We've all seen those commercials about who to call when you slip and fall. But who do you call months later when you find yourself still taking opiates for the pain, and can't stop? Your local parish should be able to answer that question.
Opioid addiction can happen to anyone, and it is not only the user who suffers, it's the family, friends and co-workers who lose someone dear to them. In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid addiction to be a public health emergency.
In the wake of this crisis, the Office of Family Life Ministries is teaming with the Office of Pro-Life Activities, the Office of Deacons, the Sons of St. Stephen Ministry, and the WNY United Against Drug & Alcohol Abuse to educate addiction advocates in the Catholic parishes of the Diocese of Buffalo.
The parish addiction advocate serves as a resource to the parish staff so that all may better serve the needs of the community through raising awareness, networking, and providing referral and educational resources. The advocate does not offer counseling or crisis intervention, but does offer information to individuals and families dealing with addiction on where to go for treatment.
The program has been over two years in the making, beginning in 2016 with a Pastoral Response conference held at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, where guest speakers from the Office Pro-Life Activities, the Erie Country Sheriff's Office, Calix Society, the Response to Love Center and the Save the Michaels Foundation gave testimony to the damaging effects addiction has on the family and society. Several gatherings followed.
"We had been receiving some phone calls to the office with regard to the whole situation, and how families are impacted by the current drug epidemic that is going on," said Nancy Scherr, director of Family Life Ministries for the diocese. Following the theme of accompaniment outlined in Pope Francis' "Amoris Laetitia/The Joy of Love," Scherr said the team will, "do what we can to be a sign of mercy and encouragement to families."
There are no qualifications for becoming an advocate other than being chosen by a pastor and a willingness to participate in diocesan training sessions once or twice a year, and complying with the diocesan Safe Environment mandate.
The responsibilities of the advocate include: communicating the presence and purpose of their role to parish leaders, organizations and the faith community on a regular basis; collaborating with pastors and other parish leaders in order to develop relevant programming aligned with already existing programs; cultivating an atmosphere of welcome and acceptance within the parish through personal prayerfulness and community prayer, through activities such as occasional intercessions for Sunday Masses or distribution of prayer resources related to addiction and/or death by overdose; provide educational opportunities for the parish community through activities such as speakers and distribution of print resources; promoting opportunities for support and healing at the parish or within the vicariate through activities such as healing Masses and the welcoming of various support groups to use parish facilities; publishing timely announcements for bulletin and/or parish social media platforms, which offer messages of comfort, healing and guidance as provided by the diocese; and providing status updates to the Diocese of Buffalo as requested.
"People who are going to be helping out might be someone whose family was touched by this epidemic. They may have a professional interest. Maybe they're a retired nurse or counselor," said Scherr. "They're supposed to be a point person to point people in the direction of resources."
More than 75 volunteers from 53 parishes throughout the diocese have been chosen to serve as advocates.
Faith Holmes, Social Justice coordinator for St. John Paul II Parish, has taken on the role of addiction advocate for her community. She helps people by pointing out resources close by to treat the problem at hand. She often recommends Catholic Charities, which has a chemical dependency treatment program, or Sparks of Hope in Hamburg. The parish also hosts Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.
"Generally, they'll say they know someone who is going through something. What would you recommend? Where would you send them? What information do you have for it?" she said. "Sometimes people are afraid, because of the stigma, to come forward if they have a problem. A lot of it is trying to get past the stigma and address the issues that come with that. No one is immune to it. It's everywhere."
The next conference will be held Sept. 22, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. "Working the Front Line of Opioid Addiction: A Scientific, Spiritual and Social Perspective" will address the problem of addiction and solutions. Presenters include Dr. Paul Updike, Dr. Richard Blondell, Rev. Jan Hubbard, and the Counseling Staff of Samaritan Counseling Center. The cost of the presentation is covered by the John Russell Paslaqua Memorial Fund, along with the 2018 MOSES Program, the Office of Deacons of the Diocese of Buffalo, the Sons of St. Stephen Ministry, WNY United Against Drugs & Alcohol Abuse Inc., the Office of Family Life Ministries and the Office of Pro-Life Activities.
To register call 716-652-4308 or email Deacon Timothy Chriswell at firstname.lastname@example.org with name, email address, home address, phone number and parish.