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Pastoral volunteers provide spiritual care for those at home

Every Sunday, Inez Macaulay watches Mass on TV.

Inez cannot drive or walk to church on Sundays. She can only go to church when she manages to get a lift, but most of the time she has to stay home. After the televised Mass, a volunteer comes in and brings Holy Communion to her. “I appreciate it very much,” Macaulay said. “I find it’s a big help.”

The volunteer is a Pastoral Home Care (PHC) volunteer from St. Monica’s Parish in NDG. PHC is a service with wide and increasing need because of the rising senior demographic. According to volunteer Louis McAnany, many people who are home-bound risk feeling disconnected from their church communities. “They are not forgotten,” he said. “They are still members of the community.”

Priests and lay volunteers from PHC provide a service that meets the spiritual needs of seniors who are physically unable to attend Mass. When McAnany, who has been a PHC volunteer at St. Luke’s Parish in Dollard des Ormeaux for many years, visits seniors and the disabled, he is mainly there to listen to them and “go with the flow.”

Inez Macaulay, a pastoral home care recipient, at daughter Cathie Macaulay’s home Photo: Matthew Rettino

The pastoral volunteer’s role is to listen to the spiritual needs of the person and to provide non-judgmental care and support.

“We’re not social workers,” McAnany said. “We are not there to cook meals or look after the sick and elderly. We’re here on a strictly pastoral basis.”

The elderly generally need accompaniment and simply to talk about things going on in the world and in their lives, McAnany said, adding that getting things in return “is not in line with the pastoral visit.” McAnany said he does appreciate prayers from those he visits.

While PHC can be provided for people of all faiths and even those who do not practise Catholicism, McAnany administers Holy Communion for Catholic seniors. He says simply giving them Communion is impersonal. “They need emotional, spiritual ties as well to feel part of the community.”

He said he can see the joy on the faces of those he visits. “They tend to grow more sociable with others.

“A visit opens them up and gives them a desire to get back into life.” To McAnany, that is the greatest reward.

Cathie Macaulay is the Pastoral Homecare Coordinator for the English sector of the Archdiocese of Montreal. Her job is to encourage small groups of pastoral volunteers in each of the 35 English Catholic parishes of Montreal to organize volunteers giving spiritual support to the sick and homebound. “In the English sector, we have over 170 volunteers,” she said. “In the whole diocese, there are over 600.”

Part of her role is to teach visitors or volunteers how to listen deeply, how to help seniors reach a deeper understanding of aging in a spiritual context, and how to accompany others dealing with issues such as grief.

“The first step is to train,” Macaulay said. Several English parishes are training new visitors, she adds. “We’re glad to have well-trained volunteers,” she said. With the dwindling number of priests and increase of the elder population, she says that the need for volunteers is increasingly important.

Fr. Gilles Surprenant is pastor of St. Luke’s Parish, a Dollard des Ormeaux church. “Since Vatican II, the church has made more room for lay people. There was a time when there were many priests (to administer pastoral care). A long time ago, people would care for their neighbours. Now people do it for strangers as volunteers.”

On the parish level, the PHC team sends other volunteers to connect with people in their homes or in seniors’ residences. According to Surprenant, the duty of the pastoral visitor is to assist the pastor with caring for the old and sick. The PHC service is being reorganized to better serve the community, Surprenant added. Once the service is reorganized, it will be easier to receive accurate statistics.

With fewer people going to Mass, it is always a challenge to find people willing to sacrifice their time to this ministry. According to Surprenant, there are parishes that work together to meet the growing demand for volunteers, but more are necessary to administer the service to those who need it.

As for Inez Macaulay, mother of Cathie Macaulay, she has always appreciated the service.

“One lady reads stories and books that have a religious background and we discuss the books, how they refer to the Gospels,” Inez said. “A couple of times a week someone coming in to have religious discussions brings me back to a feeling of having some religion in my life. Seeing Mass on TV is not the same.” To receive Pastoral Home Care or to volunteer, contact PHC services at 514-931-7311, ext. 354.



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