By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — Facing the diagnosis of a chronic illness can be a devastating experience. Learning to live with the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges that accompany serious maladies from cancer to Crohn’s Disease or HIV-AIDS requires self-awareness and support. To meet that need for support the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has established the Blessed John Paul II Society of Redemptive Suffering, a young adults’ group that meets monthly for prayer, meditation and discussion.
This special ministry began in the heart of Ryan Guthrie who himself suffers from a chronic illness. His vision of providing an opportunity for young adults who live with serious illnesses to have a safe place to share their experience of suffering impacted Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and Mary Glowaski, Secretariat of Evangelization and Special Ministries.
“Bishop Rhoades was deeply touched by Ryan and his love and devotion to God,” reports Glowaski, who herself was moved by Guthrie’s simple vision rooted in the Gospel call to love and minister to one another. “The beauty of this is it’s not complicated. We’re just receiving people where they are and hoping they can find God, comfort and encouragement,” she says.
The group’s mission is to foster communion among those suffering from serious illness as they seek to “understand the gift of redemptive suffering” offered through a participation in the passion of Christ. Each gathering opens and closes with prayer and includes Scripture and other readings and short meditations on redemptive suffering, followed by a discussion on applying the readings to every day life. In an atmosphere of safety and confidentiality sharing personal life experiences of suffering allows the participants to go deeper into the mystery of the passion and death of Jesus Christ and their own willingness to find peace in suffering.
Living with a chronic illness can be very isolating says Glowaski, whose husband died of complications from a transplant after a long battle with Crohn’s disease. “Dealing with chronic illness is a lonely experience,” she says. “You keep asking God, ‘What are You teaching me?’”
The experience has taught her to let go, hold life and loved ones loosely and focus on the simple things. “It is just this moment, this half day. Nothing is solid except God’s love,” she says knowingly.
For those dealing with chronic illness Glowaski encourages, “Generously forgive forgotten appointments, birthday wishes, mistakes, short tempers.” And for those supporting them she says, “The most important part of a person with a chronic illness is that they are someone with an illness — not THE illness. We must remember that that’s only a part of them. Their goodness and giftedness is still in there. … They’ll teach us what we need to know about them.”
Blessed John Paul II Society of Redemptive Suffering began meeting in August and continues to meet on the second Wednesday of the month from 6:30-8 p.m. at St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne. Father Tom Shoemaker, pastor of St. Jude Church, is the group’s spiritual director and consultant regarding the reception of the sacraments of healing among the group, including Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Sick. Guthrie facilitates the group, whose patron is Blessed John Paul II, an exemplary modern day model of redemptive suffering, and invites all young adults in the area who suffer from a serious illness to “come and see” what the group is all about.
Glowaski believes the Blessed John Paul II Society of Redemptive Suffeing is spirit led to meet an important need and says, “We cannot take away someone’s suffering — we are not meant to — but we can help carry this suffering.”
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