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This website contains resources for parishes for ministry to people with mental illness and their families. Use the topbar menu to navigate between sections and access educational resources, infographics, sample articles, contacts in case of a crisis, and more. These resources are also compiled in a 59-page, hardcopy booklet. To order this booklet, along with a prayer card, CLICK HERE.

  • To find local advocacy groups, CLICK HERE.
  • To set up a Social Justice Ministry or group in your Parish, CLICK HERE.
  • To read more on the team and the story behind this resource, CLICK HERE.

Letter From Bishop Don Sproxton

Disability Delegate to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

Dear Friends in Christ,

Bishop Don

One in five Australians will experience mental illness this year. When your parish or community gathers, nearly everyone there will know someone who has a mental illness of varying severity and duration.

Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, few will come forward; but it is there.

The stigma of mental illness can be as damaging to families and carers as the illness itself. In fact, misconceptions about mental illness often exasperate the condition.

The fact is that at some time, we may suffer a form of mental illness. We may feel depressed or experience anxiety. This may lead to isolation and loneliness.

As Christians, we are called to be welcoming and loving to all. ‘We are one body in Christ”. As one body, we all experience suffering in one way or another and we look to God for comfort. Pope Francis reassures us that

“A God who can enter into the depths of our suffering is not repulsed by our woundedness or disfigurements, but who meets us wherever and whoever we are, heals us by bringing us ever closer to himself.”

— Pope Francis, A Big Heart Open to God: A Conversation with Pope Francis

So, if our God can meet us where we are, surely we are called to meet our brothers and sisters suffering with the isolation and loneliness mental illness can sometimes bring.

We are called to provide opportunities to welcome, encounter and embrace our total community as the living body of Christ.

To be authentic, this view must include every member of the community acknowledging their call, their gift and their presence. We cannot claim to be truly disciples of Jesus unless we are totally engaged in honouring His presence in each one and in building and nurturing this community to be a living witness of that presence. Clearly this is a revealed truth that is fundamental to our sense of our own real value. Just as clearly this truth should be so evident in our lived experience that others are drawn to know, understand and experience the Father’s love that Jesus reveals.

People living with mental health challenges are no less members of the Body of Christ than anyone else. Obviously there are particular challenges to enabling their full participation in the life of the community. Some of these challenges are visible and many others not so clearly identified. Once we acknowledge these challenges we can work together to ensure that all the gifts that flow through the Body of Christ can be shared by each member of that Body.

Yours sincerely in Jesus,

+ Donald Sproxton
Bishop Delegate for Disability Issues
Bishops Commission for Social Justice — Mission and Service Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

Foreword

This booklet is intended to be a resource for parishes for ministry to people with mental illness and their families. We thank and acknowledge Deacon Tom Lambert from the Chicago Archdiocese Commission for permitting us to use his words in this preface.

“Parish communities can be of tremendous help - offering hope, unconditional love, and support to people who often find themselves stigmatized and isolated from the community. Persons with a mental illness and their families frequently turn first to clergy for answers to this severe crisis in their lives. The illness can raise profound questions concerning God and faith. The parish response can make a difference in people’s reaction to the crisis and their recovery from it. Since society has struggled in its responsibility for adequate care of those who face serious mental illness, it

is critical for parish communities to speak for those who often have no voice in the community seeking compassion for those affected and justice for what is rightfully theirs. The parish is called upon not only to reach out to individuals and their families but also to bring about change in the systemic problems facing the mental health delivery system.

Parish communities are like a stained glass window. When we see a stain glass window in a church, we are struck by the beauty of the story it tells. The window usually depicts a story from scripture or an aspect of our faith. Taken as a whole, the window gives a complete picture of a particular story or inspiring moment. When we approach the window and look closely at the art, we see that the window is made up of many pieces of glass. The pieces have different shapes and sizes, some are large and some are tiny. We see that the pieces are made of different colours.

Upon closer inspection, we see that the pieces have flaws in them, some have lines or cracks, other have tiny air bubbles in the glass. But taken together as a whole, the unique pieces, big and small, of various colours, with all their flaws transcend their individuality and come together at the hand of the artist to give a dynamic story of faith.

But what happens if part of the window is missing? What if we were to remove all the brown pieces of glass, or remove the large pieces, or the ones with bubbles in them? The picture would be incomplete. We would not get the whole story.

The Body of Christ, the parish community, in one sense, is like a stained glass window. It lives the story of redemption and salvation in the reality of everyday life. The pieces of the story are made up of many kinds and sorts of people - young people, elderly people, married people and single people, people of different backgrounds, people of different shapes and sizes, people who are divorced, people with various disabilities, etc.... Like the stained glass window, the Body of Christ

is made up of many parts. If we intentionally or unintentionally exclude, discriminate against or ignore one or more of the parts, we do not get the whole picture. We are missing the full story. The picture is incomplete.

People with mental illnesses are often restricted in their participation in our parishes because the stigma and misperception by society is felt within their own community of faith. Parishes, rather than mirroring the cultural biases of society, should be challenging those assumptions and accepting and reaching out to all people - to open doors and minds to the gifts of all God’s people. Parishes that truly welcome and include everyone in a proactive way portray the story of redemption and salvation as a clear and beautiful image of God’s Kingdom.”


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