a training program for Catholics caring for people with a mental illness, Mrs De Maria said she was deeply moved.
She went home and wrote an outline for a course in pastoral care that today has entered its 30th year.
More than 288 people have graduated from the course, 55 of whom have been consecrated men and women and priests from 21 different religious orders.
There are 75 active pastoral carers who serve in 14 hospitals, 10 hostels and the CPPC centre at Fortitude Valley.
“At the centre, trained pastoral carers are available each day for the members, and this has been a bridge giving the members confidence in their spirituality and their faith, and in their participation with the life of the Church, especially the Mass,” Mrs De Maria said.
“This is a bridge into parish life for the members.”
The focus on the spiritual care of its members is what Fr Smith believes to be the primary focus of the Church, as expressed by Pope Francis.
“Pope Francis said in the Joy of the Gospel, talking about discrimination of the poor, and he goes on to say ‘I have to admit, with regret, that the Catholic Church itself has discriminated against the spiritual care of the poor’,” he said.
“And he said the Catholic Church is called to a privileged and preferential option to the spiritual care of the poor, not just providing them with handouts and food and clothing but their spiritual care. That keeps us going here every day.”
CPPC’s Annual St Dympna’s Day Healing Mass and Celebrations will be held on Saturday, May 27, at St Patrick’s Church, Fortitude Valley.
For more information about the Mass call CPPC on (07) 3252 5461 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.cppc.net.au for more information about the ministry.