It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” except for those who are grieving. For those living with the loss of a loved one earlier in the year or in a previous year, the Christmas season can be the most sorrowful time of year.
For them, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will again host the “Evening of Heavenly Lights” at the plaza of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne Sunday, Nov. 28, at 6:30 p.m. This event is being organized to honor deceased family members or friends and to bring a measure of comfort to those left behind. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will preside over the event and pray for the deceased.
Elisa Smith is the event organizer, which had its genesis last year. She explained that there is a need for this type of memorial, to ease the pain for those who are in mourning.
“The holidays have turned so commercial and so materialistic and about parties and celebrations,” said Smith “That can be good, but not everybody feels that way when they’ve lost a loved one.”
Participants can sponsor a luminaria in honor of anyone who has passed away. These outdoor candles will be lit and blessed that evening at the prayer service. Those who sponsor a luminaria may keep it at the end of the evening, along with a commemorative Christmas ornament.
All proceeds from the evening go to support the mission of Catholic Charities. Last year, more than a hundred memorial luminaria were purchased and the event was well-attended even amid the pandemic.
“People loved it,” Smith said. Many participants reached out to her after last year’s event to thank her for organizing it and to tell her how much it meant to them. “We got a lot of feedback that it gave people comfort to just take time and think about their loved ones.”
She spoke of how often the pressures of the Christmas season can cause increased anxiety for those who are already struggling to get through it.
“I think that this just took people away from that for a little bit,” allowing them to step back from the demands that society puts on them “to buy all these perfect gifts and have all these perfect parties.”
The evening also offers a chance to focus on the true meaning of Christmas – the coming of Christ in the world, said Smith. Having Bishop Rhoades present also meant a great deal to those in attendance last year, she noted.
“For the bishop to pray for their loved ones, it gave them a message of hope, gave them so much comfort and so much help. And so much healing,” Smith said.
This year, the bishop will light a live tree next to the cathedral. Similar to last year, another tree will remain inside the cathedral through the Advent and Christmas seasons with the names of the deceased on it so anyone can stop in and pray for them.
New this year is what Smith calls a “mini-Nativity” consisting of Mary and Joseph, along with live animals: a mini-donkey and goats. The cathedral choir will also attend and perform a few vocal selections.
Smith reiterated that An Evening of Heavenly Lights is not only for those whose loss is recent, but for anyone who wishes to remember and honor a loved one. She personally purchased a luminaria to honor her father, who passed away 40 years ago.
Participation is not limited to the Fort Wayne area. Several people traveled from out of town last year, and Smith told of a woman who lives in California but is sponsoring a candle this year in memory of her son, who passed away two years ago around Christmas.
To purchase a luminaria, visit diocesefwsb.org/heavenlylights or call 260-399-1438.
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