‘I felt encouraged to ask for healing’
Seeking the healing offered by the hands of several priests --- including Cardinal Roger Mahony and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark --- nearly 2,200 parishioners from throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles processed Feb. 11 down the central aisle of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
All had responded to the invitation made by L.A.’s Location of the Western Association of the Order of Malta to participate in the first World Day of the Sick Mass held at the Cathedral to honor Our Lady of Lourdes, whose statue, placed on the northern end of the sanctuary, faced the assembly as if protecting them.
Cardinal Mahony was the principal celebrant and Bishop Clark was the homilist. Concelebrants included Passionist Father Patrick Brennan, Msgr. Clement J. Connolly and Msgr. Paul Dotson, Order of Malta chaplains; Msgr. Sal Pilato, Order of Malta provisional chaplain; Msgr. Gregory Cox, executive director of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles; Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, Cathedral pastor; Rt. Rev. Alexei Smith, archdiocesan ecumenical and interreligious affairs director; and Scalabrinian Father Raniero Allesandrini, Dominican Father Jerome Cudden, Jesuit Fathers Gregory Goethals, William Muller and Scott Santarosa, and Father Lawrence Seyer.
The World Day of the Sick was instituted by Blessed John Paul II in 1992 and is celebrated on Feb. 11, the day the Church commemorates the Feast of Lourdes. In his homily, Bishop Clark urged the assembly to look into the virtues of Our Lady of Lourdes and to make an effort to follow them.
In response to what Bishop Clark said, “I will make a point to be more committed to my Catholic faith, to praying the rosary and to learn more about Our Lady of Lourdes and try to be more humble,” Alma Hernandez, a parishioner of St. Raphael Church, Los Angeles, told The Tidings.
“With the bishop’s message I felt encouraged to ask for healing and especially to commit to grow in my faith, which will help me heal my heart,” continued Hernandez. “I really want to follow the ways of Jesus and Mary, and I asked them today to help my whole family find healing in conversion to the Catholic faith.”
Shedding some tears, the mother of a teenager and a 21-year-old admitted that her husband and children have been away from Church for a long time.
“We need healing in our families,” she stated, “and right now I’m crying of joy, peace and love. That’s what I felt when I got anointed.”
Attendees appreciated a letter from Archbishop José Gomez that was read at the event. The archbishop, citing Pope Benedict XVI, reminded the assembly of the importance of having faith.
“In their encounter with Jesus they [those suffering or ill] can truly experience that he who believes is never alone,” he wrote. “God wishes to heal us in the depths of our hearts.”
Dame of Malta Bitsy Hotaling, president of L.A.’s Order of Malta Location, said she was “amazed” by the large turnout and “how many people were blessed.”
“I’m sure many people were healed,” added Joseph Sanders, the local Order’s secretary and Mass co-chair.
Members of the Order gave away about 1,500 bottles of water from the Grotto of Lourdes (France), where they travel each year together with an average group of 50 men, women and children suffering serious illnesses.
About 200 local members assist the sick, elderly and homeless in nine L.A. charities as caregivers and donating hygiene packages, food, or feeding the poor. They provide financial support to about 60 projects that serve the less fortunate.
Aside from praying for the sick and the elderly, the Mass was also a celebration for the hard work of caregivers and those who work in healthcare, said Rita Swartz, director of development of the Jeanne Jugan Residence, operated in San Pedro by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Five Sisters and five volunteers attended the Mass together with 15 residents, most of them in wheelchairs, who were anointed by Cardinal Mahony.
“It was heartwarming to see many of the [Order of Malta] knights and dames again, who have also hosted the annual Lourdes Day at our Home,” said Sister Clotilde Jardim, one of the Little Sisters of the Poor attending the Mass.
“We were so grateful for their greetings and assistance. It added a special element of friendship to such a grace-filled celebration.”
In his letter, Archbishop Gomez encouraged the assembly to “realize that the healing touch of Christ received through the Sacraments is a sign of something more precious than mere physical healing; it is a sign of the salvation that God gives us through Christ.”
That is what Isabel Velazquez said she felt when receiving the anointing.
“Sentí algo muy bonito (I felt something very beautiful),” said the mother of four adult children who suffers from a strong progressive pain in her joints, which has kept her away from work. “It made me shiver and then I felt a great peace.”
Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, Cathedral pastor, compared the newcomers’ experience to the pilgrimage to Lourdes.
“A large number of people came here for the first time and the first reason is because they are sick,” he said. “It is like their pilgrimage to Lourdes seeking to get healed.”
The World Day of the Sick Mass and anointing of the sick will repeat in 2013. For more information about the Western Association of the Order of Malta, visit www.orderofmaltausawestern.org.
Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.